Gallo-Roman Amphitheatres on Fourvière Hill in Lyon

The Grand Theatre—Gallo Roman Amphitheatres
The Grand Theatre—Gallo-Roman Amphitheatres

Those Romans really got around in their empire days, including all the way to Lyon, France—more than 600 miles from Rome. Of course, unlike me, the Romans came not as tourists, but as conquerors. (“Conqueror” has a nice ring to it, but for practical reasons I had to stick with being just a tourist.) As occupiers, they felt, probably correctly, that it was a good idea to keep the local populace amused so they would be less likely to revolt. One result of this Roman strategy of entertainment for the masses was the Gallo-Roman Amphitheatres in the district of Lyon now known as Fourvière, on a hill that goes by the same name.

(Lyon was known as Lugdunum at the time of the Romans, but I’ll stick with Lyon. I don’t know what Fourvière was called back then. Anyone more ambitious than I am is greatly more than welcome to Google it and report back here in a comment below.

Lugdunum became the capital of Gaul during Roman times. Hence, because they were in Gaul the structures are known as Gallo-Roman amphitheatres rather than just Roman amphitheatres. I haven’t the slightest of ideas as to whether there is any architectural difference between a Gallo-Roman theatre and a Roman theatre. As far as I know, it might be simply a matter of locale. Sorry about not being more helpful, but I’m far, far, far too much of a lazy bastard to bother researching it. That would probably take even more work than trying to find out if the Fourvière district had another name back then.)

Two Intact Gallo-Roman Amphitheatres

The use of the plural, amphitheatres, rather than amphitheatre is intentional. (The use of the spelling amphitheatre rather than amphitheater is also intentional. I chose that spelling because I’m Canadian and that’s how we spell it, although francophone Canadians, not to mention francophone French folk, add a couple accents to the word, i.e. amphithéâtre. However, none of this parenthetical comment is relevant to this discussion, so never mind.)

The Odeon
The Odeon

There are two Gallo-Roman amphitheaters side by side—the Grand Theatre and a smaller theatre, known as the Odeon—on the site of the excavation of the theatres. Both of them are built into the side of a natural hill. And both of them very much intact.

That is to say, the Odeon is very much intact. There are ruins behind the Grand Theatre. At first I thought they might have been part of a separate structure, but I came across a sign that told me (in French and English) that the ruins were part of the Grand Theatre. There are also ruins off to the side of the Grand Theatre, but I don’t know if they supported seating before they became ruins.

Back in the day, the Grand Theatre, had a larger capacity than the section that’s still there. Today, the stone benches can accommodate about 4,500 people, but the sign told me that the upper second tier of seats that are now ruins would have about doubled the capacity and a covered walkway above that would have brought it to about 11,000.

Information about the current capacity is more than just idle trivia. A quick Google search told me that both of these Gallo-Roman amphitheatres are used for concerts today. In fact, when I visited, workers were busy setting up modern equipment on top of the Grand Theatre’s ancient stage.

Been there? Done that? Do tell.