Lyon ( or ; , locally: ; ; also spelled Lyons in English) is a city in east-central France, in the Rhône-Alpes region, situated between Paris and Marseille. Lyon is located approximately from Paris, from Marseille, from Strasbourg, from Geneva, from Turin. The residents of the city are called Lyonnais.
The small municipality (commune) of Lyon proper has a population of 491,268 (January 2011), and as such is France's third largest city after Paris and Marseille, but together with its suburbs and satellite towns Lyon forms the 2nd-largest metropolitan area in France with a population of 2,188,759 at the January 2011 census. Lyon is the capital of the Rhône-Alpes region, as well as the capital of the smaller Rhône département.
The city is known for its historical and architectural landmarks and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Lyon was historically known as an important area for the production and weaving of silk and in modern times has developed a reputation as the capital of gastronomy in France and in the world.
It has a significant role in the history of cinema due to Auguste and Louis Lumière, who invented the cinematographe in Lyon. The city is also known for its famous light festival 'Fête des Lumières' which occurs every 8 December and lasts for four days, earning Lyon the title of Capital of Lights.
Legend says that the Virgin Mary saved the city from the plague and, to thank her, a statue was built. On the day it was erected, the whole city was lit by candles that its citizens had put at their windows.
Economically, Lyon is a major centre for banking as well as for chemical, pharmaceutical, and biotech industries. The city contains a significant software industry with a particular focus on video games, and in recent years has fostered a growing local start-up sector. Lyon also hosts the international headquarters of Interpol, Euronews and International Agency for Research on Cancer. By some measures, Lyon is ranked 2nd in France as an economic centre and convention centre. Lyon was ranked 8th globally and 2nd in France for innovation in 2011. It ranked 2nd in France and 38th globally in Mercer's 2010 liveability rankings.
According to the historian Dio Cassius, in 43 BC, the Roman Senate ordered Munatius Plancus and Lepidus, lieutenants of the assassinated Julius Caesar and governors of central and Transalpine Gaul respectively, to found a city for a group of Roman refugees who had been expelled from Vienne (a town about 30 km to the south) by the Allobroges and were encamped at the confluence of the Saône and Rhône rivers. Dio Cassius says this was to keep the two men from joining Mark Antony and bringing their armies into the developing conflict. The Roman foundation at Fourvière hill was officially called Colonia Copia Felix Munatia, a name invoking prosperity and the blessing of the gods. The city became increasingly referred to as Lugdunum (and occasionally Lugudunum). The earliest translation of this Gaulish place-name as "Desired Mountain" is offered by the 9th-century Endlicher Glossary. In contrast, some modern scholars have proposed a Gaulish hill-fort named Lug[o]dunon, after the Celtic god Lugus ('Light', cognate with Old Irish Lugh, Modern Irish Lú) and dúnon (hill-fort).
Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa recognized that Lugdunum's position on the natural highway from northern to south-eastern France made it a natural communications hub, and he made Lyon the starting point of the principal Roman roads throughout Gaul. It then became the capital of Gaul, partly due to its convenient location at the convergence of two navigable rivers, and quickly became the main city of Gaul. Two emperors were born in this city: Claudius, a speech of whom is preserved in the Lyon Tablet in which he justifies the nomination of Gallic senators, and Caracalla. Today, the archbishop of Lyon is still referred to as "Primat des Gaules" and the city often referred to as the "capitale des Gaules".
The Christians in Lyon were martyred for their beliefs under the reigns of various Roman emperors, most notably Marcus Aurelius and Septimus Severus. Local saints from this period include Blandina (Blandine), Pothinus (Pothin), and Epipodius (Épipode), among others. In the 2nd century AD, the great Christian bishop of Lyon was the Easterner Irenaeus.
Burgundian refugees fleeing the destruction of Worms by the Huns in 437 were resettled by the military commander of the west, Aëtius, at Lugdunum, which became the capital of the new Burgundian kingdom in 461.
Fernand Braudel remarked, "Historians of Lyon are not sufficiently aware of the bi-polarity between Paris and Lyon, which is a constant structure in French development...from the late Middle Ages to the Industrial Revolution". In the late 15th century, the fairs introduced by Italian merchants made Lyon the economic countinghouse of France. (Even the Bourse (treasury), built in 1749 resembled a public bazaar where accounts were settled in the open air.) When international banking moved to Genoa, then Amsterdam, Lyon remained the banking centre of France.
During the French Revolution, Lyon rose up against the National Convention and supported the Girondins. In 1793, the city was assaulted by the Revolutionary armies and under siege for over two months before eventually surrendering. Several buildings were destroyed, especially around the Place Bellecour. Jean-Marie Collot d'Herbois and Joseph Fouché administered the execution of more than 2,000 people. A decade later, Napoleon ordered the reconstruction of all the buildings demolished during this period.
During the Renaissance, the city's development was driven by the silk trade, which strengthened the city's ties to Italy. (Italian influence on Lyon's architecture can still be seen today.) Thanks to the silk trade, the city became an important industrial town during the 19th century. In 1831 and 1834, the canuts (silk workers) of Lyon staged two major uprisings. The 1831 uprising saw one of the first recorded uses of the black flag as an emblem of protest.
During World War II, Lyon was a centre for the occupying German forces as well as a stronghold of resistance. The traboules (secret passages) through houses enabled the local people to escape Gestapo raids. On 3 September 1944, the city was liberated by the 1st Free French Division and the Forces Françaises de l'Intérieur. The city is now home to a resistance museum. (See also Klaus Barbie.)