Rue Mercière in the 2nd arrondissement

Rue Mercière is a street of Les Cordeliers quarter in the 2nd arrondissement of Lyon.  From north to south, it connects the Place des Jacobins to the Place d'Albon. It belongs to the zone classified as World Heritage Site by UNESCO.


History of Rue mercière at Lyon

Rue Mercière is one of the most famous streets of Lyon. It is located in the second district of the city and is now part of the World Heritage Site of Unesco. This is one of the oldest streets of the city because it was probably created during the late antiquity. From the 13th to the 18th century, it was the heart of Lyon on the left river of the Saône. The name of the street refers to the word “merchant”, and pays tribute to the past life of the area, and to trade and exchanges that were taking place on a daily basis in the street.

A lot of printers decided to settle down their activity in Rue Mercière during the 15th and 16th century. In 1500 Lyon was the third biggest city of Europe. At the end of the century, printing had almost totally disappeared. Conflicts between masters and their partners were the cause of this collapse in the industry.
The almanac of Lyon was printed in Rue Mercière from 1740 to 1836. Among the famous residents of the street are Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1509) who held the secret society named l'Agla, Langlai brothers who printed Simon Maupin's Lyon map, the writer André Steyert who was born in this street in 1830 and the composer Louis Marchand who was born at number 2 in 1669.

In 1833, Rue Mercière still looked like a street of the Renaissance, but a lot of changes were about to happen. The eastern part of the street was replaced with the construction of the Rue Centrale (nowadays Rue de Brest). At the end of the 19th century, the street was asphalted in order to incent people to come back to the street instead of preferring the large ones that were surrounding Rue Mercière. In 1957, all the small stores had closed, and the last thing the street was well known for was the sex industry. This terrible reputation led to a project created by the mayor of Lyon. Indeed, in 1960, the Vieux Lyon and Rue Mercière were despicable places in the city.
Louis Pradel therefore decided to tear down every building in order to redesign the two areas. If the Vieux Lyon managed to be saved with the Malraux Law, the Rue Mercière survived partially. The northern part of the street was destroyed, but hopefully they stopped destruction in Rue Grenette. Thanks to its atmosphere and to its history, at the end of the 20th century, Rue Mercière became one of the most famous spot for tourism in Lyon.

All buildings are painted in different colors. The traboule between Rue Mercière and Quai Saint Antoine is partially opened. The first half is protected by beautiful arcades typical from the Renaissance. The sky-opened part gives us the chance to see twin houses with doors with lion head sculptures. The narrow and sinuous paved alley is a vestige from the past. It was first dedicated to printers coming from Italy or Germany such as Etienne Dolet, and is now part of a restaurant.

Late antiquity - 13th to the 18th century


From the 13th to the 18th century, it was the main street of Lyon on the left river of the Saône. In the 16th century, it was the street of printers and notably housed Sébastien Gryphe's workshop, at the corner of rue Thomassin. At No. 64, the ruins of the Church of Anthonians can be seen. The Hôtel de la Rose, directed by Jacques Cœur, was occupied by the Consulate from 1459 for three years. The No. 64, called the "Cave of Ainay", was owned by the Ainay abbey until 1542.

The ecclesiastical domination remained for centuries in Lyon. It was even greater from 1079, when Lyon’s bishop got the “Gauls’ primate” position. This title was first given to Bishop Gébuin by Pope Gregory VII. Consequently, the powers of Lyon’s bishop could be felt right up to Rouen’s diocese in Normandy. Lyon developed relatively slowly compared to other cities in France. The city was not really involved in commercial activities and was only developing because of the activities of the Clergy. At that time some of Lyon’s main religious buildings, such as St. John Cathedral an St. Martin d’Ainay Abbey were constructed. The city had to wait until the 13th century to gain some economic importance on a grand scale. The bourgeois from Lyon started to confront the religious hierarchy: they wanted to be more independent and to be able to run their own businesses. One of their main claims was to become the owners of their houses. Indeed, at that time, the whole of the town’s land belonged to the Church. The 13th Century was marked by riots and fights between three groups: the Clergy, the nobles and the bourgeois. Finally, the bourgeois achieved some rights. In 1267, they were able to create a political council.

At the beginning of the Renaissance, the city was not as spread out as it is today. Lyon people mainly lived in two areas: the right bank of the Saône was a major area and has become what we know today as Lyon Old Town. People also started to live in the Presqu’île, especially around the Via Mercatoria: the “Rue Mercière”. This was the commercial centre of Lyon. While the city was not really spreading out at the time, it became denser. The population increased exponentially: from 25,000 inhabitants around 1450, there were 35,000 people living in Lyon in 1520 and twice this figure thirty years later. This population growth can be explained by the economic growth. From the end of the fifteenth century, Lyon again became an important commercial hub, which had not happened for more than a thousand years. Being fully part of the French kingdom, the city more easily became a major trading place. Many different types of goods were traded in Lyon at that time: spices, knives, weapons, silk sheets, etc. Merchants and bankers from Italy settled in Lyon and played an important part in the growth of the city.

