La Fresque des Lyonnais, or the Mural of Lyonnais, is a mural covering a surface area of some 800 m2 on the back and side of a residential building in Lyon’s 1st arrondissement near the Saône river. Popular with locals and tourists alike, the mural depicts some notable Lyonnais who are celebrated for their role in helping shape the history of Lyon and the world. Their lifespans spread from the foundation of Lyon as the Roman City of ‘Lugdunum’ over 2000 years ago until the present.
The figures are life-size, and appear to be standing in the windows or balconies that resemble those of the neighbouring buildings. The mural often causes momentary confusion for the uninitiated!
The painting features the images of 24 historical figures, and 6 contemporary Lyonnais. The present-day characters were painted at street-level as a way of representing them interacting amongst today’s Lyon residents and tourists. The Fresque des Lyonnais was originally painted in 1994-1995 by CitéCréation, a local co-operative of muralists.
In the early 1990s, CitéCréation had painted a similar mural in Barcelona called the Balconies of Barcelona, which featured 30 famous catalans including figures such Antoni Gaudí, Joan Miró and Pablo Casals, but also Pablo Picasso. Impressed by their work, the city of Lyon engaged CitéCréation to paint the now famous optical illusion on what had previously been a windowless and rather characterless wall.
Painted over a nine-month period, the initial project was greeted enthusiastically by the residents of Lyon. The Fresque is an ongoing work and minor modifications have been made in the intervening years. Some of the windows in the mural remain empty so there is potential for future additions.
Who features on the wall?
- Emperor Claudius (c. 10 BC – 54AD): Lyon-born Claudius was Roman emperor from 41-54AD.
- Pierre Puvis de Chavanne (1824-1898): A celebrated Lyonnais muralist.
- Jean de Verrazane (late 1400s-1528): An explorer in the service of King François I. He is believed to have discovered the site of New York City.
- Joseph-Marie Jacquard (1752-1834): Invented the famous Jacquard loom, which automated the silk weaving process, an important Lyonnais industry at the time, and revolutionized the production of the local silk-weavers (the canuts).
- Philippe de Lasalle (1723-1804): An artist celebrated for his ornate silk designs.
- Bertrand Tavernier (born 25th April 1941): A director and screenwriter.
- St-Irénée (c. 125-202): A bishop of Lyon during the late 2nd century.
- Ste-Blandine (c. 160-177): The patron saint of Lyon.
- Louise Labé (1516-1566): A Lyonnaise poet of the Renaissance.
- Maurice Scève (1500-1560): A Renaissance poet whose focus was on the idea of spiritual love.
- Juliette Récamier (1777-1849): A symbol of the famous “salons” of the French Restoration.
- Claude Bourgelat (1712-1779): The founder of the world’s first veterinary school, located in Lyon.
- Pauline Jaricot (1799-1862): A prominent Christian missionary.
- Claudine Thévenet (1775-1837): The founder of the Congregation of the Religious of Jesus and Mary, an organization, still in operation today, that is dedicated to the education and service of children.
- Général Major Martin (1735-1800): A Major General in the English East India Company’s army who was also a geographer, engineer, and philanthropist.
- Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832): An economist and businessman who is best known for Say’s Law, an economic law of markets that says that supply can create its own demand.
- André-Marie Ampère (1775-1836): A physicist most famous for founding the field of electromagnetism. The SI unit of electric current, ampere or amp, is named after him.
- Laurent Mourguet & Guignol (1769-1844): Mourguet was a puppeteer and creator of Lyon’s Guignol puppet, who is pictured on the mural alongside Mourguet. His puppet shows are still performed in many locations throughout France, but most notably at La Maison de Guignol in Lyon’s 5th Arrondissement.
- Le Petit Prince and Antoine de St-Exupéry (1900-1944): An aviator, writer, and philosopher. Antoine de St-Exupéry began flying during his military service, which inspired many of his later books, but in particular his most famous creation, The Little Prince or Le Petit Prince, with whom he is depicted in the Fresque.
- Antoine de Jussieu (1686-1758): A botanist best known for his classification system for flowering plants.
- Marcel Mérieux (1870-1937): A biochemist and entrepreneur who created the Institut Mérieux. He is pictured with his grandson, Doctor Jean Mérieux.
- Claude Bernard (1813-1878): A physiologist who pioneered the use of the scientific method and blind tests in his experiments. He is considered the founder of modern-day physiology.
- Edouard Herriot (1872-1957): The mayor of Lyon for more than half a century. He was elected to the Académie française in 1946.
- Tony Garnier (1869-1948): An architect and city planner. He is responsible for the Halle in the 7th Arrondissement which bears his name, but also the Quartier des Etats-Unis in the 8th Arrondissement and the current home of LOU Rugby Club, the Stade de Gerland.
- Auguste & Louis Lumière (1862-1954 and 1864-1948): The inventors of the very first motion-picture camera, the cinematograph, they are considered by many to be the fathers of cinema. Their legacy can be appreciated by visiting the Institut Lumière in the 8th arrondissement.
- Bernard Pivot (born May 5, 1935): A journalist and television host.
- L’abbé Pierre (1912-2007): A Roman Catholic priest who founded the Emmaus organization, which works to end poverty around the world. Also an active member of the French resistance during the Second World War.
- Bernard Lacombe (born August 15, 1952): A footballer considered one of the best attacking players in French football during his prime. Following his retirement in 1987, he went on to act as manager for Lyon’s team, Olympique Lyonnais.
- Paul Bocuse (1926-2018): An internationally-recognized chef and restaurateur, Bocuse was a holder of three Michelin stars for half a century. His restaurants remain some of the finest that Lyon, and France, has to offer.
- Frédéric Dard (1921-2000): A celebrated crime novel writer.
The Fresque is located in the 1st Arrondissement, a short walk from both Place des Terreaux and the Hôtel de Ville. If travelling by metro, the mural is approximately 700m from Hotel de Ville – Louis Pradel metro station (on Metro line A). By bus, the C14 stops at Terreaux La Feuillée which is roughly a 4 minute walk from the site. The C3 bus stops at Gare St Paul, which is approximately 5 minutes walk from the mural, however please note that Gare St Paul is on the opposite side of the Saône river.
The Mural is located in Lyon’s 1st Arrondissement (69001), on the corner of 49 quai Saint-Vincent and 2 rue de la Martinière.
Evidently, the Fresque is accessible at all times, however given that the sun dips behind the building in the afternoon, it is advisable to view the wall in the morning between 10am and 12pm on a sunny day.