Lyon at the time of the Enlightenment - History and heritage

From the 18th century, Lyon will no longer present the same face as during the Renaissance. The foundations of its fortune and the balance of its activities have evolved. The legacy of the past is not lost, however, but the capital of large-scale commerce and banking has become an intellectual city teeming with revolutionary ideas and the Enlightenment. Urban space is also evolving, giving the elites and the city a new and modern style.

The establishment of a republic of letters

An intellectual center

At the time of the Enlightenment, Lyon became the place of passage for several great philosophers of his time and in particular Jean Jacques Rousseau who stayed twice in the city but did not make a very attractive description of it, describing it as a place where " the most dreadful corruption reigns ”. Lyon will also suffer from its reputation as a merchant and bourgeois city, synonymous with narrow-mindedness for many. Léonard Michon, a notable and alderman of the city, points to the unintellectual side of his fellow citizens and Lamartine will not hesitate to increase the price by asserting "this city is one of the least intellectual of the cities in France because its industrial and mercantile genius is turning. entirely towards work ”.

However, there is indeed an intellectual life in the heart of the ancient capital of the Gauls. Lyon opened the first public library in 1731 while private libraries multiplied. The city had an Italian theater built in 1756, which was successively directed by two women. It was also in Lyon that Rousseau improvised as a composer during his last stay in 1770, there also that he gave his first performance of Pygmalion played with the Devin du Village. Academician Charles Bordes was an opponent of Rousseau and the Academy which was created in 1700 by Claude Brossette was the scene of debates, on education, technical education or even the death penalty.

Lyon was also a scientific city, medicine progressed in particular thanks to the Hôtel Dieu whose development will reduce the spread of diseases, while the first veterinary school in the world was created there in 1761. It is a botanical center, a melting pot experiences and saw the birth of the pyrograph, the first steamboat in 1783, or the first manned flight tests undertaken by the Montgolfier brothers in 1784. The sulphurous Mesmer also made a passage, nourishing the city's passion for the occult . Lyon finally has the reputation of a Masonic city, Freemasonry experienced a boom in the years 1730-1740. The city has therefore also known how to trade ideas and as Voltaire said so well "The commerce of thoughts is a little interrupted in France, it is even said that it is not allowed to send ideas from Lyon to Paris. ".

The instruction of the common people

Intellectual elites are therefore present in the city, but their vocation is also to educate the poor. In 1667, Charles Démia, a priest from Bourg, opened the first free school for children from the poorest families in the city. His teaching, although religious, is a real innovation for the time and seems relatively modern. The priest's vocation is, in fact, to teach little boys and girls reading, writing and sometimes arithmetic, which are subjects considered to be useful and then enable them to rise socially. However, the practice is still part of the Catholic religion and the texts studied are also.

Charles Démia wants, by the creation of these small schools, to allow children to leave the social sphere in which they are registered and to allow them to find an honorable job which will get them out of the streets and poverty. Work schools are then founded which put children in apprenticeship with workers, merchants or traders who will teach them the basics of their trade.

But the priest understood that to educate children well, teachers must also be trained. In 1680, he founded the community of the Sisters of Saint Charles, which formed school teachers. In terms of education, Lyon is an innovative city because of the will of its elites and the city's religious authorities.

The French Revolution

Lyon siege

Lyon December 14, 1793 "width =" 300 "height =" 240 "/> Under the Constituent, Lyon becomes the capital of the Rhône-et-Loire department, which will be split in two after the Lyon uprising. During the French Revolution , Lyon took the Girondins' party in 1793 and rose up against the Convention. The city suffered a siege of more than two months before surrendering. The repression of the Convention was fierce. On October 12, 1793, the Convention member Barère boasted of its success in these terms “Lyon made war on freedom, Lyon is no more.” Lyon thus takes the name of Ville-enfranchie. More than 2,000 people are shot or guillotined, and several rich mansions around the square Bellecour were destroyed, as was Pierre Scize's castle.


