I hope that, together with me, you’ll be happy to see that Lyon has been selected to be the place where the next European congress of Taiwan studies will be organized, the 10th EATS Annual Conference. Lyon, indeed, is a remarkably beautiful city, with most of its ancient parts protected as a world heritage site under UNESCO.
The city dates back from the Roman Empire, and has now two thousand years of history. Palpable and beautiful traces of the Roman foundation of the City in 44 AD are numerous. Believe it or not, it was founded on Oct. 10 that year, the ROC’s national day in modern times. In terms of Roman architecture, we still have two theaters and one amphitheater, which was used for … congresses (already :o). Lugdunum (Lyon) was the place where, every year in August, sixty Gaulois chiefs would meet to discuss administration of Gaule with with the Roman representatives.
Lyon developed over centuries to become France’s most important city after (and, at times, before) Paris. Before it was founded by the Romans, in fact a human settlement existed already, and since a long time. Gaulois people used to pray a God of light – Lug – hence the name of the city. Which, in turns, made Lyon the real ‘City of Lights’, nearly two thousand years before Paris, after the invention of articial lighting, started to claim the name.
By the time of the 1789 French Revolution, Lyon was already a very rich and populatied city. But after the Revolution, the selling of the clergy’s assests led to an immense restructuring of the city, doubled with an intense economic activity. The other tip of the silk road, Lyon’s merchants (many of Italian descent) became extraordinarily rich through confection and trading of silk – French style. Still today, Europe’s Republican and Royal palaces order their most precious silk – sometimes well above 10.000 € a meter – in Lyon.
The late 18th and early 19th development led to the erection of numerous stone buildings, which now are at the heart of the UNESCO protected areas. Their stairs, for instance, are particularly astonishing, together with the local specificity of “traboules” (a Lyon word unknown elsewhere in France, that comes directly from the Latin “trans-ambulare”, or walking through). Traboules are passages between streets, usually secret and hidden, but which are, for some, restored and open to the public on a daily basis. You can contemplaire fine architecture there, or even simple buildings but hidden from the activity of street life. Lyon people still remember how useful it was during the 1942-1944 occupation of the city during WWII.
One of the incredible advantage of the city is that is has not one river, but two – and of course, they converge. The Rhône and the Saône. A sort of “love affair”, since, in French language, the Rhône happens to be masculine, and the Saône feminine: an equisite statue was carved once, featuring a couple in love, symbolizing the union of the two rivers. As you may imagine, a Peninsula was born out of this “union”. Formely a succession of islands until Roman times, spaces between them were progressively filled up, until the times of those huge post-Revolution public works that I mentioned above. The result is what we call “La presqu’île” – the quasi-island – where the 19th century erected countless beautiful building, too. From Roman remains, Renaissance buildings, 18th architecture, to 19th urban developement and 20th/21th modernity, the variety of Lyon’s different districts is great and all are very charming.
In terms of museums, the illustrious Musée Guimet (of Asian Arts) of Paris was founded here. Its local collections are, however, stored at the moment, as the city is building a new, huge and ultra modern museum at the “Confluence” of the two rivers, not far from our conference site. For those who want to see Roman remains, the Gallo-Roman museum is one the most exciting in France. I could also mention the Asian collections of the Municipal Library, with the archives of the French-Chinese Institute founded in Lyon under the Chinese Republic by the two Republican regimes, the French and the Chinese. It is where, by the way, quite a few Chinese communist revolutionary leaders spent a few months of their life. Deng Xiaoping and Zhou Enlai, when they were studying and working in France, frequently came to Lyon to hold political meetings with them.