Information about the place LYON (Town) RHONE - GTP - Greek Travel Pages

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Local government Web-Sites

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L'Office du Tourisme et des Congres du Grand Lyon

Columbus Publishing

Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)

The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites


Lugdunum (Lyon) Rhone, France.
Federal capital of the Tres Galliae (Lugdunensis, Aquitania, Belgica), at the confluence of the Saone and the Rhone. When Gallic independence came to an end there were two Celtic settlements: an oppidum on the morainal hill of Fourviere (on the right bank of the Arar, mod. Saone) that grew up around the sanctuary of Lug, the Gallic god of light(?); and a village in the plain at Condate, between the Rhone and the Saone (Strab. 4.186). A Roman colony was founded in 43 B.C. (Tac. Hist. 1.65.2). In 12 B.C. it became the seat of the provincial concilium of the 60 Gallic civitates and the federal center of the imperial cult. Seneca (Ep. 91) calls it “maxima et ornamentum trium provinciarum.” After a fire in A.D. 65 and the disorders of 68-69, the colony flourished again, especially under Hadrian. Partly destroyed in 197 during the war between Septimius Severus and Clodius Albinus, it declined, to the benefit of Treves. The colony had been extremely important economically because it was the center of Agrippa's road system, and because of the commercial activity on the two rivers. Oriental cults took root there in the 1st c., followed by Christianity in the 1st-2d c. In 470 the Burgundians occupied the town and in 725 it was plundered by the Saracens.
  A large number of monuments have been located and preserved, particularly on the Fourviere hill. Vienne (in Gallia Narbonensis) and Lyon are the only cities in Gaul that possess two theaters: a large theater and an odeum. The theater, the oldest in Gaul, was located in 1914 and excavated 1933-50. It was built under Augustus in 16-14 B.C. with stones imported from Glanum; it was 90 m in diameter, had two maeniana, and could accommodate 4500 spectators. Under Hadrian the addition of a third maenianum (108.5 m in diameter), increased its capacity to 10,700. The stage was rebuilt and embellished with columns and statues, and a pit was provided to receive the curtain (a model of the mechanism is in the museum). The cavea, against the hill and facing E, is supported by two galleries of 25 arches and by concentric or radiating walls. A balustrade of green cipollino marble separates the cavea from the orchestra; the latter is 25.5 m in diameter and has four rows of low tiers with a polychrome floor paved with green cipollino, pink breccia, and gray granite in front of them. Two great lateral corridors, vaulted and paved, link the orchestra to the outside. At the rear of the stage (56.5 x 6.25 m) three semicircular exedras took the place of the customary doorways.
  Near the theater, on the other side of a square, is the odeum. Used for music and recitations, it was partly roofed, hence the wall, 6.45 m thick, surrounding the cavea. The semicircle (73 m diam.) includes two maeniana, seating 3000. Built against the same hill and supported by vaults in the same manner as the theater, the cavea also faces E, but around the orchestra there are just two low tiers, faced with white marble. Remains of the stage area include the front wall of the pulpitum; the pit into which the curtain was lowered, which was covered with 11 slabs with a square hole cut through them; the hyposcaenium (3.85 m wide) and the base of the scaenae frons which still rises ca. 7 m from the bottom of the facade. A street encircled the upper section of the cavea; entrance to the theater from this side was by five monumental doors and in the lower section by two passageways that still have their white marble floors and stucco-faced walls on either side. Under the street at the upper level is a large vaulted sewer, the wooden lining of which is amazingly well preserved. Elegantly luxurious, with its orchestra paved with 11 different materials including polychrome marbles, its carved balustrade, its pulpitum of white marble decorated with vines and cherubs gathering grapes, and its outer two-story portico built against the scaena wall, this little theater dates from the time of Hadrian.
  Lugdunum had a circus, as we know only from a number of inscriptions and a mosaic of a chariot race; according to an 18th c. drawing it must have been in the Trion district.
