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 Mural Paintings in Lyon, France

Professor Arnie Greenberg

Am I taking a book? Am I real?

Only two hours from Paris on the TGV, fast train, Lyon is a visual feast and a gourmet capital, but there’s much more.

This summer I found a city that turns building decoration into an art.

These are wall paintings.   

If you live in an urban area or have traveled to a major center, you, no doubt, have witnessed the eruption of ugly graffiti that has become part of the urban landscape. Not only is it on buildings but I’ve seen it on trains, subway cars and schools.

Today’s graffiti is mostly a result of angst in major cities where people who just don’t care, deface private buildings with grotesque smudges of every kind. In Paris, where buildings are often painted brown or gray, these ugly blights on the landscape are painted over and for a few weeks they look clean. In Canada where I live, this urban blight is difficult to contro\

You can imagine my reaction when I found myself in Lyons France, a city with over 150 painted walls. They are, to my mind, works of art. Having written once before about Trompe-L’Oeil (Trick of the eye) in Perigueux, but I now entered the grand city of Lyon to a dazzling array of pictorial art whose roots are common to all civilizations. They still fool the eye but they are popular decorations meant to enhance rather than destroy.

This is the first art form known to man going back some 35,000 years with figurative murals appearing in Europe during the Paleolithic era. Shapes and colors graced a neighborhood wall. Frescoes adorned churches.

However, what I did see in Lyon was something else. The unusual murals made the city special. They light up neighborhoods and bring a smile to a visitor’s face. Some visitors travel to Lyon just to see these murals. But that is only one of the reasons they go there. Lyon is a wonderful place if you like art or food.


This is a painting of a painter. He is not real… - click to enlarge
This is a painting of a painter. He is not real…

This is only a painting…  - click to enlarge
This is only a painting…

The historical value of this art form is incalculable. The city’s heritage can come to life in this way. Historically, we have had frescoes, wall decorations and murals dating back to Pompeii. They transmit messages of both love and revolt. In New York in the late 60s, underprivileged black and Latin American minorities used graffiti as a form of individual expression. The underground in New York became a subject of repression. In Berlin it was used to show opposition to Communism. In France, in the 80s, the art form flourished in the suburbs. This was symbolic of a mixed society.

This continues, but in Lyon it has taken a turn. It enhances the look of the city and is now an object of pride.


Tony Garnier’s unique contribution to this art form has transformed one section of Lyon that is a must for visitors to this illuminated city. It is a treat for the eyes and the palate, but that’s a subject for another day.

Imagine my delight when our tour-bus paused in front of some of these artistic and cultural masterpieces.

I roamed the streets with a mural guide in my hand. I photographed about 50 designs. It made the city a moving art gallery. And along the way I discovered numerous good restaurants in this city of food. The chocolate shops beckoned me, as did the French pastry and everywhere there were bears. The guide said there were 69 sculptures of bears to celebrate Lyon and Quebec City’s 400th anniversary as a city (2008). Of course there were many Lions on the streets too but I assume they were always there.

These are not posters. The entire side of the building is a mural. - click to enlarge
These are not posters. The entire side of the building is a mural.

Bears - click to enlarge

Lion - click to enlarge

The artists displayed are from Canada, France, Italy, Indonesia, Salvador, Japan, Algeria, and Hong Kong.

It is a wonderful tribute to the celebrations that are taking place in Quebec City until July.

Guided tours can be taken at

Tony Garnier Urban Museum Association,

4 rue des Serpollieres, 69008 Lyon.

Phone: 04 78 75 16 75

Lyon has also dedicated space to the Mexican Muralist Diego Rivera. Some very intricate murals can be seen today.

I must add that this is only one reason to see this city. It is famous for its food, which we sampled. It is on the shores of the Rhone and the Soane Rivers. We found it clean, safe and alive with people shopping or just seeing the sights. There is part of the city that is high above the river, offering wonderful views. The churches are special and the museums are world class. I do recommend the Museum of The Resistance, which is graphic and well designed. Here you can learn of the exploits of resistance head, Jean Moulin and the trials that took place after World War II.

Even the people were cordial and helpful. It’s a small Paris with the joie de vivre you’d expect in this beautiful setting.

Take your camera along. The statues are worth remembering and photographing. Some are 8 stories high. AMAZING!

Try the restaurants if you do get there. Some are costly but memorable and can be found near the main square. I recommend Le Nord  or Sud Brasseries (   and Brasserie Georges (me particular choice)

There is modern transportation and taxis abound. Walk around the river at night. Just enjoy what you see. I can’t understand why more tourists don’t visit Lyon. Those who do always come back for more.

Email Arnie Greenberg at:

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