One of the highlights of our stay in Lyon, France, was our visit to the emblematic Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. Perched atop the Fourvière hill, overlooking the Saône river and Vieux Lyon, the 19th-century basilique is a formidable sight visible from almost anywhere in the city, and an absolute must-visit in Lyon. Despite its elevated location, it’s easily accessible via Metro (take the Fourvière funicular from Saint Jean station in Vieux Lyon which drops you off right at the site's entrance). The Lyon City Bus tour includes a stop here, too.
Standing at the foot of the impressive basilica, it's impossible not to feel mesmerized with its beauty and dimensions. Its imposing architecture combines Byzantine, Gothic and Romanesque elements (an unusual mix for the times). Built with white marble from Carrara, its facade shines in the sun and the details adorning it are simply beautiful. Other materials used in the construction include pink granite from the North of Italy, blue marble from Savoy, silver, gold, green onyx, ebony and ivory.
Notre-Dame de Fourvière is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, considered protector of Lyon against the Prussian invasion of 1870 and other maladies like the bubonic plague and a cholera epidemic earlier on. The basilica itself consists of two churches, one built on top of the other. Downstairs, while dark, the interior is beautiful and solemn. Different representations of Mary around the world are represented in individual niches along the sides of the church, including countries like Mexico, Lebanon, and China.
A marble stairwell leads you up to the main sanctuary where you're welcomed by huge colorful mosaics with Byzantine and Art Nouveau influences and large gold stained-glass windows. The basilica's interior décor was conceived as a poem to Mary, representing different aspects of her historical relationships with the Church and with France. The beauty and attention to detail given to the artistic elements call for a few moments of contemplation.
Entrance to the basilica, the crypt and the Chapel of the Virgin is free, and you also can download a free audio guide for your smartphone here.
The Behind-the-Scenes Rooftop Tour
While we hadn't planned to do so, upon exiting the basilica I noticed a sign about a tour that was about to start giving visitors a unique opportunity to go on its rooftop. I signed up for the tour immediately without realizing it was only offered in French.
Unfortunately for us, our tour guide didn't seem to know enough English (or care enough about the only two non-French speakers in the group) to offer us at least some basic information we could understand. Nevertheless, other than the tedious and long foreign-language explanations, the tour itself was an amazing behind-the-scenes experience.
We started at the bottom of the Justice Tower with its impressive staircase (each of the four towers is 48 meters/157 feet high), and climbed 345 steps, making different stops along the way to catch our breath and enjoy privileged views of both the interior and exterior of the basilica, all the way up to the bell tower.
Stepping out onto the basilica's rooftop with its breathtaking views all around was, of course, the highlight of the tour. The golden statue of Mary standing tall on top of the bell tower is quite a view. Yet, for me, it was the beautiful statue of the Archangel Michel rising high above the city with the dragon subjected under his feet that felt so close and full of meaning. I felt so at peace up there, just being where I was meant to be at that very moment.
Good to Know
The tour lasts 1.5 hours (it feels twice as long if your French is as bad as mine!)
Reservations are recommended but they'll probably let you sign up onsite regardless
Ticket prices are €10 for adults, €5 for children, and free under 5 years old
It got quite hot inside the tower and galleries we visited -- bring a bottle of water with you!