04 December 2011

Lyon's Festival of Lights

2011 marks the 13th year the city of Lyon has hosted the Fête des Lumières, a multi-day/night festival which draws millions of spectators from France and beyond.

For four consecutive nights (8-11 December), Lyon will shine with more than 70 light shows scattered throughout the city. Monuments, hillsides, bridges and façades will all flash and glimmer with innovative and artistic video and light projections.

This short clip below (from previous years' festivals) captures the magical ambiance that reigns over the city during four of the darkest (and sometimes coldest) nights of the year.

Fête des lumières 2011 par ville-de-lyon

But it's not just the artists or out-of-town spectators who appreciate and participate in this festival; the heart and soul of La Fête des Lumières belong to the Lyonnais themselves.

Wiki lore has it that the Virgin Mary saved the town's inhabitants from plague in the year 1643. To express their gratitude, the residents of Lyon decided to place small candles in their windows every year on December 8th.

But I know of at least one window in Lyon where the candles on this night burn for a different reason.

Several years ago I was teaching English to an automotive engineer who happened to be Jewish. As December 8 approached, I asked him to tell me why this day was important in Lyon, fully expecting to hear either about the Virgin or the Basilica of Fourvière.

Instead, I was treated to a fantastic story mystics and martyrs. All Jewish, of course. With the lights taking on a whole new significance.

Whatever the "real" origin of this festival, one thing is for sure: it creates the opportunity for throngs of people to gather in a cheerful atmosphere of light and joy for several nights. It's also a great runner-up to the end-of-year holidays that follow.

As you're walking (elbowing) your way from one projection to another (the city center is closed to cars) you can buy mulled wine, hot chocolate or apple cider from hundreds of stands set up along the streets. Others sell beer, hot dogs and other cold-weather munchies.

For the first three nights (8, 9, 10 December) the light shows begin at 6pm and go until 1am, unless noted otherwise. On Sunday the 11th, the programs run from 6pm to midnight. For the complete program, including information about parking, public transportation and a comprehensive map of events for all four days, click here.

Two years ago I braved the masses to take a few of my own photos of the illuminations. Below are three of them.

Looking down into the city from the Croix-Rousse hill.

These lights "planted" in front of Hotel de Ville
resembled the fluorescent flora on Pandora from the film Avatar
which premiered in London during Lyon's 2009 Fête des Lumières.

Looking up the Rhône from the Morand Bridge on December 8.

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