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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.

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The Old Town

As the centre of so much commerce, Lyon has enjoyed many centuries of wealth, influence and prosperity - and today the city boasts an array of beautiful architecture and cultural monuments from its vibrant past. The historic Old Town of Lyon has been added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. Set in the heart of the city, this area of narrow alleyways is home to more than 300 lovingly restored buildings all pre-dating the 17th century, making it one of the best preserved Renaissance complexes in all of Europe. Other highlights include the splendid Notre Dame de la Fourvière, completed in the 19th century, in a marvellous Romanesque-Byzantine style; on clear days it is possible to see as far as Mont Blanc from its terrace.