It was mid of April. Spring had officially stamped its presence on every inch of Lyon’s landscape with a riot of colors. Every nook and corner of the city boasted flowers of varied hues and shapes. Days had started to be filled with sunshine and that meant spending time outdoors! But…there is this ‘but’ for almost a year and a half.
Yes, you guessed it right… the omnipresent menacing monster… Corona. COVID restriction, some imposed by the local authorities and some self-imposed out of preventive mindset dominated by the frightful thoughts of catching the nasty infection, had of late made me more creative! I suppose all of us by now have mastered the art of making the most with whatever is at hands.
The public parks and gardens in Lyon were kept open during the pandemic, they still are, except for the first strict lockdown in March’20. Lyon, the gastronomical capital of France, a UNESCO World Heritage site, famous for its historical and architectural landmarks, historically known as an important city for production and weaving of silk, also boasts of a large number of huge parks and beautiful gardens, some of which are in existence as early as 1857! One is spoilt for choices when one has to choose from them to spend the day outdoors, so was I. However, going by my inhibitions, we decided to visit a small garden, “Jardin de Rosa Mir” (Garden of Rosa Mir), an offbeat destination on Sunday, after lunch, the off-peak hours.
The City Mapper app suggested us an express route of metro (including metro-line change 2 times) and a walk of 7 minutes. All set, we were on our way to exploring a hidden jewel of Lyon that Sunday. Metros here run underground. Emerging out of the last metro station on our way to the garden, before we embarked on the walk, we were greeted with the colours of the spring. For good 10-15 minutes we were lost in appreciating the world of colours, flowers, and fresh air all around us!
Content after appreciating the beauty and clicking hundreds of snaps, with Google Maps as our assistant, we marched ahead with excitement. While crossing a junction, all of us noticed a cluster of colourful buildings and some activity around them, about 500-600m on our right. I was about to suggest to have a closer look by taking a small detour (can that be a small detour, really?!, you may ask, but for me, it’s a yes!), better half had already read my thoughts and he declared, “Ros Mir first!” Hmmm, I sighed and followed the leader.
I was soon captivated by the old-world charm of ‘La Croix Rousse’ the neighbourhood that we were in. Before I realized it, here I was at a giant iron gate of Rosa-Mir, that was secured with a lock. Wondering why it must have been closed, I read a small note posted on the gate. It indicated that due to strict social distancing norms and considering the narrow lanes inside this particular garden, it had been kept closed. The alley that was silent all this while was laughing aloud at us! Watching a couple of ill-informed visitors like us retracing the steps from the closed gate, however, got me some relief. Still, with heavy hearts we started our way back to the metro station, none of us uttering a single word.
On our way back, the same colourful cluster of buildings beckoned me again. I insisted the rest join me and find out what it was. This time, they agreed. With every step of the way, the picture ahead was becoming clear, perking up our dejected souls. No wonder then we approached it with a spring in our gait! Lo and behold…here was a huge, vibrant, colourful, lively fresco, right in front of us across the street, the very famous, the largest in Europe….”Le Mur Des Canuts” (the wall of silk workers)
Believe me when I say that we were speechless as it filled us with charm, awe, and magic of the 3D make-believe, life-size, wall painting of colossal size, 1200 sq m! It was only when I touched the wall, a part of the entire scene, that I realized that it indeed was a painting… “trompe-l’oeil” (tromper [v] French for deceiving, mislead, cheat; l’oeil French for eye, my eye, eyes)… a visual illusion in art, especially as used to trick the eye into perceiving a painted detail as a three-dimensional object! It’s a painting of the buildings alongside the staircase and neither the actual buildings nor the staircase!!!
Incredibly unbelievable !!! Isn’t it?!
Needless to say that we spent about an hour and a half to appreciate and admire various aspects of the mural while a song lingered in my heart… “Jana tha Japan, pahunch gaye…”
Lyon was known for its finest facility of silk production and weaving, circa 1800. “Canut” is French for silk weaver. Boulevard des Canuts once was replete with life around the lives of silk workers, their looms, and silk! The architecture of the buildings in the area thus was in line with the functional requirements of the silk weaving and looms, one that had to be robust with large windows for lights and with a floor-to-ceiling height of about 4m! However, during the restructuring of the buildings and the area, some of the old buildings were demolished, leaving behind the huge blind walls that once were common between two adjacent buildings.
It all started in 1986 when the company Avenir wished to highlight its five advertising boards mounted on the blind wall, which was an eyesore in the beautiful district of La Croix Rousse. Avenir roped in the cooperative of artists, CiteCreation for the job. CiteCreation suggested decorating the entire 1200sq m blind wall instead of only highlighting the advertisement boards and decorating the parts of the wall with a “trompe -l’oeil” fresco… one that would reflect the essence of La Croix Rousse plateau, its atmosphere, and life of its original inhabitants – the canuts. “Le Mur des Canuts” was thus born.
At the centre is a high flight of stairs that connects various buildings along the hillside which is very typical of La Croix Rousse quarter of the city. On its sides, one can see the glimpses of the daily life of the authentic inhabitants of the district, like high windows characteristic of the Canut habitat, and various elements specific to silky activity: silk spools, looms, silk work, etc.
In a decade to follow, “La Mur des Canuts” made Lyon the capital of murals as it attracted millions of visitors! Another feather in the cap of the already decorated hat of the city of Lyon!!!
In 1997, the artists at CiteCreation decided to add more elements to the mural that would mirror the changes that had occurred in the life of Lyonnais. The colour of the buildings was brightened, some human figures were added to the stair-case, some shops were depicted on the ground floor. The characters that were painted in the first version were made to look aged by ten years!
Come 2013, the artists at CiteCreation added and modified the details on the wall to reflect modern life while keeping the spirit of the very first mural. Characters were aged by another 15 years. A gentleman in the first painting was aged to look like a grandfather and a grandson was added next to him, one can see skaters and young crowd along the stairs, more life was added to the square, stairways, and alleys while giving due justice to urban equity and sustainability.
Sharing a fun picture that I clicked to make my better half a part of the architectural mural heritage and the mural a part of our life, a slice of memory to cherish!
When I returned home, I had a treasure trove of memory and some wisdom…”Everything happens for better”!