The Roman military colony of Lugdunum (Lyon) was founded in 43 BC. It served as the capital of the Roman territories known as the Three Gauls under Augustus, but the city had to wait for renewed fame and fortune until 1473, when the arrival of movable type transformed it into one of Europe's foremost publishing centres.

By the mid-18th century, the city's influential silk weavers – 40% of Lyon's total workforce – had developed what had been a textiles centre since the 15th century into the silk-weaving capital of Europe. A century on, Lyon had tripled in size and boasted 100,000 weaving looms.

In 1870, the Lumière family moved to Lyon, and cinema was born when brothers Louis and Auguste shot the world's first moving picture here in 1895.

During WWII some 4000 people (including Resistance leader Jean Moulin) were killed and 7500 others were deported to Nazi death camps under Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie (1913–91), the 'butcher of Lyon'. Nazi rule ended in September 1944, when the retreating Germans blew up all but two of Lyon's 28 bridges. Barbie was sentenced to death in absentia in 1952 and again in 1954, but it wasn't until 1987, following his extradition from Bolivia, that he was tried in person in Lyon and sentenced to life imprisonment. He died in prison three years later.

Since the turn of the 21st century, Lyon has turned its focus to the future, developing an entirely new neighbourhood – the Confluence – based on cutting-edge, energy-efficient architectural principles, and vastly expanding public recreational access to the twin rivers that have always been the city's heart and soul.