One of my favourite days out in Lyon is to waltz around the parc des hauteurs. This encompasses the Fourvière Basilica, the Roman amphitheatres, the Cemetery of Loyasse, The Metallic Tower (the mini Eiffel Tower), and La Passerelle des Quatre-vents. It kills a good three hours if you have nothing else to do.
Starting off from the old town you ascend Montée Saint-Barthélémy until you come to the Roman Amphitheatres. You can’t miss them: two great stone auditoriums side by side chiselled out of the hill face. The Grand Theatre is the bigger of the two with the smaller Odeon Theatre on the left, now converted into a cinema complex. Not really, but that’s all I could think about when I read the sign. And they say the teaching of the classics is a waste of time. Oide is Greek for to sing and it was here in the odeion that poetry, lectures and singing were performed while the grander performances took place next door.
It’s pleasant to wander around for half an hour or so. But it’s always been the same with ruins and me. I remember going to the Acropolis with my parents when I was young and saying to my father, ‘It’s just a load of rubble, isn’t it?’ I have grown up since then but the sentiment remains. I understand the passing of the ages since this place was built (16 BC), but as an attraction there’s not actually much to see. Or perhaps I’m not looking hard enough.
Moving on, I take the path signposted Cimetiere de Loyasse and head boldly up to Lyon’s ancient cemetery on the other side of the Fourvière hill. This huge graveyard contains the corpses of the rich of Lyon past and present in their fantastically ornate tombs and crypts. The poor are apparently buried in the Cimetiere de Guillotiere, where I live.
I’ve been here three times now and each time I’ve been put off entering. Not because of the beauty of the place; you could lose yourself here for an afternoon, but because of the tourists aimlessly wandering around taking endless pictures of the Gothic sepulchres and Catholic iconography. It feels disrespectful. I mean this is a fucking cemetery. A place where you are laid to rest. If I was one of the deceased entombed in one of these things, the last thing I’d want is hordes of camera happy day-trippers disturbing my hard won peace.
I quickly make myself scarce and head along the Rue de la Cardinal Gerlier towards the La Passerelle des Quatre-vents (the footbridge of the four winds). A 80 metre high viaduct that connects the cemetery directly to the Fourvière Basilica. It used to be a tramway, but now simply serves as a pleasant stroll to complete the parc des hauteurs circuit. At the halfway point there are excellent views over the Mont D’Or and beyond. It was from here a month ago that I finally saw the mysterious Mount Verdun. The hill I had attempted to climb in my Lyon 9 entry. Seeing it here from the viewpoint, made me wonder how on earth I had missed it.
Crossing the 200 metre Passerelle, you come to the mini Eiffel tower. Built in 1897 as a tourist attraction (it’s actually higher than the real Eiffel Tower. Well, if you include the hill it stands on), the cost was assisted by the town council to counterbalance the imposing sight of the Catholic Basilica only 100 metres away. At one stage it had a restaurant and lift installed in it, but now it’s purely used as a TV mast, which I think is a bit of a pity. The first time I came here I was looking forward to going up, only to see a sign on the door saying: Closed to the public since 1953. Sorry.
It’s only a short walk to the Fourvière Basilica and the last of the attractions. Built between 1872 and 1884 it dominates the Lyon skyline. At the time there was much controversy as to why such a massive and expensive church had to be built when there was already one there, the much more modest and beautiful, chapelle de Saint Thomas de Canterbury, built in 1172.
Looking at the two monuments, I can see why the Mini Eiffel Tower was built. The Basilica stands proud extending the word of God to all who gaze up at its marvellous spires. Whereas the Mini Eiffel Tower, made of 210 tonnes of pig iron and pockmarked by endless satellite dishes and antennae, has nothing to offer. Except for perhaps a secular fuck you!
You can go in the Basilica if you want to. I haven’t yet for fear of trapdoors and hooded priests, but I’m told it’s good. I normally take the pleasant jardin de Fourvière back down to Old Lyon and settle for an indoor refreshment in one of the bars.
I said at the beginning of my blog, that Lyon is a city you can do in half a day. I recant that now, as having been here six months, I’m finding more and more things to see. However, the parc des hauteurs is certainly a half dayer, unless you want to take in the three hour mass on Sundays…(optional)