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November 20, 2018

France: Lyon, Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière


A classic view of Lyon from the roof of the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière

The top of Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière offers a great view of Lyon. Situated on a hill above the city’s old quarter and visible from the distance the basilica is iconic. The basilica looks good from below and Lyon looks good from the church.

Visitors can reach the church by car, taxi, foot, bike, or public transit. Given a choice, I’d always recommend including a funicular ride up the hill from Vieux Lyon. There’s more fun in funiculars.

Inside the richly decorated Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière

A funicular takes riders from Vieux Lyon to the base of Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière.

There’s not much of a view of the city from the base of the church. To get the best view of Lyon’s cityscape visitors can join an “Original Tour”. Limited to 19 guests at a time and filled on a first come first served basis, the popular guided Original Tour gives visitors “behind the scenes” access to the basilica. Our tour was in French, which we did not fully comprehend. Nevertheless, the eyes know no language: Seeing the inside of the church and taking in the view is the best part of the tour.

The guide’s route takes the group from the base of the church up a grand staircase. At the top of the staircase walkways cross high above the elaborately decorated nave. Continuing on from the nave the route continues to climb a second staircase that leads to the roof and the view.

Spiral staircases are compelling pictures

Looking up

Work on the basilica was begun in 1872 and finished in 1884, with the final touches continuing until 1964. On the New World standard Fourvière is an old building. But on the standard of the grand European churches it is a baby.

The basilica seems particularly youthful in contrast to the ruins of a 2,000 year-old runs of the Roman amphitheatre a short distance away. In fact the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière was built on the location of the Roman forum of Trajan. Indeed the name “Fourvière” is derived from the Latin forum vetus (old forum), as an inverted corruption of the French Vieux-Forum.

Unusually Fourvière actually contains two churches, one on top of the other. The upper sanctuary, visible on the inside from high above during the climb on the “Original” tour, is covered with ornate decorations; seemingly every square inch of the interior decorated. The lower church is a much simpler; its larger flamboyant sibling overhead overshadows it.

Another staircase on the way to the top

The view out over the nave’s roof

It’s easy to mistake the iconic Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière as Lyon’s cathedral but it isn’t. Easily visible from Fourvière’s roof is the city’s actual cathedral, by definition the seat of Lyon’s bishop.   The Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon is also impressive, up close and from the distance. But in Lyon, its better-positioned basilica-neighbor on the hill above overshadows an otherwise fine old cathedral.

The limited real estate on the roof of the basilica inevitably means that all the tourists are taking the same pictures from the same angles. There’s a great deal of similarity to all of the pictures that can be found posted on the Internet. So maybe this is a place to put the camera away in enjoying the view. You can always share someone else’s pictures on Facebook later, if you want. It’s advice I did not take.

The Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon from Notre-Dame de Fourvière

The cathedral from ground level

Looking up inside the basilica

Descending the spiral staircase on the way out

Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière

1 Comment »

  1. […] is often but not necessarily the grandest and largest church in the diocese. There are plenty of places where it is easy to think that a large flamboyant basilica is the cathedral when in fact the actual […]

    Pingback by Spain: Zaragoza, The Co-Cathedrals | Another Header — December 19, 2018 @ 10:21 pm


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