The 5th arrondissement, from the « Vieux Lyon » to Fourvière.
The 5th arrondissement was created on March 24, 1852 as one of the five inaugural districts of Lyon. It stands today as the city’s most iconic neighborhood thanks to touristic and historic influences.
The historic center, often called the « Old Town » or the « Vieux Lyon », and the Fourvière hill compose the district.
The neighborhood was saved from destruction for road and building infrastructures in becoming the first « protected area » in France with the help of André Malraux, French Minister of Cultural Affairs, in 1964.
The « Vieux Lyon » was then classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998.
The 5th district is populated by 48,000 residents (2015) over the 623 acres of the arrondissement, dispatched between typical apartments in the historic center of the foothill and residential areas located on the Fourvière plateau.
Where is the 5th district in Lyon?
On the west side of Lyon, around the Fourvière hill
The 5th arrondissement is situated around the Fourvière hill on the west border of the city of Lyon. It is the only neighborhood with the 9th arrondissement to be located on the west banks of the Saône, across the Presqu’île on the other side of the river.
The towns of Ste-Foy-lès-Lyon and Francheville are located to the south of the district, while Ecully and Tassin-la-Demi-Lune are suburban cities located to the west of the 5th arrondissement.
Bridges and public transportation linking the « Vieux Lyon » to the city
Eight bridges link the district to the Presqu’île, to the east side, over the Saône. The tunnel under Fourvière, infamously known for causing massive traffic jams, crosses the 5th arrondissement in its south side near the hub of Perrache.
The TCL subway network, through the line D, stops in « Vieux Lyon » to bring tourists and locals from the metropolitan area. From the same station, two funiculars called « ficelles » connect the historic center to the top of the Fourvière hill, in St Just or the footsteps of the Basilic Notre Dame de Fourvière.
Less known, the St Paul’s train station connects the 5th arrondissement to the west suburbs of Lyon with the help of three different train lines to Brignais, St-Bel and Lozanne.
History of the 5th district : the beginnings of Lyon
Lugdunum, a Roman colony in 43 BC
The history of Lyon began more than two milleniums ago, on the top of the Fourvière hill, where the 5th arrondissement stands today.
Following an order of the Roman Senate, Roman governor Lucius Munatius Plancus founded in 43 BC the city of Lugdunum at the confluence of the Rhône and the Saône, in order to host Roman refugees expelled from the nearby colony of Vienne.
The strategic location of Lugdunum led to the construction of four major Roman Roads around 20 BC. They all originated from Lyon to the south towards Narbonensis, the north towards the Rhine river, the northwest towards the English Channel, and the west towards Aquitania.
Lugdunum prospered and became the economic epicenter of the Gaul (modern-day France) during the 2nd century. Most of the 50,000 inhabitants of the city were gathered on the Fourvière hill.
Annual fairs and Italian bankers to launch Lyon’s prosperity during the Renaissance
To counter the emergence of Geneva and develop Lyon’s economy, the privilege of hosting four annual fairs of fifteen days was granted during the 15th century. The geographic situation between Flanders and Italy brought merchants from many regions to Lyon.
Spices, silk products and weapons were traded on the Saône riversides and the payments were centralized on Place du Change, in the « Vieux Lyon ».
Famous Italian banking families, such as the Medici, Gondi and Gadagni, migrated to Lyon and turned the city as one of the largest trading and banking hubs in Europe.
The « Vieux Lyon » saved from Louis Pradel plans of destruction
The Fourvière hill collapsed over the Montée du Chemin Neuf and Rue Tramassac, during the night of November 12, 1930. The landslide killed 40 persons, between inhabitants of the destroyed buildings and the rescue teams on site.
After World War II, the 5th arrondissement of Lyon was in a lamentable situation and unsanitary, with dirty building facades and poverty across the « Vieux Lyon ».
Louis Pradel, Lyon’s mayor in the 1960s and nicknamed « the concrete lover », followed Edouard Herriot plans to demolish the neighborhood to pave the way for new building structures and an expressway, linking Pont du Maréchal Juin and Montée St Barthélémy.
Local inhabitants gathered in the association « Renaissance du Vieux Lyon » to fight against the project. It paid off in 1964 when the neighborhood was saved from destruction with the classification of first « protected area » in France thanks to André Malraux.
Where to live in the 5th district?
Dynamic population in the small apartments of the « Vieux Lyon »
The 5th arrondissement is divided into many subdistricts of fundamentally opposed lifestyle, some possessing more importance than others.
Three subdistricts compose the « Vieux Lyon », each of those epitomizing the historical and cultural heritage of the city: St Jean, the most famous part of the neighborhood thanks to its traboules, with St Paul to the north and St Georges to the south.