  The federal amphitheater, however, has been partly excavated on the Croix-Rousse hillside. Built in A.D. 19 under Tiberius by C. Julius Rufus, a priest of Rome and Augustus and a native of Saintes, the amphitheater had only one maenianum at that time; the seats were reserved for the delegates of the Gallic tribes and marked with their names. Entrance was by stairways leading from the upper level to the lower tiers, which held the spectators' seats. The cavea was ringed with a continuous outer wall. The arena was leveled out of the rock and the podium built partly on the ground, partly on an annular vault. This vault, half-circular in plan, is interrupted at the doors and is built right on the ground, a design that occurs only in the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius, never in an amphitheater of the Republican period. In its original form, this building was closely linked with an Ara Romae et Augusti and had an essentially federal and religious purpose. It was enlarged under Hadrian and underwent important changes. Great radiating arches were built to support new tiers of seats: the quarry-stone piers of these arches have leveling courses of double rows of brick (at Lyon, an indication of Hadrianic work). At that time the structure measured 135 x 115.5 m and the arena 59 x 39.5 m. It was here that the martyrs of 117 met their deaths, notably Bishop Pothinus, Attalus, Maturus, and Blandina.
  Close to the amphitheater was the Altar of the Imperial Cult (Ara Romae et Augusti), inaugurated in 12 B.C. by Drusus. It is known from a brief description by Strabo (4.3.1) and from its representation on the reverse of coins minted in Lugdunum from 12 B.C. on. The altar stood on a pedestal bearing the inscription ROM·ET·AVG· decorated in front with a crown of oak leaves flanked by two laurels and tripods topped by crowns. Framing the altar were two columns, each supporting a Victory 3.5 m high. Originally 10.5 m high and made of Egyptian granite from Syene, these columns now stand (sawn in half) in the church of Saint-Martin d'Ainay, where they have supported the baldacchino since the 11th c. The Victory statues have disappeared, but a small model in bronze was found in 1886 in the Saone (now in the Fourviere museum). An element from the crowns that the figures held aloft in their right hands was discovered in 1961: it is a half-crown 0.46 m in diameter, consisting of 10 rows of triple spear-shaped leaves in gilded bronze. This form of the altar represents a Hadrianic embellishment.
  Lugdunum had two forums. On the hill is the Augustan forum known as Forum Vetus (whence the modern name Fourviere). Built on the flattened summit, it had powerful subfoundations, remains of which are still standing. According to calculations, as yet unconfirmed, it measured 140 x 61.5 m. Under Hadrian this forum was restored and enlarged, along with its two temples: a colossal temple with columns 20 m high (the Capitolium?) and what was probably the municipal Temple of Augustus. Several inscriptions, by Augustan seviri or relating to the imperial municipal cult, suggest this identification. This temple stood on an esplanade supported by a terraced wall (known today as the Mur Cleberg, from the name of the street where it was found); 48 m long and 15 m high, the wall is braced by strong buttresses of quarry stones with double layers of brick. A little later, under Antoninus Pius, the Forum Novum, was built on the nearby plateau called La Sarra; excavated since 1957, it measures 120 x 90 m. Architectural remains, the fragment of an inscription, an ex-voto to Jupiter Optimus Maximus, and the head of a statue of a god make it appear certain that a colossal Temple of Jupiter stood in the middle of the forum.
  Behind the great theater and overlooking it, on the other side of the street that runs around the cavea, was a large Temple of Cybele, whose E facade, over 53 m wide, is still standing. Its main elements were located in 1965: a surrounding wall (82.88 x 50.32 m); a monumental porch (12 x 5 m) in the middle of the W facade, reached by a great stairway; and on the axis of the building, in front of the cella in the middle of the E facade, the base of the altar. From the size and the plan of this complex, which covers 4200 sq. m, we may identify this monument as the Campus Matris Deum and compare it to that at Ostia. A ceramic medallion showing Cybele seated on her lion, and four taurobolium altars plus two fragments had already been found at Lugdunum, two of them in this archaeological zone: the earliest, dated December 160, was offered for the welfare of Antoninus and his sons.
  Other temples have been located, if not excavated: a Temple of Mercury on the La Sarra plateau (from the time of Claudius), a Temple of the Mother Goddesses on the Montee Saint-Barthelemy on the Fourviere plateau, a Temple of Diana or of the Spirit of the Saone beside that river, a Temple of Mars, and one dedicated to the Matres Augustae in the Choulans quarter.
  A bronze plaque excavated in 1524 (now in the Fourviere museum), contains part of a speech given by Claudius before the Senate in A.D. 47 or 48. In it the emperor supported the request of the leaders of the Tres Galliae for eligibility to Roman magistracies and therefore access to the Senate.
