Place Bellecour, Lyon, France
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Place Bellecour Lyon Reviews
A Place of Time Passages Feb 28, 2016
Given that Lyon itself can trace its origins back to Roman times, many of the plazas (Place in French) are of relatively modern origin, mainly from the late Renaissance period of the 17th century. Plazas became a center of life in cities like Lyon, with cultural, political and social importance necessary for urban growth in the thriving environment of the Renaissance, a French word which means 'rebirth'. The people of those times didn't refer to it as the Renaissance, however, and that's a label historians gave to the period of cultural rebirth of European society following the Middle Ages.
Much of the land between the Rhone and Soane Rivers was originally marshland, prone to flooding from the two rivers. Parts of it were land filled, dried out over time and used for various purposes, including vineyards, gardens, and meadows for raising sheep. The origin of the name Bellecour apparently comes from bella curtis (beau jardin in French for beautiful garden) where the archbishop of Lyon once had his gardens and vineyards in the 12th century. Place Bellecour as a public plaza seems to have been a long process beginning in 1604 when Henry IV acquired the land for public use. There seems to have been some argument for many years between King and Church about this. Finally in 1658, King Louis XIV decreed the land could not be sold or built upon.
It wasn't until 1686 that a statue to the still reigning King Louis XIV was erected in the Place Bellecour, which at that time was then named Place Louis le Grand. Other buildings are subsequently built around the square. Louis XIV, also known as Louis the Great, was king of France for 72 years from 1643 to 1715, which remains the longest reign of any monarch in European history. During the French Revolution in 1790 it was known as Place de la Fédération, and a guillotine was erected here in 1792 for public executions - Mercy Me! The statue of Louis XIV was destroyed in 1793 as well as other buildings surrounding the square, and the plaza was renamed Place de l’Égalité. Then comes Napoleon and laying the cornerstones of new buildings around 1800. It becomes Place Napoleon for a while, until the Bourbon Restoration of 1814-1830, when it became Place Louis le Grand again and a new statue of King Louis XIV was erected in 1825 (the one seen here today)
During the Third Republic in France beginning in 1870, it gained its current name of Place Bellecour (back to its roots I guess without all the kings and emperors in between perhaps). I thought it important to mention the history of the land here as it may explain something about how it appears today, that is, as one of the largest squares in Europe, and the largest one in Europe without any green spaces. The only buildings here exist on the periphery of the plaza. The plaza, as a whole, imparts a sense of space and place that has gone through many changes in its history.
During my couple of visits to Lyon (2008 & 2016) I have visited Place Bellecour, but both times in the waning hours of daylight and only seen it from a distance in full daylight. I suppose I would recommend both - See it up close in day & night as well as from a distance in day & night. The main statues to see are King Louis XIV on horseback, with allegorical figures of the Rhone & Saone Rivers at its base, and the statue of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry seated with "The Little Prince", a character from a book he wrote in 1943. If you have not read that book, you should! It's not very long, but an inspiring story, and sort of travel related too. The Lyon Kilometre Zero (from which all distances from Lyon are measured) is here also, though I've never found it. It's somewhere in the center they say, but it's a big place.
I haven't looked at the buildings surrounding the square/plaza too much, but worth a look I gather. See the statues and enjoy the sheer size of it. There is a large Ferris wheel here too, which looks quite pretty at night. Place Bellecour is a space that has changed its name many times, and it is a place of time passages, in a sense, but remains a central part of the culture and history of Lyon. To me, it is less a living place in terms of buildings, greenery, people, as it is an existing space in terms of the history that has passed here. The open space you see is as it was through these many centuries. It's an opportunity to use your imagination and reflect on that.
Part of the Lyonescence Part Deux (Feb 26 - Mar 4, 2016) travel blog
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