The Saône: Lyon, Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière

The “famous” roof-top view from 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 taking the funicular up from Vieux Lyon to get up the hill. There’s more fun in funiculars.

A funicular runs from the old town, Vieux Lyon, to the basilica.

A grand spiral staircase

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 and the view is the best part of most tours.

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.

The view of the nave from above…

…and from below.

Fourvière is not an old church, on the European scale. 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.

Overlooking Lyon

Rub the lion’s nose for luck.

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.

It’s easy to mistake the iconic Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière as Lyon’s cathedral but it isn’t. Easily visible from the roof is the city’s actual cathedral and, by definition, the seat of it’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 cathedral.

Lyon’s cathedral, la Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon, viewed from Fourvière’s roof…

…and from the ground.

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 later, if you want. It’s a piece of advice that I obviously didn’t take.

The tour enjoys the stairs.

Looking up at Fourvière’s intricate ceiling decorations

The last set of stairs to the roof


One thought on “The Saône: Lyon, Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière

  1. I doubt looking at that spiral staircase I could make it to the top , wonder if they have winch s for us old folk, it does look a good view by all accounts though.

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