The « Vieux Lyon » is definitely not the city’s most convenient neighborhood to live in but it is for sure the most atypical. Quaint, historic and small apartments are still inhabitated today by a young and dynamic population, partly due to the lack of elevators in practically every building.
Living in the village of Point-du-Jour
On top of the hill, the historical part of Fourvière is surrounded by residential neighborhoods such as St Just, Champvert and Point-du-Jour.
The Point-du-Jour subdistrict is gaining traction among older households. The last « village » of Lyon’s inner city is a lot calmer and cheaper than the rest of the city, offering larger apartements and houses than in the « Vieux Lyon ».
Despite a lack of public transportation to reach the city center, the subdistrict offers most of the daily living commodities.
What to see in the 5th district of Lyon?
The nerve center of the « Vieux Lyon » in St Jean
There is so much to visit in Lyon’s historic center, which is called either « Old Town » or « Vieux Lyon ».
St Jean Cathedral is the starting point of Rue St Jean, the most famous religious sight of the « Vieux Lyon », without any doubt. It has held major events such as Councils in 1245 and 1274, the coronation of the Pope Jean XXII in 1316 and the mass in honor of the royal wedding between Henri IV and Marie de Médicis in 1600.
The remaining traboules in the « Vieux Lyon », secret passageways through buildings, courtyards and stairs that were built to help workers shortcutting streets to reach the Saône river, can be easily discovered through adventure or guided tours.
Rue St Jean ends in front of the Loge du Change, former Lyon’s stock exchange which was later turned into a protestant worship house and earned the name of Temple du Change. From the square, Rue Juiverie and Rue Lainerie both lead to the St Paul subdistrict.
The Basilica Notre Dame de Fourvière on top of the eponym hill
There are few landmarks that have to be visited when touring Lyon and the Basilica Notre Dame de Fourvière stands above everything else, literally and figuratively.
The Fourvière hill is full of historic sights, including the Gallo-Roman Amphitheaters, the Roman bathhouses and the Gier Acqueducts ; however, the most iconic monument is by far the Basilica Notre Dame de Fourvière.
The modern-day religious edifice was only erected during the second part of the 19th century, from roman, gothic and byzantine inspirations. Concluded in 1884 and consecrated in 1896, the Basilica Notre Dame de Fourvière and the Golden Virgin, standing up on its side, watch over the city of Lyon.
Alongside the Basilica stands the Tour Métallique. Inspired from the Eiffel Tower and inaugurated in 1894 as part of Lyon’s Colonial and Universal Exhibition, the tower became the city’s culminating point and the main relay antenna for radio and television in Lyon during the 1950s.
What to do in the 5th district of Lyon?
Eclectic food places in the « Vieux Lyon »
Food is an integral part of the Lyon way-of-life, and renowned local chef Gregory Cuilleron tells you the story of the 5th arrondissement through the culinary lens (and much more).
The medieval vibes of typical bouchons give you a taste of the true « Vieux Lyon ». Beware, the best bouchons are not necessarily located in the district and there are some really good traditionnal French food places.
Breath-taking terraces can be discovred in the « Vieux Lyon », with Les Terrasses de Lyon of the Villa Florentine, in Montée St Barthélémy, and La Terrasse de l’Antiquaille, attached to the Tetedoie restaurant. They both deliver the most iconic views of Lyon while enjoying a Michelin-starred gastronomic menu.
Three Michelin-starred restaurants, La Cour des Loges, Jérémy Galvan and Au 14 Février, are located few meters away from each other in the Rue du Boeuf, one of the most typical streets of the neighborhood.
Museums to visit in the 5th arrondissement
The 5th arrondissement of Lyon is filled with a large quantity of historic museums.
It seems difficult to avoid the wonderful Gadagne Museums. They tell the story of the city’s Renaissance era and the city’s puppetry art, featuring the world’s famous Guignol, symbol of Lyon.
The Movies and Miniature Museum also is one iconic museum in which over 100 scenes are shrinked by world-renowned miniaturists.
The Museum of Gallo-Roman Civilisation in Rue de l’Antiquaille, on the Fourvière heights, remembers the glorious Roman past of Lyon. The modern architecture of the building, encased into the rocks and overlooking the Amphitheaters, is one-of-a-kind experience to the discovery of Roman treasures.
Shopping and tourism in the « Old Town »
The 5th arrondissement provides many shops to buy memorabilia and gifts of tourism trips to Lyon, concentrated around the Rue St Jean.
Vintage stores, silk shops and local food specialties can be found in the « Vieux Lyon » off a street or an alleyway.
Shopping centers, business districts, and access to the rest of the world.