Lonely Planet Writer

French astronaut watches Lyon's Festival of Lights from space

International Space Station engineer Thomas Pesquet may have an unrivalled view of glowing galaxies and sparkling stars, but it was an illumination of a different kind that caught his eye this week: Lyon’s annual Fêtes de Lumieres (Festival of Lights).

A general view from the highest tower of the Basilica of Fourvieres, during the Festival of Lights on December 8, 2013 in Lyon, France
A general view from the highest tower of the Basilica of Fourvieres, during the Festival of Lights on December 8, 2013 in Lyon, France Image by Bruno Vigneron/Getty Images

While millions attended the dazzling event, which saw over 70 light installations set up across the city’s buildings, parks and squares, the French astronaut basked in its glow from outer space. He then took a photo of city in full glare and uploaded it to Twitter.

Buildings are illuminated on December 5, 2014 in in the central French city of Lyon during the 16th edition of the Festival of Lights, a secular version of a religious tradition devoted to Virgin Mary and dating back to 153 years ago
Buildings are illuminated on December 5, 2014 in in the central French city of Lyon during the 16th edition of the Festival of Lights, a secular version of a religious tradition devoted to Virgin Mary and dating back to 153 years ago Image by JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK/AFP/Getty Images

Fêtes de Lumieres will run until 10 December and this year’s highlights include a life-sized steel stegosaurus which sits atop a shipping container; a poetic epic of lights and lasers flashed across Saint-Jean Cathedral; and hanging Chinese lanterns along Rue de la République which were created in collaboration with Zigong city in China.

Festival of Lightsin Lyon, December, 2008.
Festival of Lights in Lyon, December, 2008. Image by Fred Dufour/Getty Images

The event, which first began in 1852, also has an interesting back story. In celebration of a new statue of the Virgin Mary being erected on the Fourvière hill on 8 September, locals were asked to put lamps out on their balconies and window sills to light the city.

However, the River Saône overflowed and the event was cancelled. It was pushed back to 8 December, but a storm meant the event was cancelled again. As the weather bettered, locals spontaneously lit lamps on their balconies and the festival has continued ever since.