Best of the Fresques

Lyon is a city that rewards visitors prepared to stray from the beaten path by the bucketful. While Lonely Planet has your back for most of the key attractions, it does – from a temporary resident’s perspective – overlook two of Lyon’s hallmarks, one being the impressive fresques (frescoes) which adorn the façades of numerous buildings across the city, the other being the city’s traboules (more on the latter in my next post). Over the course of my ten month stint in Lyon, I both stumbled upon and intentionally sought out two dozen or so of the city’s fresques. Since they’re scattered all across the city, many of them are but a minor detour away from the well-trodden tourist trail.

This little (and by no means exhaustive) guide has been a long time in the making – mostly because I’m a snap-happy sightseer who can’t resist taking one, two or ten more photos just to be on the safe side and then takes forever and a day to sift through them all to pick out the best of the bunch – but with any luck, it will inspire a tourist or two to take a detour or several during their time in the city. I’ve tried to order them in a rough circuit, running from Lyon Part-Dieu to the Croix-Rousse, before heading south towards Gerland and États-Unis, and I’ve even included the closest metro stops for your convenience. (Lyon is very walkable, but I’m aware that others may not wish – or simply may not have the time – to rack up thousands of steps toddling across the city.)

1 | Fresque « Thank You Monsieur Paul »

In 2015, Paul Bocuse – widely regarded as being instrumental to the rise of nouvelle cuisine in France – was awarded three Michelin stars for the fiftieth year running. (Yes, you read that correctly.) In honour of his accomplishment, a fresque was commissioned; it’s fittingly located across the road from Les Halles de Paul Bocuse. When the sun goes down, this fresque comes alive (on the hour, every hour, until midnight) with a jazzy animation documenting Bocuse’s rise to fame. (105 Cours Lafayette; Metro B Place Guichard/ Metro A Masséna.)

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2 | Mur Peint des Canuts

Thirty years ago, this was a grubby, blank wall. Today, it’s Europe’s biggest fresco: 1,200m² of trompe d’œil documenting the evolution of one of Lyon’s most historic neighbourhoods. If you only have time to see one, make it this one – it’s absolutely mind-blowing in the flesh, and makes for some pretty amusing photos too. (Intersection of Boulevard des Canuts and Rue Denfert Rochereau; Metro C Henon.)

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3 | Fresque « La Porte de la Soie »

Lyon has a rich history of silk weaving; at its peak, thousands of looms were spread across the Croix-Rousse, where the canuts, or silk weavers, lived. This particular fresque maps the Great Silk Road, from Xian to Lyon’s Croix-Rousse, via Istanbul and Venice. (4 Rue Carquillat; Metro C Croix-Rousse.)

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4 | Fresque Végétale Lumière

Just down the road from the Jardin des Chartreux, which offers a beautiful panorama across the city, is the Fresque Végétale Lumière, based on photographs taken by Yann Arthus Bertrand. Intersected by vertical wall gardens, three large fresques depict traditional agricultural practices in African and South American nations. (Rue de l’Annonciade; Metro C Croix-Paquet.)

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5 | Fresque des Lyonnais

In need of some light entertainment? How about a large-scale version of Guess Who? with famous faces of Lyon, instead of goofy cartoons? If (like me) you’re struggling to identify anyone other than the Lumière brothers, Antoine de St. Exupéry (author of Le Petit Prince) or Paul Bocuse, check out the handy who’s who guide to the left hand side of the mural. (2 Rue de la Martinière; Metro A or C Hôtel de Ville.)

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6 | Fresque « Hommage à Tony Tollet »

Cameras flash almost constantly at the nearby Fresque des Lyonnais, but barely a soul seems to give this fresque a second glance. More’s the pity – for this little fresque of Tony Tollet in his studio is rather nice and certainly merits a quick viewing. (7 Rue Pareille; Metro A Cordeliers or Hôtel de Ville/ Metro C Hôtel de Ville.)

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7 | Fresque « La Bibliothèque de la Cité »

Continuing along the Saône, you’ll reach the next fresque on our tour, a homage to Lyon’s literary scene. Featuring hundreds of book covers, extracts and quotes, all from authors native to the region, this fresque overlooks the bouquinistes who set up shop by the riverside on Sundays. (Intersection of Quai de la Pêcherie and Rue de la Platière; Metro A Cordeliers or Hôtel de Ville/ Metro C Hôtel de Ville.)

