Sited dramatically on the banks of the Rhône and Saône, Lyon is France's second largest city, and has been a vital gateway between the north and south of France since ancient times. Lyon's long history can be traced back to 43 BC, when the Romans founded a settlement on the inside bend of the Saône, which they called Lugdunum. They quickly realised that Lugdunum's position on the natural highway from northern to south-eastern France made it an obvious communications hub, and Lyon became the starting point of the principal Roman roads throughout Gaul.
Lyon was soon promoted to the capital of Gaul, and from here the town flourished rapidly. The city had gained its current name and a city charter by the 14th century, and from this time became a centre for banking, and for cloth and silk weaving. In later years Lyon was also known for the printing of books; by the 19th century it was a major rail hub and a vital cornerstone of the silk industry.