On August 21, 1794, the National Convention sent two representatives to Lyon, Louis Joseph Charlier and Pierre-Pomponne-Amédée Pocholle, to reorganize the city and the department after the excess of repression. In particular, they will get the city to take its name back. Bonaparte's seizure of power is viewed favorably, as the end of the black period and the return to civil peace. The Consulate and the Empire promote the silk industry and take an interest in Jacquard's inventions. Bonaparte had his uncle Joseph Fesch appointed to the archiepiscopal see in 1802.

In 1804, a project for an imperial palace was launched in Lyon (as in the other large cities of France). In 1811, a letter from the Duke of Cadore, then Minister of State, specifies: "the imperial palace will be erected on the water station, the garden will be on the peninsula, between the two rivers, up to the bridge of la Mulatière ”. But the project will never succeed because of the wars all over Europe. Lyon welcomes Napoleon I favorably on his return from Elba Island on March 10, 1815. The latter will say, before leaving for Paris: “Lyonnais, I love you”. This reception will be worth in Lyon a royalist reaction during the second Restoration.

The evolution of the city

Urban evolution

In the eighteenth century, the city of Lyon was cramped within its historic borders. Indeed, the city is limited to the current peninsula and Old Lyon. The slopes of Fourvière and La Croix-Rousse are not constructible, because they are lands belonging to the Church, and the left bank is also for the most part (with the exception of the faubourg de la Guillotière), because it is located in a flood zone (Brotteaux). This explains the habit of buildings in Lyon at the time to gain height.

Two people are going to put in place pharaonic plans to enlarge the city of Lyon. Morand, first of all, plans to drain part of the marshes on the left bank and subdivide these lands according to a checkerboard plan. It connects this new district to the Peninsula by a bridge, the Morand Bridge. The second project is that of Perrache, which plans to double the surface of the peninsula by extending it to the south. He will put this project into execution, but did not have time to subdivide it and the planned district was not built.

Jacques-Germain Soufflot was in charge of the construction of the façade of the Hôtel-Dieu in 1741, a building which will become a benchmark in terms of both architecture and hygiene. From a heritage point of view, its recent decommissioning has worried more than one, especially as the future of its museum is still not assured. Soufflot also provided the plans for the reconstruction, between 1747 and 1749, of the Loge du Change, then designed the first “hard” theater in the city, built between 1754 and 1756, for which he was inspired by Italian models. He also played an important role in private real estate operations such as the development of the Saint-Clair district on the right bank of the Rhône.

Consular power

During the two centuries of royal absolutism, the administration of the city passed into the hands of royal officers: first the governors (recruited in particular from the Villeroy family), then when they resided more often at the Court than 'in the provinces, the Intendants (see also the list of provosts of the merchants of Lyon).

Power was then shared between the Church (Lyon kept the prestige of the Primate of Gaul), the Consulate (municipal power which was made up from 1764 of a provost of merchants, four aldermen and twelve advisers) and the King , whose representatives are the Governor and the Steward.

In Lyon, the importance of the Jesuits is also underlined, with the College of the Trinity which formed the Lyon elites, the city having no university. However, it did have a Chamber of Commerce (the third in France after those of Marseille and Dunkirk), which it received in 1702 because of its position as the second economic power in the Kingdom.

During the Classic period, Lyon experienced great changes both at the urban level and at the political and cultural level. If the city sees itself for a moment stripped of its power by the suppression of its name, it finds today an important place at the national level thanks to its inscription in modernity.

For further

- Lyon heritage
- Art gallery
- André Pelletier, Jacques Rossiaud, Françoise Bayard and Pierre Cayez, Histoire de Lyon: des origines à nos jours, Lyon, Éditions lyonnaises d'art et d'histoire, 2007, 955 p.
- Françoise Bayard, Living in Lyon under the Ancien Régime, Paris, Perrin, 1997, Coll. Living under the Ancien Régime, 352 p.
- Maurice Garden, Lyon and the Lyonnais in the 18th century, Paris, Les Belles-lettres, 1970, 772 p.

Video: Η Ιστορία του Δυτικού Πολιτισμού 34 Ο Διαφωτισμός (October 2021).