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The Lyon Fairs: Old and New

Every Spring, Lyon hosts the “Foire internationale de Lyon”, an international event of nine days at which about a thousand stands present products from different commercial sectors. The tradition of fairs in this city is very old. In ancient times, Lugdunum used to be one of the most important provinces of the Roman Empire. Founded by Plancus in 43 B.C., it became the capital of the three Gauls under Augustus. Thanks to the road network realized by Agrippa, it became a strategic location, vital for the control of the Roman territories and favorable for trade. Archeological discoveries of pottery remnants bear witness of its commercial success: the demand for transit products from Lyon rose to the point that locals started up production of their own. Lugdunum was also the birthplace of Roman emperor Claudius, born in Lyon in 10 B.C. His rise to power contributed to increasing the political and economic importance of the city; notables of Gaul gained access to the Roman Senatus ever since. The speech that Claudius delivered in Rome to support their rights, testified by the Claudian Table, became well-known.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, new international fairs allowed the city to revive the economic growth and dynamism of the ancient times. This new golden age marked the climax of Lyon economic prosperity and success. With the letters patent of February 1420, the French Crown granted two annual fairs to the city. Later, in 1463, under Louis XI, four fairs were organized and Lyon rapidly grew as trade and financial hub. After a while business transactions took place also beyond the four fairs’ timespans, and the exchange of commodities and financial activities took place throughout the entire year. A large number of merchants and bankers decided to settle in this city, attracted by the economic potential of this new international market, starting their businesses as bankers, changers, spices and silk or other textiles’ merchants. The great success of such events made Lyon one of the most important hubs of Europe of the sixteenth century, whose merchant-bankers strongly influenced international markets.

The Foire de Lyon that we can visit today is the successor of the old fairs. It usually takes place in April, in the Eurexpo area, just outside the city. This fair was created during the Great War, when the Major of Lyon launched the policy of promoting the French products instead of German ones. As we can read on the fair’s website, the first edition of the new Foire de Lyonopened in 1917 to the strains of the Marseillaise. It was an immediate success, and became considered a big event in France. Just to give some examples, in 1932 at this fair Jean Mantelet presented his food-mill for the first time: his factory, Moulin-Légumes, later became the well-known Moulinex. Also, in 1947 the Renault 4 CV rear-engined car model, which became the most popular car in France, was presented at the fair. Since 1917, the Foire de Lyon took place along the river Rhone on a surface of 36 km², between the Tête d’Or Park and the open-air café of the riverbank. Later, in 1985, it moved to the Euroexpo area, where it still hosts international exhibitors, carrying on the tradition of this city as one of the most important emporia of Europe.


- Quand Lyon s’appelait Lugdum, A. Pelletier, Éditions Lyonnaises d’Art et d’Histoire, 2016.

- Claude (Lyon, 10 avant J.-C. – Rome, 54 après J.-C.), un empereur au destin singulier, LIENART éditions, 2018, ouvrage qui accompagne l’exposition Claude (Lyon, 10 avant J.-C. – Rome, 54 après J.-C.), un empereur au destin singulier, organisée par le musée de Beaux-Arts de Lyon et présentée du 1er décembre au 2018 au 4 mars 2019.


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