Colline de Fourvière – Colline de la Croix-Rousse
La Colline de Fourvière overlooks the old town of Lyon and commands the Saône and the Rhône’s confluence.
Excavations show that the hill, which benefits from a prime strategic location, has been uninterruptedly inhabited since the 4th century BC.
The Rhône Valley was the natural north-south axis where men and commodities had transited since time immemorial.
Indeed, land and river roads linked the northern countries to the ports of the Mediterranean.
The Romans founded Lugdunum on the Colline de Fourvière in 43BC.
Lugdunum was originally a military settlement from where the mercenaries set off for the northern territories.
It was indeed from Colline de Fourvière that the Roman troops left for the conquest of Britain and Germany.
The camp soon left place to a city.
Lugdunum kept expanding and spread to a second hill – Colline de la Croix-Rousse – and on La Presqu’île (Peninsula) on the other bank of the Saône (current 1st and 2nd districts).
This 4,5 km long peninsula, then called Ile de Canabae, stretches between the Saône and Rhône.
Its average width is 650m-700m, however, it varies from 530m to 830m.
Roman vestiges on the Colline de Fourvière
The Roman Forum from left its name to the Colline de Fourvière.
Indeed, the Latin Forum Vetus, meaning old forum/market, evolved into foro vetere (Middle- Ages Italian) and eventually in Fourvière.
The Basilica of Fourvière today stands on its site.
That said, substantial vestiges of Lugdunum still remain on the Colline de Fourvière.
The theater was built around 14BC; it has a diameter of 108m and initially had 4500 seats.
It was enlarged a century later in order to accommodate 10,000 spectators.
Nowadays, the theater is primarily a tourist site, and is used as a venue for the annual Nuits de Fourvière festival.
The Odeon, the second theatre on the Colline de Fourvière, has quite modest dimensions.
Indeed, it has a diameter of 73m and could accommodate ‘only’ 3000 spectators.
It was built between the early and mid-2nd century AD.
Sanctuary of the Three Gauls
The vestiges of the third Gallo-Roman building are those of the Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls.
It was inaugurated in 19BC at the foot of the Colline de la Croix Rousse.
Augustus had divided Gaul into three imperial provinces (Gallia Lugdunensis, Gallia Aquitania and Gallia Bellica) and a senatorial province (Gallia Narbonensis).
Augustus had made Lugdunum the capital of the Three Gauls, and their three governors’ permanent seat.
His nephew Drusus built the Sanctuary of the Three Gauls in 12BC.
The Three Gauls represented 60 Gallic nations.
Their delegates participated to the Council of Gaul.
This major annual gathering took place in the Sanctuary of the Three Gauls in Lugdunum on August 1st.
This date was full of symbolism.
Firstly, it corresponded to the capture of Alexandria by the Romans.
But most of all, it corresponded to the festival of Lugh, the Gallic sun god the Gauls worshiped on the Colline de Fourvière.
They called the hill Lugudunon, which meant Hill of Lugh; the Romans transformed it in Lugdunum.
The Sanctuary doesn’t exist anymore, and all that is left are vestiges of the amphitheatre.
The amphitheatre was built in the early 1st century AD on the esplanade of the Sanctuary in order to accommodate the Council of Gaul.
However, it was converted into an arena a century later and had a capacity of 20,000 spectators.
Its vestiges are located in the Jardin des Plantes.
Table Claudienne – Lyon Tablet
Art and architecture lovers will enjoy the visit of the Musée Gallo-Romain located next to the theater, on the Colline de Fourvière.
The museum exhibits superb collections of mosaics, sculptures and architectural vestiges uncovered during the various excavations.
The key exhibit is the Table Claudienne – Lyon Tablet.
A draper discovered it in 1528 while working in his vineyard that grew on the site of the Sanctuary.
Two large segments of this 2,50 m x 1,93 m bronze tablet are engraved with a speech Emperor Claudius gave before the Senate in 48AD.
In that speech, Claudius granted the heads of the Gallic Nations eligibility for the posts of Roman magistrates and Senators.
Although of a pompous style, this speech is considered one of the finest examples of Roman oratory.
Claudius was indeed very pro-Gauls, as he was born in Lyon.
The Table Claudienne was kept in the Sanctuary of the Three Gauls.
Lugdunum – Colline de Fourvière played a key role in Gaul’s politics, culture and economy.
Paris, or rather Lutetia as it was then known, was no more than a large town in northern France, while Lugdunum was the capital of Three Gauls!
Modern day Lyon continues to showcase its historical, cultural and architectural heritage by illuminating some 100 sites every night.
Directions: Colline de Fourvière – Lyon – Rhône Department – Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Region
Coordinates: Lat 45.762024 – Long 4.821331