Exceedingly popular and completely unknown at once? Lyon’s very own Fort Loyasse is just that. An abandoned military complex standing very conspicuously among a gaggle of apartment blocks in the district of Vaise, it’s even featured on Yelp; and yet, though there is a number of blog posts about it on the world wide web, they seem to have all been written by local visitors and local visitors only.
The rest of the world remains unaware of this historical fort that has served as many a Lyon explorer’s – and vandal’s, judging by the amount of graffiti and empty beer cans on the site – first journey into the world of abandoned beauty. Paul and I visited Fort Loyasse on what might just be the most perfect day and time of the year: New Year’s Day, early afternoon, with the whole city still sleeping.
A disclaimer before we go on: This blog post gets all of its history from Wikipedia. So do all the other blog posts out there (I checked). While Wikipedia has been shown to be a pretty credible source of information, for any actual research-related purposes you might want to look into the two books that the article cites as sources. Okay? Okay!
Built between 1836 and 1840, Fort Loyasse is a relic of a now improbable-seeming time when the biggest external threat to France was the then-fearsome military power of Austria. The purpose of the fort was to protect the City of Lyon from eastern invaders, as indicated by its elevated structure surrounded by high stone walls.
A map of Fort Loyasse from 1923 (source: Lyon Historique)
Less than 50 years later the fort had already lost its strategic significance. New military technology had multiplied the maximum range of projectiles and explosives, making the whole concept of a fort obsolete. During World War I Fort Loyasse was used as a prison, and during World War II it was briefly occupied by Germans. In 1947 it was officially decommissioned and left to slowly become the forested patch of land it is today.
This is not to say that Fort Loyasse doesn’t still have its staunch supporters. The one person we did meet during our whole outing was an elderly lady that approached us on the street. Pleased to find us carrying cameras and water bottles instead of spray cans and crowbars, she began telling us about her ideas for repurposing the historical property into a public park – perhaps connected to the similarly neglected Cemetery of Loyasse (just south of the fort on the map) by an aerial walkway. Together, the two elevated sites would offer some of the nicest views across Lyon outside of the tourist-infested Fourvière.
At the time of writing this, however, vines are still growing and birds are nesting inside Fort Loyasse. The remaining structures – some have been demolished – are derelict to the point of being actively dangerous, as we realized when a rock the size of my fist dislodged from the ceiling and almost hit Paul in the head. I understand that there is a pretty sweet underground complex beneath the visible fort, but since we didn’t wish to die that day, we chose the have our snacks in the woods around the fort instead.
Up there, birds were chirping and there was no imminent danger of structural collapse. I rather think it was the best first day of the year ever.