From the 8th until the 11th of December, Lyon’s Fêtes des Lumières dazzled people with more than 30 projections and light installations giving special life to the Lyon’s historic center and parks. The festival has become a 150-year old tradition in the French city.
The Fêtes des Lumières or Festival of Lights emerged from the popular tradition going back to 8 December 1852, when the residents of Lyon placed candles in colored glasses on their window sills to celebrate the installation of a statue of the Virgin Mary on the Fourvière Hill. Entire districts of the city were lit up, transforming the facades of buildings in a show of lights.
To commemorate this event, on the days surrounding 8 December every year the people of Lyon celebrate the lighting up of their city, showcasing its living heritage. Light, symbolizing the renewed identity of the city, takes visitors on a journey through a poetic world, filled with magic and dreams.
The 2021 edition of the Festival of Lights has an attendance almost similar to that of 2019 according to estimates by the Lyon City Council. The most visited site remains the Place des Terreaux with a daily attendance of 180,000 people per day. As for hotels and restaurants, the figures are less enthusiastic.
Restaurant owners saw a very slight increase in attendance from Wednesday to Friday, but not at all compared to the peak years. The average occupancy rate was around 50 to 60%. The international customers, usually a source of revenue, was not present. Saturdays, on the other hand, were considered quite satisfactory. The ban on take-away sales and door-to-door sales, announced the day before, sounded the death knell for some professionals. It considerably limited their activity.
The Festival shows the heritage of the Presqu’île and Vieux-Lyon in its best possible light, illuminating its Renaissance facades and majestic buildings. Thanks to the artists’ creations, Lyon’s most beautiful buildings serve as the backdrop for huge, magical son et lumière installations in which they are visible – or invisible. Light is now an integral part of Lyon’s identity, revealing the beauty of its architecture and creating magnificent nocturnal landscapes.
Ever since Lyon was founded, light has held a special place in the city and each year on 8 December, this special connection radiates throughout the city. The Festival of Lights is an international event renowned for its temporary light installations during which the city is metamorphosed for four magical evenings, reconnecting with a popular tradition dating back to 1852. That year, against a backdrop of social unrest, recurring floods and radical urban change, the decision was taken to erect a statue of the Virgin Mary on Fourvière Hill.
The inauguration was scheduled for 8 September, the date of the traditional procession of Aldermen, but flooding delayed delivery of the statue. The event was therefore postponed to 8 December, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. But once again, official ceremonies had to be abandoned due to inclement weather.
Seeing the weather improve as night fell, the people of Lyon spontaneously placed lit candles on their window sills and balconies; a symbol of the people coming together in a spirit of solidarity. The tradition of 8 December continued over the following decades and the citizens of Lyon are now very attached to this popular annual event.
In the 1960s, shop-window illumination competitions, especially among food shops, continued this tradition in a new form. They marked the start of the Christmas season and illuminated the religious celebrations of 8 December. Then in 1989, thanks to an avant-garde public lighting policy, Lyon adopted its first Plan Lumière and added a new chapter to its history. This plan to enhance the city by illuminating heritage sites revealed the excellence of Lyon in this area; it was the first European city to launch such a project.
The lighting gradually began to take on more meaning – light embellished the squares, streets, bridges, riverbanks and rivers themselves. Lyon emerged from the shadows to become the city we know today, namely a city renowned for the beauty of its heritage, which becomes truly special when night falls.