Lyon in the 20th-21st centuries: a city on the move

In the twentieth century, life at Lyon is turbulent twice because of the two world wars. Calm has returned today and the city is still experiencing a surprising urban development.

World War I

If the events of Sarajevo initially seemed distant, the process of alliances and the successive declarations of war surprised the Lyonnais while the International Exhibition of 1914 was in full swing.

Lyon goes to war

The outbreak of war in the middle of the summer of 1914 was a real surprise for the European populations. In the Lyon region, the news was dominated by the tripled Mercedes at the Grand Prix de France automobile de Lyon and by the International Exhibition installed in the new buildings designed by the architect Tony Garnier (the future Halle Tony Garnier). Among the exhibitors, we find in particular the pavilions of those who will become sworn enemies a few weeks later: the Germans and the Austrians. The pavilions will then be abandoned when the conflict is declared and the goods on display will be recovered by the people of Lyon.

Mayor Edouard Herriot will take his role of daily manager very seriously in this time of crisis. Aware of the importance of this conflict, he created a war fund bringing together international documentation on it.

Lyon, by virtue of its geographical location, is a city in the rear, far from the front and the trenches. However, this distance from the combat zones does not necessarily make it a peaceful city indifferent to war. It is fully mobilized to respond to the war effort and its population truly lives to the rhythm of the conflict.


The links with the front are frequent, they are visible through letters, books, newspapers which give information to the population. Lyon is also a city of passage for those on leave or the wounded.

When called up for service, soldiers had little or no opportunity to come into contact with civilians. Between 1915 and 1916, a permission system was then set up which was intended to support the morale of the combatants. Lyon will then have to organize itself to deal with the massive arrival of on leave and barracks are installed near Perrache station to offer a welcome to soldiers too far from their families.

If it sees a good number of leave, the city is also a center of exchange for prisoners of war. There are in fact around 100,000 German prisoners working in Lyon on the construction sites of the Stade de Gerland and the Grange-Blanche hospital. Conventions also provided for the possibility for injured prisoners to be returned to their country of origin. Lyon's proximity to Switzerland will then make it the main hub for the reception of wounded prisoners returning from Germany and German prisoners are thus stationed near the Perrache station, at the school of the health service. to the armies.

Lyon is mobilized enormously to treat the wounded, which gives it the nickname of "hospital city". There are military hospitals like that of Desgenettes but municipal hospitals are also requisitioned to treat men from the front, including the Hôtel Dieu, and we see the creation of additional hospitals and even voluntary hospitals. Surgery will then experience major changes and in Lyon, Albéric Pont will develop maxillofacial surgery for broken mouths. The Lumières brothers also work for radiography and the care of the wounded. Vocational schools are also being created for wounded or disabled soldiers in order to train them in new professions.

The organization of life in the back

If the city is far from the battlefields, the fact remains that the daily lives of civilians are marked by war and men and women are mobilized to respond to the war effort. All economic activity will thus be turned towards it and daily life is affected by deprivation, requisitions but also in culture. The propaganda is also extremely present and takes many forms, the war is also inscribed in the landscape and the toponymy of the city.

Second city in the country, Lyon is trying to profile itself as a city of international rank open to the world and from 1913, Edouard Herriot is interested in the international congress of cities, we then see the opportunity to promote Lyon initiatives in terms of hygiene and social action. If the war initially seems to put a stop to this opening, the conflict will nevertheless generate new flows of all kinds and multiple movements, especially through stations.

Second World War

During the Second World War, Lyon was located in the free zone until 1942, but German troops occupied it on several occasions from 1940. Very close to the demarcation line, the city was to welcome many resistance fighters.

Chief town of the resistance

The resistance was organized very early in Lyon and between the fall of 1940 and the spring of 1941 appeared several sheets and small clandestine newspapers. It was in Lyon that the three major underground newspapers were born: Le Coq enchaîné, Combat and Franc-Tireur, as well as major resistance movements. In 1942, Lyon was still in the free zone and became the capital of the Resistance. This is also where Jean Moulin chose to establish his command post there at the beginning of 1942.

From November 1942, in response to the Allied landing in North Africa, the enemy invaded the southern zone. On November 11, 1942, the Wehrmacht occupied Lyon and the Gestapo moved to the Terminus hotel located opposite the Perrache station. Klaus Barbie moved to Lyon at the end of 1942 and within a few days obtained decisive successes against the Lyon resistance. From then on, Lyon lost its primacy in favor of Paris, where the central services were regrouped.

