Name That Monument: a Guide to Lyonnais Nicknames

Welcome to Lyon, the City of Elephants, Pencils, and Noodles


Wandering through the streets of Lyon, you might be surprised by what you hear.


The Lyonnais have a lot of weird nicknames for their monuments.

Ask a local how to get to Part Dieu and they’ll probably start throwing around names like Le Crayon and La Gomme. Wait, what? There’s no giant pencil on the map. What am I erasing?

So what could it possibly be? Here is your guide to Lyonnais nicknames for the city’s most famous monuments. Good luck, and remember, they’re probably not actually talking about food. But they might be.


By Clemence Brun


Foodie Nicknames

Everyone knows the Lyonnais like food. It is the capital of gastronomy after all. But these creative “gones” took their foodie fest to a whole new level with these culinary nicknames.


The Big Kahuna: Lyon’s Opera

The Lyon Opera, also named the “Toaster.” ©stofleth

Yes, the Lyonnais gave a nickname to one of their most famous buildings.

In 1993, architect Jean Novel renovated the Lyon’s Opera and decided to saddle it with a gigantic dome to use as a rehearsal room. When they first saw it, the Lyonnais judged it to be terrible: a toaster (“grille-pain” in French) was implemented in the heart of the Presqu’île!

But you might not always hear “grille-pain” in use. People are now used to it so the nickname is fading from memory.


Cheese, cheese, and more cheese

But in the culinary center of the universe, the Opera couldn’t be the only monument with a nickname alluding to food! And even with the toaster forgotten, others were quick to replace it.

If you’ve been to Confluence, you might have notice the newly-built Orange Cube. With such a remarkable color and multiple holes, the Lyonnais didn’t have to think for long before attributing it a fitting nickname: la Mimolette!

Mimolette is an orange cheese produced in the north of France to imitate Dutch cheese, and almost everyone can agree the building is appropriately named.

Pop culture amateurs might also refer to it as the Death Star (“Etoile noire”), tututudududu…

The Orange Cube in Lyon Confluence, aka the”Mimolette”

Speaking of cheese, have you heard of the panoramic tower at the Duchère? Can you guess the nickname that was given to it?

It was built between 1969 and 1972 and for a long time was referred to as the cheese grater (“râpe à fromage”). Who knows, maybe a baguette will appear to complete the saga.

The Duchesse panoramic tower, otherwise known as the “cheese grater.”

A “dish of noodles” on the Presqu’île

Still haven’t gotten enough of the culinary nicknames? Well, one particular place in Lyon has been called by some the dish of noodles (“plat de nouilles”) because of its numerous tunnels (for trains, metros, tram, bikes…).

One of the many tunnels in the Perrache hub.

We’ll give you one more clue: it is more commonly referred to as the urban wart (“verrue urbaine”) by those who judged it to be an ugly division of the Presqu’île in two parts.

It’s the hub of Perrache of course!

Thankfully, a project to open the area has already been launched and a new Perrache should be there for 2019. Maybe then people will stop calling it the Maginot Line (“Ligne Maginot”) …


Animals in the city

Do you know where to find giraffes in Lyon? At the Parc de la Tête d’Or, of course, but there is also one near the old Palais de Justice in Vieux Lyon (1 Rue du Palais de Justice, Lyon 5).

“La Girafe” is a nickname that is sometimes given to the bridge located across from it, over the Saône. Lyonnais were a bit surprised by its guy-wires and were quick to rename the bridge.

The elephant of Lyon: the basilica of Fourvière.

In addition to our different kinds of giraffes, we also have our very own elephant! Even if it is somehow upside down…

The Basilica of Fourvière has been given that nickname (“éléphant retourné”) because of its four massive pillars and gigantic base structure. Only the trunk is missing… but maybe it’s for the best?


Le Crayon and La Gomme, the towers of Part-Dieu

Finally, to the heart of the matter.

The “Crayon” nickname is so commonly used that no one actually knows the real name of the building! Don’t believe me? Try asking any Lyonnais where to find the Part-Dieu tower. Most of the time, they won’t be able to answer you (“What tower? Be more specific!”)

But ask for the Pencil (“Le Crayon”) and suddenly, everything will be clear.

The “Eraser” and the “Pencil” at Part Dieu.

But what is a pencil without an eraser? As soon as visuals were unveiled for the Incity Tower, people started to refer to it as “La Gomme,” even before it was built, to complete Lyon’s pencil case.

Maybe this is why some people started to refer to the Opera as the sharpener? (Goodbye toaster…)


A few last tips…

Lyon is a modern city, despite its historical heritage. In fact it’s so modern that you can even find a flying saucer (“soucoupe volante”) near Parc de la Tête d’Or!

But if you aren’t very excited at the idea of meeting aliens, you can just use its real name: the 3000 Amphitheatre.

By the way, did you know that Lyon even has its own Hogwarts (“Poudlard”)? Or at least, that’s what Lyonnais teenagers call the Saint Just High School, looming over Lyon with its majestic architecture.

One last important thing: if a Lyonnais redirects you to “Rue de la Rè”, don’t search for it on any map because you won’t find anything. It is an abbreviation for “Rue de la République” (Republic Street) in the Presqu’île, so commonly used that you will probably never hear any Lyonnais use the complete name.