Monday, May 5, 2008
Located at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers, the city of Lyon was second only to Paris in commercial and cultural importance during the sixteenth century. The third largest city in the realm with a population of close to 60,000 in 1550 (Paris boasted 300,000 inhabitants, Rouen 75,000), Lyon was the home to three industries that linked France with the rest of Europe: banking, silk work, and printing. The city became a major point of entry for goods coming into France over the Alps from Italy; linked to the Mediterranean by the Rhône and to Flanders and Germany by overland trade routes, it became staging center for exports as well. Lyon was home to large populations of foreigners, primarily Italians and Germans, deeply involved in this international trade. The city hosted four trade fairs each year, at Epiphany, Easter, August, and All Saints', each of which attracted 5-6000 foreigners. These fairs helped establish one of banking's first credit systems, the lettres d'échange. Although Lyon had no university in the sixteenth century, the prevalence of the printing trade fostered a healthy intellectual life and led to the establishment of poetic circles and philosophical academies based on Italian models. Lyon was a vibrant and exciting place to be in the years leading up to the Wars of Religion.
This vibrancy and the interplay of commerce, culture and religion led me to choose Lyon as the setting for The Measure of Silence. In coming posts, I will examine each of these aspects in greater detail and share how each contributed to the development of the narrative.
(The drawing above dates from the 1800's but shows the high hills that dominate the city and its bustling river trade.)