The Presqu’île, or peninsula, is most visitors’ first port of call. Its dominant feature is place Bellecour, whose pink gravelly acres were first laid out in 1617, and which offer fabulous views up to the looming bulk of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. The southern portion of the peninsula starts around Perrache station, beyond which lies the Confluence district, whose regeneration continues apace.
To the north of place Bellecour at the top of quai St-Antoine is the quartier Mercière, the old commercial centre of the town, with sixteenth- and seventeenth-century houses lining rue Mercière, and the church of St-Nizier, whose bells used to announce the nightly closing of the city’s gates. In the silk-weavers’ uprising of 1831, workers fleeing the soldiers took refuge in the church, only to be massacred. Today, traces of this working-class life are almost gone, edged out by bars, restaurants and designer shops, the latter along rue du Président Edouard-Herriot and the long pedestrian rue de la République in particular.
Occupying the thinnest wedge of land at the confluence of the Saône and Rhône rivers, the sparkling new Musée des Confluences is an extraordinary glass-and-steel structure that could have been plucked from the set of the newest Star Wars film. Its permanent exhibition is arranged thematically into four sections, the first of which, “Eternity”, gets to grips with life and death; the most notable, and spooky, exhibit is a Peruvian mummy, in the seated position with arms and legs clasped to its chest. In Egyptian society, animals were mummified too (being considered incarnations of gods), as evidenced by the crocodiles, rams, eagles and suchlike on display in the “Species” exhibition, which also contains a stunning collection of butterflies and bugs. “Societies”, meanwhile, ponders upon man’s ability to create – look out for the superb Berliet motor car from 1908 and Cockcroft and Walton’s particle accelerator – while, finally, “Origins” traces the various theories of evolution; the (literally) unmissable highlight here is a skeleton of the Camarasaurus, which roamed North America in the late Jurassic period.
Housed in a former Benedictine abbey on place des Terreaux, the collections of the Musée des Beaux-Arts are second in France only to those in the Louvre. The museum is organized roughly by genre, with nineteenth- and twentieth-century sculpture in the ex-chapel on the ground floor. The first floor houses a particularly interesting collection of Egyptian artefacts including coffins, amulets and stone tablets, in addition to a selection of medieval French, Dutch, German and Italian woodcarving and antiquities, coins and objets d’art. Upstairs, twentieth-century painting is represented by Picasso and Matisse, and there are also works by Braques, a brace of Bonnards and a gory Francis Bacon. The nineteenth century is covered by the Impressionists and their forerunners, Corot and Courbet; there are works by the Lyonnais artists Antoine Berjon and Fleury Richard, and from there you can work your way back through Rubens, Zurbarán, El Greco, Tintoretto and more. Keep an eye out for Rembrant’s earliest known work from 1625, The Stoning of St Steven.