Fourvière Gallo-Roman Museum

Artifacts at the Fourvière Gallo-Roman Museum
Artifacts at the Fourvière Gallo-Roman Museum

Immediately beside Lyon’s Gallo-Roman amphitheatres is the Fourvière Gallo-Roman Museum. Unlike the amphitheatres, there is a charge to go into the museum, but it’s included in the Lyon City Card.

So if you buy one of those cards (I did), entry into the museum is free. Then again, you have to pay for the card. Whether it’s worth it depends on how many sites you’re going to visit in Lyon and how much you’ll use the city’s transit system (its use is also included on the card). I figure I got more than my money’s worth. (Other than being a customer once, I don’t have any association with the card, so make up your own mind if it’s worth it for you.)

The five-floor museum is built into the side of the hill, so it very much blends in with its surroundings—so much so that I hardly noticed its presence and had to keep an eye out for signs directing me to it.

Its design also means that it is much larger inside than it appears to be from the outside. So, if you’re there, don’t be scared off paying the admission price by what seems to be the museum’s small size. As I said, it’s much bigger on the inside than it looks.

Casting a contemplative gaze
Casting a contemplative gaze

For the benefit of any Dr. Who fans, no, being bigger on the inside than it appeared on the outside did not mean that I discovered a TARDIS. It’s just that a large portion of the museum is buried in the hill. For the benefit of people who haven’t a clue about Dr. Who, never mind. Your loss.

The entrance to the museum is at the top of a hill, so you enter on the top floor, not the bottom. The top floor primarily contains the entrance, including the ticket counter, and some amenities. When I was there, the three levels below that housed the exhibits.

The lowest level contained no exhibits, but rather a bunch of tables. That level looked like it was set up to host a past or future event. I don’t know if I was just unlucky. Maybe that level normally houses exhibits, whether temporary or permanent, and just happened to have been cleared out for an event when I was there. Bad luck would not be totally unheard of for me when I’m travelling.

Antiquities and other displays

The Fourvière Gallo-Roman Museum showcases a variety of excavated artifacts of varying sizes—including sculptures, statues, building components and materials, mosaics, tablets with chiselled text, and household items such as pottery—from the time of the Roman empire’s reign in what is now called Lyon. There are also informative exhibits that describe the history of and leading up to that period.

It was at the museum that I gained one piece of information that I didn’t have before. Well, that was misleading, wasn’t it? I learned much, but among a great many things, I learned one fact in particular that I mentioned in my preceding post on the Gallo-Roman amphitheatres of Lyon. I learned that, in the time of the Romans, the city that was situated on what is now known as Lyon, and particularly the Fourvière district of Lyon, was known as Lugdunum.

Some of the labels on the antiquities and displays include English translations, but many are exclusively in French. However, fear not if you, like me, are almost exclusively anglophone. I was able to use a free audio guide that was available in English, among other languages. The audio guide provided interesting information about the major pieces on display.

Words that are cast in stone
Words that are cast in stone

One cool feature of the audio guide was its ability to provide a synchronized, translated narrative at one of the displays. That particular display included a model of Lugdunum as it was in Roman times. However, it wasn’t just a static display. Different areas of the model were highlighted with spotlights at different times.

Spoken text described the history of Lugdunum as it was settled and built up, with a spotlight directing my attention to the area of the model being described at that moment. But the narrative was not broadcast on loudspeakers for everyone to hear, but possibly not understand, in a single language. Instead, I listened to it in English through the personal speaker in the audio guide that I held up to my ear. Other people were also there. They heard the same content about the areas that were being spotlighted on the model at that moment, but they heard it in on their audio guides in their own languages.

Inside the Fourvière Gallo-Roman Museum looking out

The antiquities and displays at the Fourvière Gallo-Roman Museum Large are well presented, interesting and, in some cases, fascinating. Yet, for me, one of the most jaw-dropping features of the museum was two windows located in alcoves on each of two levels of the museum. They were wide, floor-to-ceiling bay windows that provided incredible views of the next door amphitheaters.

It reminded me of a Star Trek Next Generation episode where federation scientists observed a more primitive civilization through electronically camouflaged windows on a planet that had not yet had first contact. OK. Maybe that was just my impression of it.

Thanks to the windows, despite being outside its walls, the Gallo-Roman amphitheatres became an exhibit of the museum.

Been there? Done that? Do tell.