Smaller than Place Bellecour, but more spectacular, the First Arrondissement’s Place des Terreaux is perhaps the essential part of any visit to Lyon’s Presqu’île. The square is part of the zone of Lyon which is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The square is bordered on its east side by the City Hall, Hôtel de Ville de Lyon. The impressive building was constructed in 1655, but received its present façade in 1702. On the 12th of July 1892, the city hall was recognised as a Monument Historique. Embedded throughout the square itself, are the 69 granite fountains which make up Daniel Buren’s polka-dot ‘forest’. On the south side of Place des Terreaux is Lyon’s fine arts museum, Musée des Beaux-Arts, on the west a predominantly residential building which includes a gallery, and on the north some civilian buildings (including some pleasant bars and cafés with summertime terrasses on the square itself) which mark the beginning of the slopes of the Croix-Rousse district.
The Fontaine Bartholdi
Standing in the famous square is the 19th-century Bartholdi fountain, made of lead and weighing some 21 tonnes, the fountain is an iconic part of the city. Better known for creating New York’s Statue of Liberty, the fountain was sculpted by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi and unveiled in 1892. Unusually, the work of art was originally commissioned for the city of Bordeaux, but was ultimately deemed too expensive and was sold to Lyon. Bordeaux’s loss has proven to be Lyon’s gain. The fountain depicts four horses, which symbolise Lyon’s rivers galloping seawards, pulling a chariot driven by the Greek goddess Amphitrite who symbolises France.
Place de Terreaux during the Fête des Lumières
On its own website the City of Lyon describes Place des Terreaux as the “epicentre” of the city’s biggest and most famous annual event, the Fête des Lumières, or the Festival of Lights. The vast majority of visitors – often well over a million during the course of the four-day event – are sure to add the square to their itinerary.
The layout of the square lands itself particularly well to the light shows for which the festival is famed for. The rectangular nature of a square surrounded by tall buildings means that the light show can take place on all sides. The Hôtel de Ville, Fine Arts Museum and the Bartholdi Fountain each year form part of the performances.
Place des Terreaux is located in the 1st Arrondissement, just a 200m walk from Hotel de Ville – Louis Pradel metro station (on Metro line A). Additionally, for onward journeys, a taxi stand is located in the South-East corner of the Place on Rue Président du Édouard Herriot.
Best time to visit
The place can be enjoyed for its beauty both night and day. Its terrasses are extremely welcoming to weary sightseers on a hot day and no visit to Lyon is complete without a photograph with the Bartholdi Fountain in the background. Given the excellent night lighting in the square, and its vibrant bars, Place des Terreaux is equally attractive after dark.
Place des Terreaux, 69001 Lyon.