In what is now the bustling and busy gastronomic capital of France, there was once a thriving Roman city. Founded on the Fourvière hill as early as 43 CE and then-known as Colonia Copia Claudia Augusta Lugdunum, or Lugdunum for short, wander around Vieux Lyon today and you can expect to find traces of Lyon’s ancient history around almost every turn. Here’s your complete guide to Roman Lyon and the most historic Lugdunum locations the city has to offer!
Théâtre antique de Lyon (Ancient Theatre of Fourvière)
Offering one of the best views of Lyon, the Ancient Theatre of Fourvière is impressively large and once seated around 10,000 spectators. Constructed during the rule of Augustus and expanded under Hadrian, now the theatre is one of the finest examples of Roman architecture in France and is even a UNESCO world heritage site. Today, the theatre is free to visit and wander around and offers one of the best views in Lyon.
Odeum (Odéon) Theatre
Smaller and right beside the ancient theatre, the much smaller Odéon would have been created (much like that in neighbouring Vienne) for the purpose of musical and rhetorical performances. Once upon a time, this theatre would have seated up to 3000 people. Now, only the lower levels remain, though they’re still a great place to sit, relax, and watch the world go by.
Musée Gallo Romain (Gallo-Roman Museum)
Free to visit and open at varying times throughout the year, Lyon’s Gallo-Roman museum can be found on the fringes of its impressive theatre. On the Fourviere hillside, this museum was once situated elsewhere in Lyon. Since 1975, the modern-looking museum has been hosting temporary exhibitions, as well as telling the story of Lyon as Lugdunum.
Thermes antiques de Lyon (Lyon Roman Baths)
Much harder to find than other Roman sites in Lyon (on account of the fact that you must pass underneath a modern block of flats in order to view them) little remains of Lugdunum’s Roman baths. Instead, you need to let your imagination run wild to envision how the bathhouses must have looked during Roman times. Free to visit and built between the 1st and 3rd centuries CE, the Thermes Anqitues can be seen during any reasonable daylight hours.
Tombeau de Turpio (Turpio’s Tomb)
Pretty and picturesque, should you visit the Place Eugène Wernert during the springtime, you’ll soon spy some of the very best cherry blossoms that the French city has to offer. This square exudes the kind of cool and relaxed vibe that’s so synonymous with Lyon and even has an adorable chalet-style auberge on one end.
In the very heart of the square, the Tombeau de Turpio is one of ten funerary monuments that were discovered on the fringes of Lyon in 1985. Dating to the 1st-century CE, the five most archaeologically/ historically interesting of the pieces were then moved to Place Eugène Wernert where they can be seen today. The best preserved of these five is that dedicated to Turpio.
Aqueduc du Gier (Gier Aqueduct)
Once upon a time, four aqueducts supplied the city of Lugdunum with water. Though there is little more than a few free-standing columns left today, archaeologists surmise that the waterworks of Lugdunum must have been one of the greatest hydraulic engineering feats of the Roman world, second only to those of Rome in modern day Italy. Leave Lyon, and more traces of Lugdumun’s aqueducts can be found in Chaponost and Beaunant.
Maison de Pauline Jaricot (House Museum of Pauline Jaricot)
Look closely at the floor on the Ground Floor of Maison de Pauline Jaricot (now a free museum with a permanent exhibition set over several floors) and you’ll soon spot several slabs of Roman stone that once formed an ancient Via (road).
This three-metre long stretch of well-laid paving stones was only rediscovered during renovations of the house and suggests that the Montée of today follows the route of the original Roman road which would have snaked its way up the Fourviere hill. The road would also have been the link between the Fourviere district and that of Condate (what is now known as the Croix-Rousse district of Lyon).
Amphithéâtre des Trois Gaules (Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls)
Situated in the Croix-Rousse neighbourhood of Lyon, a district best-known for its silk past and village vibe, the Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls is so impressive and of historical importance that it’s been classed as a monument historique since 1961.