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The Traboules: Lyon secret passageways

The Traboules: Lyon’s secret network

If you’re feeling a wee bit Sherlock, stroll through the cobbles of Vieux Lyon and the Croix Rousse and try and find Lyon’s historical hidden passageways. Failing that, grab a guide.

What is a Traboule?

Winding their way through buildings, courtyards, and up and down staircases, Lyon’s secret covered passageways, or traboules, are an ideal way of visiting the city’s hidden and colourful past. Every traboule is different though. Each has a unique pastel colour, a particular curve or spiral staircase, vaulted ceilings or Renaissance arches.

Some have counted as many as 400 traboules in Lyon, but just over 40 are open to the public, each clearly marked with a small identifying seal. It’s the atmospheric Vieux Lyon and the arty Croix Rousse that house the lion’s share.

Half of the fun is finding them of course, but failing that, you can skip to it and go on a guided tour on Saturday morning. They say if you want to be a true Lyonnais, you have to know your traboules. So what are you waiting for?

Why do we say “traboule”?

The word ‘traboules’ is a corruption of the Latin ‘trans-ambulare’, or ‘to pass through’, dating back to the 4th century, allowing folk more direct access to the town’s fresh water source than the winding streets provided.

A wander through the history of the traboules

The first examples of traboules are thought to have been built in Lyon in the 4th century. Due to lack of water and malfunctioning aqueducts, the inhabitants of what was Lugdunum had to move to the banks of the river Saône, in the lower town, at the foot of Fourvière hill. The traboules were dreamed up to allow people to get from their homes to the river quickly.

Later on, they were taken up by the Canuts silk workers of the Croix-Rousse (1st and 4th districts), the beating heart of 19th century silk trade. The passageways were used for Canuts workers to carry their heavy loads from their workshops in the Croix-Rousse to the textile merchants at the foot of the hill, as well as for workers’ meetings.

Famous traboule on Croix-Rousse hill: the “Cour des Voraces”

In Vieux Lyon (5th district), most streets run parallel to the river, making it tricky to get from one street to the next without having to make a huge detour, so courtyards with connected through a network of passages and a large number of shortcuts were created. The traboules of the Lyon’s Old Quarter thus allowed workers and craftspeople to transport clothes and other textiles more quickly through the city while remaining sheltered from the miserable weather.

A century later saw a different use entirely. During the Second World War, the traboules were used by the resistance for secret meetings, thus preventing the Nazis from occupying the whole of Lyon.

Read more here :

Source : This is Lyon

Here is the inetractive map of traboules :

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