Lyon sits at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers. So, as you would expect, there are a lot of bridges in Lyon. Many of them are beautiful works of art. Others, like the Bonaparte Bridge, are better seen at night or for their spectacular views of the city.
I find the most interesting bridges in Lyon to be pedestrian only. Perhaps that is because pedestrian only bridges are so rare in the US. Whatever the reason, strolling across these bridges will not only get you from one place to another, but you might also run across interesting people and sites you might otherwise miss on the banks.
Passerelle Paul Couturier
Crossing the Saône River was made easier in 1853 when the pedestrian St. Georges Bridge was built. Nazis blew up the bridge on September 1, 1944. The bridge was rebuilt exactly as it was before.
In 2003, the bridge was renamed in honor of Paul Couturier (1881-1953) a local priest who advocated for interfaith exchanges. It seems fitting that a bridge would be named after him.
The bridge stands out with its red paint job and criss-cross iron railing.
The Passerelle Saint-Vincent is another beautiful bridge that crosses the Saône. There has likely been a bridge on this site since Roman times.
In 1637, a wooden toll bridge was built at this location, but washed away by ice on the river a short six years later. Another toll bridge was built in 1656 That bridge lasted a little longer but it was washed away by flood waters in 1711. Another bridge was built in 1777, but by the 1830’s it was crumbling, so a new pedestrian bridge was built in 1832.
The Passerelle Saint-Vincent is one of only two bridges not to be severely damaged or destroyed by the fleeing Nazis in 1944. But, it is sheer luck that it stood. Had the German blasts that were placed under the Feuillée bridge not misfired, Saint-Vincent surely would have been demolished.
The bridge has a lovely portal on each side and, like the nearby Passerelle Paul Couturier is painted red.
Passerelle du Palais de Justice
Sometimes called “The Giraffe” because of the bridge’s tall stanchion with cables supporting the bridge, the Passerelle du Palais de Justice (Footbridge of the Palace of Justice) connects the two sides of the Saône River from the Saint-Jean district near the courthouse on one side and the Célestins district on the other.
Originally, a bridge was built in 1638 on the site but became dilapidated and was destroyed in 1778. A pontoon bridge of 12 boats was then constructed in 1780 but it didn’t even last a decade, being destroyed by ice in 1789.
A wooden bridge replaced the pontoon bridge in 1797 but was damaged by fireworks in 1820, floods in 1824, and finally destroyed in 1833 to make way for a new bridge. This new bridge was itself destroyed by floods in 1840 and another new bridge was built in 1844. (Bridge builders must’ve been busy in Lyon during the 18th and 19th centuries!).
The 1844 bridge lasted 100 years until Nazis blew up the central arch during their retreat from Lyon in 1944. The bridge reopened in 1945.
In 1968, the government ordered the bridge destroyed. This greatly upset many citizens of Lyon who relied on the bridge to traverse the river near their homes and offices. Despite promises, nothing happened until the public, fed up with government inaction protested in 1978. Over 300 people gathered on the site of the promised bridge.
Finally, in 1983, the new footbridge was dedicated and is popular with both residents and tourists.
Pont de l’Université de Lyon
The Pont de l’Université de Lyon (University of Lyon Bridge) was built in 1903. It replaced a ferry that shuttled students and faculty across the Rhône.
Like all the other bridges (except La passerelle Saint-Vincent and the Homme de la Roche footbridge) Lyon, it was destroyed by retreating Nazis in 1944. A temporary wooden bridge replaced it, which, in turn, was replaced in 1947 by the beautiful structure that stands today and handles both foot and vehicle traffic.
The University Bridge is distinctive for its iron arches and decorative wrought iron stanchions.
Here is a link to a Google Map of the bridges of Lyon, however, it is not a comprehensive listing.
About the Author
Brent Petersen is the Editor-in-Chief of Destination Eat Drink. He currently resides in Setubal, Portugal. Brent has written the novel “Truffle Hunt” (Eckhartz Press) and the short story collection “That Bird.” He’s also written dozens of foodie travel guides to cities around the world on Destination Eat Drink, including in-depth eating and drinking guides to Lyon, Bordeaux, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Brent’s podcast, also called Destination Eat Drink, is available on all major podcasting platforms and is distributed by the Radio Misfits Podcast Network.