Lyon is situated at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers. Its inhabitants are called Lyonnais.
The city is a geographical crossroads in the country, located north of the Rhône corridor that extends from Lyon to Marseille. Positioned between the Massif Central to the west and the Alpine massif to the east, Lyon occupies a strategic location for north-south transportation in Europe. As the former capital of Gaul during the Roman Empire, it is the seat of an archdiocese whose holder carries the title of Primate of Gaul. Lyon became a bustling commercial city and a major financial center during the Renaissance. Its economic prosperity was driven at that time by silk production, printing, and later by the emergence of industries, particularly textiles, chemicals, and more recently, the image industry.
Historically, Lyon has been an industrial city. The downstream Rhône valley, south of the urban area, is home to numerous petrochemical activities, in what is known as the “Chemical Valley.” After the decline and closure of the textile industries, Lyon gradually refocused on high-tech sectors, such as pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. It is also the second-largest student city in France, with four universities and several prestigious schools. Additionally, the city has preserved significant architectural heritage spanning from Roman times to the 20th century, including the districts of Vieux Lyon, Fourvière Hill, the Presqu’île, and the slopes of Croix-Rousse, which are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The ancient city of Lugdunum is composed of two Gaulish words: Lug, a Celtic god associated with order and justice, and dunos, meaning “fortress” or “hill.” Together, they signify “the fortress of Lug.” Lug is a Celtic god whose messenger is a raven or crow. Thus, Lugdunum can be translated as “the hill of the god Lug” or “the hill of the crows.”
Originally, Lugdunum referred to the Fourvière Hill on which the ancient city of Lyon was founded.
Lower down, in the present-day district of Saint-Vincent, stood the Gaulish village of Condate, likely a simple settlement of rivermen or fishermen living along the banks of the Saône River. Condate is a Gaulish word meaning “confluence,” which gave its name to the Confluence neighborhood.
During Roman times, the city was called Caput Galliae, meaning “capital of Gaul.” As a legacy of this prestigious title, the Archbishop of Lyon is still referred to as the Primate of Gaul.
During the revolutionary period, Lyon was temporarily named Commune-Affranchie on October 12, 1793, by a decree of the National Convention. However, it resumed its original name in 1794 after the end of the Reign of Terror.