France // The Rhône valley //

Modern Lyon

On the skyline from Fourvière, you can’t miss the gleaming pencil-like skyscraper that belongs to Lyon’s home-grown Crédit Lyonnais bank. This is the centrepiece of Part-Dieu, a business-culture-commerce hub which includes one of the biggest public libraries outside Paris, a mammoth concert hall and a busy shopping centre. While it’s not the most aesthetically pleasing area, you don’t have to go far to enjoy some culture.

Overlooked by the bristling antennae of the international headquarters of Interpol, the Cité Internationale is made up of glass-heavy luxury apartments, slick restaurants, and the Palais des Congres conference centre. The complex is also home to the Musée d’Art Contemporain, a grand, white building with an imposing Neoclassical facade designed by Renzo Piano. It hosts excellent temporary exhibitions as well as the Lyon art biennial in every odd-numbered year.

Film buffs won’t want to miss the enlightening Institut Lumière, housed within the grandiose Art Nouveau villa that was, for a period, the home of Antoine Lumière, father of Auguste and Louis, two of the earliest pioneers of film. The emphasis here is very much on the earliest forms of photographic techniques, which subsequently paved the way for film. Prize exhibits include early magic latterns, the first cinematograph (1885), and the first ever autochromes, or colour plates, one of which is a picture of Antoine’s third daughter relaxing in the Winter Garden. Don’t miss the stunning collection of photos by celebrated Lumière photographer, Gabriel Veyre – the quality is so good that it’s hard to believe they were taken in the 1930s. Meanwhile, in the basement projection room, you can view some entertaining cinematic clips including the first film, Les Sorties des Usines Lumière, showing workers leaving the Lumière factory. In the theatre across the way, several different films are shown nightly.

Housed within the former military medical school used by the Gestapo during World War II, the Centre d’Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation makes for a sobering but worthwhile visit. In addition to a library of books, videos, memoirs and other documents recording experiences of resistance, occupation and deportation to the camps, there’s an exhibition space housed over the very cellars and cells in which Klaus Barbie, the Gestapo boss of Lyon, tortured and murdered his victims. Barbie was brought back from Bolivia and tried in Lyon in 1987 for crimes against humanity; the centrepiece of the exhibition is a moving and unsettling 45-minute video of the trial in which some of his victims recount their terrible ordeal.

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