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The other side of the Festival of Lights (Fête des Lumières) 2018

Show light - BARNES Agency, luxury real estate in Lyon

The traditional Festival of Lights, an unmissable event in the city’s calendar, took place in Lyon on the weekend of 8th December. BARNES Lyon invites you to take a look back at this extraordinary 3-day event from a different perspective, from behind the scenes of the impressive installations.

Pigments de lumière - Cathédrale Saint-Jean

Inside the Festival of Lights

BARNES Lyon was lucky enough to get a backstage pass to this year’s Festival of Lights and an appointment with VLS video assistant, Thomas, who gave us an insider’s perspective on Damien Fontaine’s installation Reflets [Reflections], located on the Quais de Saône and Fourvière Hill. 

Reflets - Colline de Fourvière

How are the artists participating in the Festival of Lights selected?

Every year, the city of Lyon launches a major call for proposals. This happens at the start of the year because, as you can imagine, it takes quite a long time to select, prepare and create the pieces that will be included. Whilst anyone can enter, competition is fierce, and every year the Festival of Lights tries to showcase the work of new artists and even students, as is the case of this year’s installation at the Collège Jean-Moulin secondary school.  

What is the idea behind the installation on the Quais de Saône?  

The Reflets [Reflections] installation depicts 8 chapters from the history of life in Lyon, from local life here to its monuments and its sense of ‘organised chaos’, all set to music. What’s really impressive, though, is that it is projected onto nearly 400m of facades along the Quai Romain-Rolland, including the Palais de Justice and St. Jean Cathedral. It is unusual for St. Jean Cathedral to be illuminated from this side, although it is undoubtedly the most heavily featured building in the Festival of Lights. The Fourvière Basilica is also illuminated by various light shows in connection with the projections on the quayside, which really brings something extra to the installation! 

Reflet - Colline de Fourvière


Who is Damien Fontaine?

Damien Fontaine is one of the greatest composers and directors of our time, having notably made a name for himself in 2014 when he won the directors award for the largest multimedia spectacle ever created in Europe – the Bucharest Parliament building. He is also well-known on the international stage thanks to his work in Dubai, Dakar, Shanghai, Mauritius, Moscow and even Chicago and is a Festival of Lights regular, having won the city of Lyon’s Trophy of Lights several times, notably with Place des Terreaux in 2013 and St. Jean Cathedral in 2012.

What is it like on the other side of the Festival of Lights? 

For me, the Festival of Lights is a great opportunity for residents of Lyon and visitors to come together. The city and its buildings are transformed over the course of the 4-day event and even as a resident of Lyon myself, I can say that it changes our perspective of our city. The sheer scale of the technical installations is just amazing, and visitors don’t see how much equipment it takes and how many hours of work are put in both before and after the event. VLS is the technical service provider responsible for the Quais de Saône, Place Bellecour and Collège Jean-Moulin. 

Big Tree - Place de la République

Une petite place pour de grands rêves - Place Bellecour

The history of Lyon’s Festival of Lights


The Festival of Lights dates back to the Middle Ages and has since become known internationally. When the south of France was hit by a plague epidemic, religious figures and the inhabitants of Lyon prayed to the Virgin Mary for it to stop, promising her that they would pay tribute to her every year if it did. Sure enough, the epidemic ceased, and in 1852, a statue of the Holy Virgin was created and added to the bell tower of the old Fourvière chapel. Its inauguration was due to take place on 8th September but was postponed to 8th December, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, due to the weather. However, the weather conditions were still not good on this day, but the people of Lyon did not want to cancel the festival and instead set about arranging candles in their windows. Come nightfall, the whole city was illuminated, and thus was born the Festival of Lights.

Pigments de lumière - Cathédrale Saint-Jean