Tuesday, April 12, 2011

April 12, 2011: Lyon - A New Marché, High on the Fourvière, Ancient Gauls & Romans

This morning I went to the famous Quai Antoine market first thing, picking up some fresh asparagus, strawberries, eggs and baguette. I also tried a sample of a pesto cheese - it was bright green. I'm tempted...

Today I walked through Vieux Lyon again, taking a longer route and going through the narrow streets of its Renaissance-era buildings (a UNESCO Heritage site) - rue de Boeuf was especially charming. It's nice to feel that I've got my bearings well enough now that I can wander a bit without getting lost. Although the older streets aren't all on a grid pattern they're in narrow enough strips of land that you can always re-orient along the rivers. One thing I realized today is that the Presqu'ile, or "peninsula" translates literally as "almost island" - so logical!

I climbed a long, long, long staircase up to the gardens below the Notre-Dame de Fourvière Basilica. I sat and had a baguette sandwich while listening to musical birds and boisterous French boys. There was beautiful sunshine and cooler air than yesterday which was a relief - the day before was verging on overheated and dehydrated.

Up at Fourviere Basilica there were amazing views over the city. From a distance the basilica looks very etheral - all white and glowing. But up close it's actually crazily ornate - a Romanesque/Byzantine mash-up from the late 1800s, with a profusion of animals motifs and Egyptian temple-esque touches. On the inside it's even more overwhelming, since it's very colourful, with mosaics, stained glass and multicoloured stonework.

The Musée Gallo-Romain is also up on the hill with the basilica. It's on the site of the major Roman city of Lugdunum, which was founded in 43 BC. There are amazing artifacts here: pristine floor mosaics, sculptures, sarcophagi, jewelry, and a huge amphitheatre which had been largely lost and was only excavated in the early 1900s (how does something so huge get lost?). The museum itself is quite interesting - it's set underground as a gently descending spiral, with occasional windows to the outside framing views of the amphitheatre. Although I admire the design (by architect Bernard Zehrfuss) the 1970s concrete construction hasn't held up entirely well - there are areas where it's cracking in unsightly ways. That and the omnipresent mustard yellow burlap fabric backing for the display cases have dated the space a bit. I really want to read an historical novel set here to have a chance to soak in the details of it all.

For dinner at "home" in the apart-hotel: an omelette with some comté cheese, serrano ham and a side of asparagus. Delicious.

Vieux Lyon - my favourite street was Rue de Boeuf - surely the restaurants on this street must serve delicious steaks...

Stairs up to the Fourvière

Lyon, as seen from the gardens on Fourvière

Place Bellecour - you can appreciate how large it really is from above

Fourvière Basilica - this is as close on the hill as you can get to this view - it's a sheer drop-off at the base of the building from this side

The other side of Fourvière Basilica, with a plaza in front

Egyptian-esque lion guarding the front door

Ornately decorated interior

Stairs descending to the underground Musée Gallo-Romain

3rd century AD sarcophagus

So poignant - the death mask of Claudia, who died at the age of 10

An odd display of the last remaining leg of a bull statue

2nd/3rd century AD mosaic, only discovered in Lyon in 1911 (how did it stay in such perfect condition buried all that time?)

I knew of the Roman penchant for colourfully painting marble temples and statuary, but I didn't realize that carved inscriptions were painted too -  many of them at the museum still had red paint remaining

An exhibition of natural history-type specimens displayed in "visible storage" - including this huge dinosaur skeleton, with all the bones lined up in formed-foam casing

The amphitheatre! It was originally quite a bit larger, but the upper seating was dismantled and stones used to build other structures over the centuries

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