10 Incredible Installations from the 2014 Festival of Lights

M.Chaulet – Ville de Lyon

Every year in December, Lyon puts on the incredible Fête des Lumières (Festival of Lights), during which more than 70 light installations transform the city’s streetscapes into thrilling works of art. Though the festival’s origins go back more than 150 years and are religious in nature, these days the annual event is a secular spectacle that draws an international audience of almost three million visitors over a four-day period (December 5–8 in 2014). The scene in Lyon is charming: Crowds fill the streets to take in the lights while vendors hawk mulled wine, roasted chestnuts, and tartiflette, a hearty gratin of potatoes, onions, bacon, and cheese. This year’s festival featured an astounding 75 installations, so we’ve selected 10 highlights from around the city. The photographs may not fully do justice to each installation—a search for the festival on YouTube is worth your time—but hopefully they will inspire you to add this whimsical event, one of world's most-attended festivals, to your bucket list.

By Michael Alan Connelly

Michael is the Editor of Fodors.com. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelalanconnelly.

M.Chaulet – Ville de Lyon

Color or Not

The intricate, centuries-old façade of Saint-Jean Cathedral sprang to life thanks to Yves Moreaux’s dazzling video installation, in which lines drawn in India ink on sepia backgrounds battled for dominance with psychedelic displays of polychrome coloring that highlighted the cathedral's architectural details. One of the most popular sites during the festival, the square in front of the cathedral was consistently packed every night.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lyon Travel Guide

M.Chaulet – Ville de Lyon

Dreams of Night

Dominating Place Bellecour, one of the largest public squares in Europe, this 17-minute program paid tribute to the life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the author of The Little Prince, who disappeared 70 years ago on a reconnaissance mission during World War II. The author grew up a block away from the square, and this installation combined animated projections on a Ferris wheel and adjacent buildings with aerial acrobatics by live performers to follow the imaginary adventures of his childhood in Lyon and beyond.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lyon Travel Guide

M.Chaulet – Ville de Lyon

Laniakea

This hypnotic display took viewers on a thrilling ride across the universe, with projections of celestial bodies juxtaposed with hundreds of glowing orbs that changed color in Place Antonin Poncet. Alternately intimidating and inspiring, this installation successfully captured the majesty and scope of the heavens.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lyon Travel Guide

M.Chaulet – Ville de Lyon

Hi Striker

Capturing the festival’s sense of whimsy and fun, this installation turned the Palais de Justice and an adjacent footbridge into a carnival-style game in which volunteers tested their strength with a giant hammer in an effort to illuminate both the bridge and the courthouse. On a hilltop in the distance, you can see Convergences, a project that placed a massive mirror ball at the top of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, which could be seen from almost anywhere in Lyon.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lyon Travel Guide

M.Chaulet – Ville de Lyon

Lyon, Land of Lights

The annual display in Place des Terreaux is considered the signature event of the festival; if the crowds don’t like this installation, it affects the entire festival’s reputation for that year. Fortunately, 2014 didn’t disappoint, as this video project brought to life characters depicted in masterworks at the Museum of Fine Arts and allowed them to mingle with performers from the Lyon Opera as well as other dancers and musicians.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lyon Travel Guide

M.Chaulet – Ville de Lyon

Njörd, Spirit of the Wind

Hauntingly beautiful and unforgettable, this installation featured large, transparent monoliths placed in a courtyard at Town Hall. Inside each monolith, illuminated feathers swirled about as the sounds of the wind echoed off the walls.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lyon Travel Guide

F.Guignard-Perret – Ville de Lyon

OverExposure

The Fête des Lumières features a number of interactive installations every year, but OverExposure was this year’s most exciting one. Located on an esplanade in the hilltop Crois-Rousse neighborhood, this massive black monolith turned text messages and messages submitted via smartphone apps into flashing Morse code projections that could be seen from anywhere in the city.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lyon Travel Guide

M.Chaulet – Ville de Lyon

The Night Light at Jacobins

The baroque Jacobins Fountain served as the base of an oversized night light when topped with a massive lamp shade by artist Christophe Mayer. Swirling projections and a music-box soundtrack of lullabies completed the transporting scene.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lyon Travel Guide

M.Chaulet – Ville de Lyon

A Journey Through the World of Cinema

Located in the vaults under Perrache Station, this tunnel-length projection was impressive in its size and scope. With a setting that evoked the late 19th century, the video featured film excerpts and cinema milestones that traced the past, present, and future of movies.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lyon Travel Guide

F.Guignard-Perret – Ville de Lyon

The Filaments of Knowledge

Installed at one of the schools that make up the University of Lyon, The Filaments of Knowledge was designed by first-year students in the I.D.E.A. (Innovation Design Entrpreneurship Art) program. Featuring sounds, interactive elements, and other-worldly lighted objects inspired by mushrooms, this project had the students on-hand to explain their creative approach.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lyon Travel Guide

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