  The first colony was established by L. Munatius Plancus S of Fourviere around a decumanus (today the Rue Clebert) rediscovered between 1942 and 1965--a fine granite-paved street 312 m long and 8.88 m wide--and a cardo, also paved with granite and 7.7 m wide, part of which has been excavated. The first city grew up in the Les Minimes quarter around these axes; it was protected by a rampart, some remains of which have been identified. Excavations in front of the theater have revealed an open space containing a nearly square building (57 x 55 m); it was razed in the Augustan era (praetorium of Plancus?).
  In the 1st and 2d c. A.D. the city developed at three points: the first and most important was on the B flank of the Fourviere hill and the adjacent La Sarra plateau. Some houses have been located or excavated here in a number of places: under the Temple of Kybele and on the plateau, where a residential quarter was built in the 2d c. In 1913-14 the villa of S. Egnatius Paulus, also known as the Villa of the Mosaics, was discovered. It is remarkable both for its mosaic floors and for its plan: a narrow corridor runs between two shops to a great hall, 14 x 12 m (a kind of atrium), inlaid with mosaics. The hall opens directly on a peristyle 22 m square, on the N side of which are seven rooms; the largest one (14 x 7.3 m), in the middle, is decorated with frescos and a polychrome geometric mosaic in 91 panels. Also noteworthy, on the N slope of the Fourviere hill toward the Saone, in the area called Clos de la Solitude or Cbs des Maristes, is a room (6.25 x S m) known as the Hall of the Gladiators after graffiti found on the wall frescos. In 1965-67 another housing section came to light in the same area; dating from the 2d c., it is remarkable chiefly for a house with well-preserved frescos called the House of the Sea-Horses, and a nymphaeum that probably belongs to a large estate.
  The second urban nucleus is on both banks of the Saone, between the river and the amphitheater which occupies the W flank of the Croix-Rousse hill, and also at the foot of the Fourviere hill. In this area were villas and baths and, at the foot of the cliff, the old settlement of Condate. Here, in 1965-66, an industrial area was found in the Quai de Serin with the workshops and ovens of potters, bronze-founders, and glassmakers built side by side for over 500 m. The potters' kilns are square (Gallo-Roman kilns hitherto located have been round or oval), and recall those of Arezzo; many of the names of the Lugdunum potters are also found at Arezzo. Their products, which date from the beginning of our era, were exported everywhere. Lugdunum at that time was clearly an essential link between the potteries of N Italy, particularly those of Arezzo, and the workshops of S Gaul (Montans, La Graufesenque) and of the Massif Central (Lezoux). In the 2d c., Lyon, like Vienne, probably specialized in the manufacture of vases with appliqued medallions.
  The third urban nucleus is in the Island of the Canabae (now the Ainay quarter and Place Bellecour), which owed its name either to the hutments and military depots of the time of the Gallic Wars or to the storehouses and depots that filled the area in the Roman period. The island was crossed from W to E by a road that bounded, on the S, a section full of wealthy villas which have yielded a large number of mosaics, among them the circus mosaic. On the N side of the road lay a quarter of inns, shops, and storehouses, where many amphorae have been found, made by potters working on the edge of the river. Opposite this section and farther S, on the W bank of the Rhone, another very populous quarter grew up in the Choulans district, which lies at the head of the Rhone waterway at the point where the Narbonne road rejoined the river. Here was the first port of the Rhocirc;ne merchants and, close by, the docks which have yielded layers of dolia, rivaling those of Marseille. This first port seems to have been abandoned in Hadrian's reign and moved about 1 km upstream, around Saint-Georges, where it was within closer reach of the commercial centers of the Canabae. The docks were moved in the same way.
  The urban development of Lugdunum was intimately connected with the growth of its water supply. Two aqueducts were built under Augustus, that of Yzeron (also called Craponne) which fed the hill town of Fourviere, and that of Mont-d'Or which supplied the riverside sections. A third, La Brevenne, built under Claudius, brought water into the low-lying quarter of Les Minimes; remains of it can still be seen, especially of the 25 arches of the lower tier, some of them 20 m high. A fourth, the aqueduct of the Gier, was built under Hadrian to carry water from Mont Pilat, 25 km away, to the La Sarra plateau. Its piers and arcades have been preserved in many places, as have several large reservoirs linked by siphons: the most impressive remains are at Chaponost and Beaunant, and at Lyon itself at the Saint-Irenee Fort.
