Are you looking for original ideas to rediscover Lyon on foot?
Here is our suggestion for a walk in the city centre to discover little-known streets with amazing histories…
Fourvière Hill and Vieux-Lyon
Rue Armand Calliat
Starting on Montée du Gourguillon, this street leads to the heart of the Saint-Georges neighbourhood. On a slope lined with old houses, it offers fantastic views of the city. This street has been here since the Middle Ages! Armand Calliat was a goldsmith specialised in religious art.
Lyon’s oldest houses are not easy to find! Take the small cul-de-sac Impasse Turquet from Montée du Gourguillon to see some houses with wooden balconies that are thought to date back to the fourteenth century. Etienne Turquet (real name ‘Turquetti’) was a rich silk manufacturer from Italy who contributed greatly to the growth of Lyon’s silk industry by training the local workforce, under the reign of Francis I in the sixteenth century.
Once an open sewer in the Middle Ages, Ruelle Punaise was aptly named (‘punaise’ meaning ‘bug’)! Today, it is difficult to imagine the sewage pouring down into the street from this narrow passage. Later converted into a pedestrian alleyway, you can see steps on the left-hand side, which lead up to Montée Saint-Barthélemy.
Fascinating street names...
- Rue vide-bourse (or ‘Empty Purse Street’): In the Saint-Irénée neighbourhood, this narrow street lined with old houses is said to date back to the twelfth century. It is also said to have been the den of a feared gang of highwaymen!
- Rue de la quarantaine (or ‘Quarantine Street’): A name that is very relevant to the current situation! Located outside the city limits, this street was home to a centre for travellers suspected of infection during plague epidemics. They were required to stay there to complete a quarantine period.
Slopes of Croix-Rousse Hill
In the La Martinière neighbourhood, at the corner of Rue Saint-Benoît and Rue de la Vieille remains a beautiful garden partly surrounded by a colonnade. A former Benedictine convent (which followed the Rule of Saint Benedict, or ‘Saint-Benoît’ in French), this seventeenth-century building offers a welcome break in a very urban environment.
Known as the home of the Village des Créateurs, Passage Thiaffait links Rue Burdeau and Rue René Leynaud. François-Félix Thiaffait, a member of the Bureau de Bienfaisance de la Société d’Agriculture de Lyon and president of the Société d’Instruction Elémentaire du Rhône, built this passageway in the 1830s. Look out for the lion heads that decorate the forged iron railings! A crime hotspot in the late twentieth century, it has been rehabilitated as a home for the best of today’s and tomorrow’s fashion.
Built in the nineteenth century to make it easier for silk workers to get around the slopes of Croix-Rousse Hill, Passage Mermet can be discovered via an archway on Rue René Leynaud and a flight of steps leading to Rue Burdeau. Joseph Mermet, a doctor, sold his house in 1828, enabling the construction of the passageway. A great spot to take photos, this stairway has been decorated by Belgian artist WENC in collaboration with local associations.
Passage des imprimeurs (Printers' Alley)
Rue Mercière was the centre of Lyon’s printing industry in the fifteenth century. Lyon was France’s leading city for printing and there were a hundred or so workshops around Rue Mercière. Watch out for a plaque dedicated to Etienne Dolet, a printer who was executed in public for his opinions. This charming and little-known passageway leads to Quai Saint-Antoine.
Passage de l’Argue
Lyon’s most famous covered passageway was created in the nineteenth century. It was a fashionable meeting place where people would show off their finery. Still today, numerous shops with a timeless charm (including hatters and cutlers) keep the authentic atmosphere alive. Do you know what an ‘argue’ is? In the golden age of Lyon’s silk industry, an ‘argue’ was a machine used to transform precious metals (gold, silver, etc.) into thread, which was then weaved by the ‘canuts’ (silk workers). One of these machines was operated nearby.
Rue des Templiers
In the heart of the Presqu’île district, this street seems to have almost been forgotten by local residents! It can be accessed via a picturesque porch overlooked by a statue of the Virgin Mary on Place Antonin Gourju, next to the restaurant La Mère Léa. Not very busy these days, this street is located on the site of a former estate that belonged to the Knights Templar in the thirteenth century.
Fascinating street names...
- Rues de la poulaillerie et de la fromagerie (or ‘Poultry Street’ and ‘Dairy Street’): These typical city centre streets hold the memory of former guilds and the businesses that thrived here!
- Rue des quatre chapeaux (or ‘Four Hats Street’): Formerly named Rue Grenouille (or ‘Frog Street’!), it is said to be named after the sign of either a hatter or an inn that depicted four hats.
Enjoy (re)discovering the city!