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PHOTOS: It began with a candle in 1852: Lyon’s Light Festival returns

Find out more about this internationally renowned festival here

The free-to-attend Fêtes des Lumières turns Lyon city into an open-air gallery Pic: Muriel Chaulet

You are bound to pass by an illuminated building while walking through the streets of Lyon from December 7 to 10, thanks to the city’s free Festival of Lights. 

Starting with a simple candle placed on a windowsill in 1852, the Fêtes des Lumières has grown into a four-night-long extravagance of light. 

This year, the festival promises a spectacular display merging art, technology, and history, which is expected to attract two million spectators, particularly around certain displays.

Credit: Muriel Chaulet

This free festival showcases the work of both renowned artists and emerging talents, turning the city into an open-air gallery. 

From the grandeur of Place des Terreaux to the intimate corners of Vieux Lyon, each piece of art tells a story, inviting onlookers into a world of fantasy and creation.

For the best experience, visitors are advised to start their journey at Place Bellecour, working their way through the city’s various districts.

The festival’s history 

In 1852, against a backdrop of social unrest and recurring floods, the decision was taken to erect a statue of the Virgin Mary in Fourvière. 

The statue’s inauguration was initially scheduled for 8 September 1852. However it was postponed due to the Saône bursting its banks and flooding into the studio of the sculptor Fabisch, who designed the work.

Credit: Muriel Chaulet

The inauguration was then postponed to December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, but again had to be cancelled due to bad weather. 

Luckily, as night fell the weather improved. To thank God for this sign, the people of Lyon decided to place a small candle on their windowsills. This became a tradition, and the people of Lyon have been repeating the gesture on the same date for more than 170 years. 

From a religious celebration, the event has turned into a popular festival, with hundreds of thousands of people strolling through the streets to admire the luminous displays of colour projected on the facades and monuments.

Credit: Muriel Chaulet

A nocturnal landscape

In 1989, then-mayor of Lyon, Michel Noir and his deputy in charge of urban planning, Henry Chabert, launched the Lumière Plan – a public lighting policy with the aim of creating a nocturnal landscape.

Designed by Lyon's public lighting department, this plan – the first in France – illuminated 300 architectural buildings in the city centre, transforming the dark city into a belle-de-nuit.

Credit: Muriel Chaulet

The Festival of Lights that we know today, which takes place over a four day period, is the creation of Raymond Barre, mayor of Lyon in 1999. 

The second Lumière Plan, put in place in 2004, opened up the celebrations to other parts of the city creating "luminous atmospheres", specific to each location.

Read also 

Musical festivals in France in 2024: who is playing and when

Free light show delights every night at Amiens Cathedral

France and the US to host major impressionist art tour

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