  On the outskirts of the city were several necropoleis, where almost 550 epitaphs have been found. The oldest, possibly pre-Roman, is in the old Saint-Jean quarter, near the Marseille road; a fine bronze oinochoe is one of the most notable finds. The earliest necropolis from the Roman period was developed under Augustus beside the Aquitanian road in the upper city; it extended into the Trion valley over an area 400 m wide and almost 1 km long. Here tombs covered with tiles, blocks of stone topped by cremation urns, sarcophagi, and monumental mausoleums lay side by side. Another necropolis bordered the road that ran NW from Trion, towards Vaise. A third was at Saint-Clair on the banks of the Rhone; here were buried those killed in the amphitheater. Towards the NE the Rhine road was also edged with tombs, as was the road to Italy to the E, in the territory of the Allobroges, where the mausoleum of the Acceptii with its Dionysiac sarcophagus was found. To the S, in the Choulans section, the Narbonne road crossed another large necropolis, which remained in use in the Merovingian era. The stelai from this cemetery often show an ascia with an engraved inscription ending with the words ET SVB ASCIA DEDICAVIT; the meaning of this symbol is still much disputed.
  Places of Christian worship soon sprang up in these necropoleis. It is not known where the members of the first community met, but we know that the first Christian cemetery was on the Saint-Irenee hill, a small rise at the W end of the Trion valley. There St. Irenee was buried together with the martyrs Epipodus and Alexander, on the site of a pagan funerary basilica erected to the memory of an infant whose epitaph has been preserved. The saints' tomb was probably a simple memoria, remodeled by Bishop Patiens into a vaulted, half-sunken chamber. Later a basilica was raised over it.
  Near the Saint-Irenee hill was the Basilica of the Maccabees (Septem fratrum Macchabaeorum et martyrum gloriosissimorum), consecrated to Bishop Justus, who died in 390 and was buried in the crypt. This church has disappeared, but Sidonius Apollinaris (Epist. 5.17) describes it as large and surrounded with cryptoportici; beside it was a receptorium. In the 4th c. a number of churches stood on the banks of the Saone, at the foot of the Fourviere hill, including one embellished by Bishop Patiens ca. 470 which probably became the episcopal church, consecrated to St. John. According to Sidonius Apollinaris (Epist. 3.18), it faced E, with two porches, one with three arcades of Aquitaine marble and a second in line with the first, leading to an atrium and a nave with many marble columns. Excavations in 1935 m the substructure of the present Cathedral of Saint-Jean revealed the semicircular apse of the 5th c. building and a few remains of the mosaic floor. On the right bank of the Saone were three more churches, and two on the left bank. Finally, the Saint-Laurent church (discovered 1947) was built on the right bank, at Choulans, on the edge of the Narbonne road. Probably built in the 5th c. on the plan of the Syrian churches, enlarged in the 6th and used most frequently in the mid 7th c., the church and the land around it served as a necropolis in the Merovingian era; 82 sarcophagi have been found, some with inscriptions from the mid 6th to the mid 7th c.
  The museum (now under construction on the Fourviere hill near the theater) has, besides the finds already mentioned, several statues. These include a great imperial statue, two draped statues of women, and a torso of Apollo. There are portraits, among them Hadrian and the prefect of the praetorium, Timesitheus; several fine bas-reliefs, particularly those from the Altar of the Confluence, the theater, and the odeum; and some sarcophagi, two of them Dionysiac. Among the toreutic and gold- and silver-plate exhibits are some bronze statuettes, oinochoai, appliqued ornaments, and a silver goblet with religious decoration (Mercury, Cernunnos, and various symbols). The pottery is abundant and varied: Lyon pottery of the Arezzo type, Aco vases, pottery in relief from La Graufesenque and Lezoux, appliqued medallions (with mythological, religious, historical, and erotic subjects). Over 100 mosaic floors have been excavated in the Lyon region; they are among the most beautiful in Gaul, and remarkable for their documentary value (the circus mosaic), their rich decoration, and the variety and originality of their geometric motifs.

M. Leglay, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites, Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Feb 2006 from Perseus Project URL below, which contains 92 image(s), bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.

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