The arrest of Jean Moulin

Lyon occupied an important place in the action of Jean Moulin since it was there that he decided to establish his command post at the beginning of 1942. Mandated by De Gaulle to achieve the union of the Resistance, he created in Lyon two clandestine services common to the Combat, Liberation and Franc-Tireur movements: the Information and Press Office (the resistance press agency) and the General Studies Committee (provides for the political conditions for liberation ). If during this period Jean Moulin worked alone, in August 1942 it was imperative that he relieved himself of ancillary tasks and then set up his secretariat called the General Delegation. Faced with the difficulties and dangers of going underground, Jean Moulin has organized a double life and has several pseudonyms: Joseph Mercier, Rex, Régis or Max.

Despite all these precautions, he was arrested by the Gestapo on June 21, 1943 during a meeting taking place in the house of Doctor Frédéric Dugoujon, place Castellane in Caluire-et-Cuire, certainly denounced by one of the participants. The defendants are transferred to Montluc prison and by dint of method, Klaus Barbie ends up assuming the identity of Max, alias Jean Moulin, who is transferred to Paris at the end of the month. Despite the torture, Jean Moulin did not speak and died as a result of the horrible abuse imposed on him by the Gestapo, certainly around July 8, 1943.

The Fall of Jean Moulin deeply destabilized the organization of the Resistance and its links with de Gaulle at a time when the latter was trying to restore his authority with the Allies.

Liberation and trial of the butcher of Lyon.

Despite everything, the landing took place on June 6, 1944 and after numerous bombardments, Lyon was finally liberated on September 3, 1944 by the 1st Armored Division and the FFI.

Then comes the time to think about your wounds and settle your scores. Gestapo leader Klaus Barbie, nicknamed the Butcher of Lyon, disappeared and managed to reach the city of Baden-Baden in Germany and he will remain there until the end of the war. France demanded his extradition in 1948 but protected, he took refuge in Argentina in 1951. He was nevertheless found in Bolivia in 1961 under the name of Klaus Altmann, adviser to the military dictatorship for the search and torture of opponents and traffickers. weapons. Protected by the regime of General Banzer from 1971 to 1978 then by the new regime of Luis Garcia Meza until 1982, he was finally expelled from Bolivia to France in February 1983. His trial began in May 1987. He was tried and condemned. to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity. He died in prison on September 25, 1991.

Lyon from 1944 to the present day

With the twentieth century, urban planning has continued to evolve, changing the face of the city and making it part of the challenge of Europe. Thanks to the development of transport, infrastructure and cultural facilities and the creation in 1960 of the Part Dieu business district, Lyon acquired its European dimension. In 1968, the creation of the urban community, grouping together the 54 municipalities bordering Lyon, made it the second largest agglomeration in France.

Evolution of town planning

Urban development is influenced, throughout the century, by the personality of the politicians who will manage the city, for example Edouard Herriot. The architectural effervescence often juxtaposes, from the beginning of the century, testimonies of history with new districts and projects Lyon into modernity.

The architect Tony Garnier will equip the city with housing, the Gerland stadium, hospitals and slaughterhouses. Industry, meanwhile, continued to rise and chemistry developed south of the city. The pharmaceutical industry is also experiencing very significant growth.

In 1960, the part Dieu district was created. The project has been planned since the 1920s and it quickly becomes the strategic heart of the Lyon metropolis and one of the engines of its attractiveness.
A new impetus was given in the 1980s and aimed to develop the structuring facilities of the metropolis and major urban development works were carried out on strategic sites in parallel with a policy of heritage development.

Lyon and its international dimension

The first French TGV station is built in Lyon as well as an exhibition center: Eurexpo. The Lyon multimodal station further strengthens its openness to the outside world and major urban development works are being carried out on strategic sites for the city. Monuments of Lyon's culture have been completely renovated and the Part Dieu district has become one of the city's major international hubs thanks to the presence of many international companies, a large shopping center and a strong intermodality.

La confluence: an innovative district

If the Part Dieu is still at the center of large urban projects such as the Incity tower currently under construction and which should be the tallest tower in Lyon, the municipality is now tending to move the poles of influence to a new district under construction. : The confluence.

Former industrial port area, since 1995 the district is doomed to profound changes. The Confluence project thus aims to double the area of ​​downtown Lyon by urbanizing the area and making it attractive. A new shopping center has also been built and the Confluence is recognized as an eco-district by the French government. Many companies are in the process of setting up their head offices there and the Confluence Museum, scheduled to open next December, should give this new center a cultural aspect.

City in perpetual evolution, Lyon has become, over the past ten years, a metropolis where the successes of the past and projects for the future come together harmoniously. Its rich history, still visible today, is rooted in the hearts of the people of Lyon and in the very heart of the city. The future of Lyon also seems quite interesting because of the many projects that are underway and the city is increasingly becoming part of the national but also international scene.

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