Lyon was also a major place in Europe for printing, which was created in its modern form by Gutenberg in the 1450s. From the end of the 15th century to the beginning of the 16th, publishers moved into Lyon and set up businesses. In 1519 the Great Company of Lyon’s Booksellers was created. The Printing Museum of Lyon, established in 1964 in Lyon Presqu’île, is situated in the “Hôtel de la Couronne”. In the 16th century, the hotel belonged to one of those Italian merchants who contributed to Lyon becoming a major influence in Europe. Even though the city was doing better during the Middle Ages, all the problems were not solved. Lyon still had to face social troubles. In April 1529 the “Grande Rebeyne” (the Great Riot) happened. For a few months, wheat prices had been increasing, because of bad weather conditions. On the 25th April, some wealthy people’s houses were damaged and destroyed in several areas of the town, such as the Terreaux district and the Croix-Rousse hill. The main social troubles arose out of the birth of a Protestant community in Lyon, in the mid-16th century. French King Henry II was deeply Catholic, and he severely repressed Protestants. When he died, Protestants felt freer and wanted to take a more prominent role in the city’s life. Several bloody riots occurred, with Catholics facing Protestants. The saddest example of religious violence happened in 1572. After Saint-Barthélémy night, when thousands of Protestants were killed by Catholics, 700 Protestants from Lyon were drowned by Catholics in the Saône river. Those religious troubles only stopped at the end of the 16th century, when Henry IV of France increased his power over Lyon to limit religious riots.

For two centuries, Lyon was then submissive to the French King’s authority. The merchants had less power at the beginning of the 17th century, deferring to the King’s representatives. However, Lyon continued to be a very important commercial region, in particular because of the silk industry. The “Loge du Change” (Exchange Lodge) was established in the St Paul district to conduct financial transactions. The silk trade continued to grow. Three years before the French Revolution, there were almost 15,000 weaving looms in the Lyon area. Consequently, at the end of the 18th century, Lyon had the highest workers’ population. The first workers’ riots took place in 1786, led by the “canuts” (Lyon’s silk workers) and was severely repressed.

Over time, the city centre started to shift from the right bank of the Saône to the Presqu’île area, between the Rhône and the Saône. A good example of this movement was the construction of great buildings that have given the city its current shape.


18th and 20th centuries

The Gas Company of Perrache made its first test of gas lighting in "rue Mercière" in 1835.

Fallen into an unhealthiness state in the 19th and 20th century, the street was the subject of several re-developments, including the project Moncorgé named Transformation et embellissement de Lyon in 1909. In 1925, the SEL (Système d'Échange Local) contest already aimed to transform the neighborhood. By the mid 19th century, the street was covered with asphalt and all buildings in the eastern part were deleted when the rue Centrale was created. The project of F. Chollat, with his 5th prize, wanted to build in the street Mercière a modern quarter and a fifty-stage skyscraper. A radical project of destruction was halted at the last minute in 1956 by André Malraux. In 1958, the city council took the decision to renovate the quarter Mercière-Saint-Antoine. The northern part of the street was demolished between the street and the dock to create a major building project : Mr. Marot, chief architect of the Bâtiments Civils et Palais Nationaux, elaborated a project modified eighteen times to "protect the variety of appearance and fancy which were the charm of the old neighborhood".

The southern part of the street was particularly known for its prostitutes until the 1970s and was also the subject of a development plan near the Place des Jacobins.

Big changes were made in the 1980s. The embellishment was then spectacular and the street became pedestrian. In the south, it currently houses a large number of restaurants, including many bouchons of Lyon and bars, making the street a popular quarter for the tourists. It has a major architectural heritage by the presence of a row of buildings created during the Renaissance.



On the west side, the street starts with a seven-floor building of the 1970s. On the east side, there is a row of stone buildings of the 19th century, with five storeys. Between the rue Grenette and the luxurious hotel Horace Cardon, the street is narrower, with on the west, a row of Renaissance-styled houses with mullioned windows. The street ends with a modern home and a garden.

A plaque shows the location of Étienne Dolet's print shop (16th century), another one from the Hospices Civils de Lyon is attached to the printer and alderman Guillaume de Rouville's house, and another one is on the Hôtel Horace Cardon mentioning 18th-century printer Fleury Mesplet.

The opened traboule at No. 45 crosses two buildings and is composed of a 17th-century building and a courtyard with a spiral staircase. The closed traboule at No. 49 is straight starts with a high-storey building.