The city of Lyon allures you with the rustic charm of its alleys, boulevards, avenues dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries, tree-lined streets, vibrant piazzas, small city cosiness yet complete with all modern facilities! It entices you with its historic roots dating back to the Roman Gaul empire. It has many heritage attractions which have been preserved painstakingly.
One of the historic attractions that we wished to visit was ‘the Remains of the Roman amphitheatre’ called the Amphitheatre des Trois Gaules (Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls) and Odeum, a UNESCO Heritage site. One approaching weekend in February seemed most befitting going by the date as it was Valentine’s day.
February is a winter month here in Lyon when the temperature hovers in the sub-zero range. Mr Sun is present with its absence from the scene due to overcast skies on most of the days. If at all it does mark itself present, it’s nothing but a bright white/ yellow blob that’s lit up way too far to warm up the terra-firma or the spirits. However, Valentine’s day weekend appeared promising with day temperature in the positive range and no precipitation. Romancing the Remains thus was the choice that we made defying the 3rd snow of the season that had carpeted the city white, just a day before!
Right after the scrumptious breakfast at home, we reached the steps of the gigantic ancient structure. The lush green of the grass contrasted with the paved black stones of the entry. The chilly breeze was enough to thaw the present and transport me to 15th century BC. I was now present in the age of the Roman Gaul empire to witness the magnificence of the Odeum and the Grand Theatre that were built side by side to amuse the citizens of the city of Lugdunum on the Fourviere Hill after the Gallic Wars of Julius Caesar.
Of the two, the Odeum**, on left is the first to be noticed. The imposing remains of the structure, which has withered and withstood with sheer tenacity courtesy its character (stone and lime glue) stood tall and staggering. I couldn’t stop myself from falling in love with it every step of the way. I was so enamoured by it that I hugged one of the walls and whispered a thank you to it for being there for centuries for us to witness the grandeur of the past! And while I was busy doing this, my better half and daughter had deserted me (read… they denounce me, thankfully only temporarily, when I express my love for trees or old structures or relics in this fashion!) By that time, they had their share of adventure by climbing up and down the steep staircase leading to the seating area, the rugged stone wall structure, and the seating treads. Quite an exercise, especially on a cold morning to keep yourself warm!
They were seated on one of the steps that had the usual steeply tiered structure of the Odeum when I went searching for them after my brief rendezvous. As I settled near them, a spectacular sight awaited me. With the backdrop of the picturesque landscape of Lyon city, there stood the centre stage, laid out in colourful mosaic*. Was it waiting for the performer in the foyer to come on the stage or was it tired of waiting for the worthy spectators to fill the enormous amphitheatre that can seat about 3000 spectators, I wondered?
Suddenly, a stray, random thought crossed my mind. The thought was so compelling, I felt as if it made me utter it aloud. When I looked around to verify, the amphitheatre bore the stoic silence as there was none other than three of us.
The thought grew in its proportion, nudged me to get up and descend the stairs. Before the other two could get the whiff of what I was up to, I was standing at the centre of the stage. From that vantage point, I was admiring the magnanimity of the amphitheatre when the better half called out, “Sing a song”. As you might be aware, the Roman Amphitheatre architecture is such that if you stand on stage and say something, it is heard till the last row very clearly and vice versa!
I hesitated as my expertise in the domain of signing remains at the abysmal level aka “bathroom singing”. But the hesitation died before it could get a hold of me. Lo and behold I started singing my favourite Bollywood song, “Dil hai chota sa, choti si aasha”. A riveting clasp did not let me stop till I finished singing the entire song. The sound of claps broke that magical spell when I finally stopped singing. To my disbelief, I saw two-three families (who had gathered while I was lost in singing) giving me a standing ovation apart from my better half and my daughter.
“Tres Bien (very good)” was what I heard from one family. Gushing and blushing, I bowed to all of them. “Merci beaucoup (thank you very much)”, I uttered in sheer disbelief and with immense gratitude! Here I must say that I learnt one thing about French people… they are as warm as any other common man/woman anywhere in the whole world, quite contrary to their image of being snobbish. And another thing, that language is never a barrier to reaching out. All one needs to appreciate others is a heart of gold!
Later we exited the Odeum for the bigger one, The Grand Theatre*** on right. Time had slipped out of our hands like quicksand. On a wintery day, it meant that the daylight hours were about to be over. The day was preparing to wrap us with a cold, dark blanket. However, no one was complaining!
We bid adieu to the remains with hearts filled with contentment as both theatres are in a remarkable state of preservation which naturally translates to a memorable quality time together! The gigantic presence of the Remains is a testament to the fact that Lugdunum aka Lyon has been around in one form or another for millennia, thus making me fall in love with it all over again! Sharing a short clip for you to fall in love with the Roman remains…
*The mosaic work on the stage of the Odeum is remarkable. The pavement of the orchestra is done with marbles and stones imported from all over the Mediterranean, namely Italy, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, and Tunisia.
**Odeum – Odeum was built in the middle of the 2nd century. Odeums are smaller theatres. They are covered by a roof and are used for poetry recitations, musical performances etc. As of now, the roof over the Odeum stage no longer exists, giving way to the spectacular view of the city situated at the foothills of Fouivere!
***The Grand Theater is monumental in its architecture. Some of the sites confirm that it was built by Emperor Augustus in 15BC. While some indicate it to be built by Roman Emperor Tiberius, around 19AD. Originally it was built with two tiers that could seat approximately 4,500 people. Later innovations, including an upper, covered walkway extended the capacity to 10,000 before long. Around 230 AD, the Grand Theatre was enlarged, when two new galleries were added, once again adding to the capacity, to accommodate up to 20,000 spectators. At the end of the Gallo-Roman era, the theatre was abandoned and fell into ruin. In the prime of its existence, it has witnessed theatrical plays, gladiator fights and other public events, and public executions!
This is 3rd in the series Life Thro’ Lens @Lyon