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8 | Fresque de la Cour des Loges

Depicting the interior of the Cour des Loges in the form of a theatre set, this fresque is best viewed in the winter, as come spring leafy trees obscure the painters’ handiwork. (Place Ennemont Fousseret; Metro D Vieux-Lyon/ Metro A Cordeliers.)

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9 | Fresque de Gerland

When France hosted the 1998 FIFA World Cup, the neighbouring Stade de Gerland welcomed thousands of football fans from across the globe. Afterwards, a fresque was commissioned to celebrate this and the neighbourhood’s focal points. (18 Allée Pierre de Coubertin; Metro B Stade de Gerland.)

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10 | Fresque Lumière

Inspired by the Belgian comic artist François Schuiten, this is Lyon’s most futuristic fresque yet. It’s best appreciated at dusk, when it’s lit up by the fibre optics and LEDs which are seamlessly integrated into the design. (106-110 Avenue Jean Jaurès; Metro B Jean Macé.)

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11 | Mur Peint du Cinéma

Lyon was the birthplace of cinema, so it’s only fitting that there’s a fresque paying tribute to its rich cinematic history. (18 Cours Gambetta; Metro D Guillotière or Saxe-Gambetta/ Metro B Saxe-Gambetta.)

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12 | Fresque de Montluc

Stretching the length of the southern compound wall of the Prison de Montluc, this fresque pays homage to the Resistance movement and those who perished under Klaus Barbie’s watch inside Montluc. (Rue du Dauphiné; Metro D Sans Souci.)

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13 | Fresque de Shanghai

While the listed address is 23 Boulevard des États-Unis, make sure you turn the corner to view the fresque from Rue Villon, for this is the best part of it. China comes to life in this brightly coloured fresque, which presents viewers with a fusion of antiquity and modernity. (23 Boulevard des États-Unis; Metro D Sans Souci or Monplaisir-Lumière.)

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14 | Musée Urbain Tony Garnier

On a technicality, this isn’t one fresque but two dozen (or so) which collectively form the Musée Urbain Tony Garnier. They showcase the work of renowned architect Tony Garnier alongside utopian cities designed by international artists. Renovations began last year and by 2020, a number of them will have been redesigned altogether. (Quartier États-Unis; Metro D Sans Souci or Monplaisir-Lumière.)

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Lyon’s fresques are the work of CitéCréation, an organisation which has painted hundreds of murals across the globe, from Lyon to Lisbon and from Stockholm to Shanghai.

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8 thoughts on “Best of the Fresques

  1. Thank you for cataloging all these and sharing a bit of the history! I used to walk past several of these on a daily basis but there are a few others I don’t think I ever visited. I love how you come across them in random spots all over Lyon!

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    1. In some ways, that’s the best bit about them – just wandering along and stumbling upon a lifelike scene painted on a wall. Equally, it’s nice to know where to find them if you don’t have all the time in the world to wander across the city! There are definitely plenty more that I never made it to while I was living there but hope to one day.

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      1. That’s how I found the big one in Croix Rousse! I was an assistante at a school just around the corner. And there never seem to be tourists at that one because they’re all down at the Fresque des Lyonnais (…which I also used to live right next to, haha!)

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      2. That was fortuitous! It’s true though, you don’t tend to see so many visitors up there, perhaps as fewer tourists venture up to the Croix-Rousse. Must have been nice to see the Fresque des Lyonnais “out of hours” so to speak, without all the tourists clustered around it!

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  2. Never thought about checking out Lyon’s fresques, but they look absolutely amazing from your photos! I remember a post of yours about the Mur Peint des Canuts, and I’ve since made it my goal to visit it when I go to Lyon. Sounds like there’s so much to see on the walls themselves (and for free!).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. They’re absolutely fantastic – some have (inevitably) faded over the years, but the attention to detail is incredible. The Mur Peint des Canuts is particularly interesting, as it’s updated every decade or so, to reflect the changes in the community; there are some boards nearby showing what it has looked like at each stage. Definitely worth squeezing a few fresques in around everything else there is to see in Lyon!

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