Lyon’s Printing Stronghold Comes to Life in the Museum of Printing and Graphic Communication
The Musée de l’Imprimerie et de la Communication Graphique, or in English, the Museum of Printing and Graphic Communication, is situated in the heart of Lyon’s 2nd arrondissement steps from the Cordeliers metro.
One of Lyon’s many museums, it was founded by master Lyonnais printer Maurice Audin in 1964. It began as a printing museum and added graphic communication in 2014 as its collection grew.
Lyon has a storied history in the printing industry. Many of its streets are named after famous printers like Sébastien Gryphe and Barthélémy Buyer. During World War II, Lyon was a stronghold for the French Resistance and its printers produced many Resistance newspapers.
The Lyon Museum of Printing and Graphic Communication is founding member of the Association of European Printing Museums, run by its president and former museum director Alan Marshall. The Lyon museum is now run by Marshall’s successor, Director Joseph Belletante.
Lyon, the European Capital of Print
The museum’s rooms take visitors on a trip from the beginning of printing and the Renaissance all the way through the industrial revolution to modern-day photography, graphic design, newspapers, computers and more.
Among its most prized permanent installations is a leaflet of the Gutenberg Bible, the first book printed in Europe. But in addition to its books and printing presses the museum also houses more modern creations, including typewriters, posters, famous advertisements for companies like Rudge bicycles and Air France, and even a 1990 Macintosh Classic computer.
Lyon was once the European capital of printing. The industry first came to the city in 1472, and printing shops once lined the street of Rue Mercière, just down the road from the museum.
Lyon produced books in many languages, ranging from its native French to Greek, Latin, Italian, Hebrew, and Spanish. It quickly became one of the most important centers of print production in all of Europe.
Lyon’s Printing Legacy in the Former Hôtel de Ville
In between Place Bellecour and Place des Terreaux, the Museum of Printing and Graphic Communication is housed in the former town hall of Lyon, or Hôtel de Ville. The current Hôtel de Ville is now up the street in the 1st arrondissement, at the famous Place des Terreaux.
The building was built in the 15th century as a private home that passed through the hands of the city’s ruling merchant families. The museum building itself forms part of one of Lyon’s famous traboules, linking Rue de la Poulaillerie with Rue des Forces which sits just behind it.
It became the town hall in 1604 when the original one, around the block at 3 Rue de la Fromagerie, was too small for the growing city.
The Hôtel de Ville stayed at Rue de la Poulaillerie until 1654, when the building passed through private hands until it was sold to the City of Lyon in 1956. The museum was opened eight years later.
Traditional Lyonnais Character from the Printing-Era
Although it has been restored since its days as a private residence, the building still has old-world character including vaulted and crisscrossed beams, a courtyard, and a spiral staircase. The plaque in the courtyard is a copy of the one that now sits in the Museum of Gallo-Roman Civilization and contains the text from Emperor Claudius’s speech in 48 A.D.
The museum and historic Rue Mercière printing district make up part of Lyon’s UNESCO World Heritage area, designated in 1998.
Alongside its permanent collection the museum hosts one large exposition and one smaller exhibit each year. It also organizes design workshops for typography, engraving, illumination, calligraphy, silkscreen, and binding.
The Museum of Printing and Graphic Communication gives visitors a taste of old-world Lyon in its charming building full of winding stairs and arches. Inside, visitors find the city’s rich history of printing and graphic design at their fingertips, ready to be rediscovered.
Groups can make an appointment Tuesdays through Sundays, so they have the museum all to themselves.
After your visit, head through the traboule to eat at the famous restaurant Le Musée on the other side. Legend has it that former Lyon mayor Edouard Herriot would dine at the restaurant and visit the “maison close,” otherwise known as a brothel, located on the same street.
The Rue Mercière printing district is only a 5-minute walk from the museum. Head over there to see where the printing shops stood. Now the street is full of restaurants, so you can grab a bite to eat here too.