Lyon – The Traboules – Secret Passageways
During the Middle Ages, Lyon had a flourishing silk trade. In order to allow the silk merchants to transfer their goods from barges in the river, or to and from their storage areas or shops, they had to walk through the narrow streets of the old Lyon (Vieux Lyon). On its own not a problem except when it rained. Silk does not like rain, so the merchants needed to keep their goods dry (plastic wasn’t invented on those days yet). So they thought up a smart system. Throughout the buildings in the older part of Lyon, they transposed passageways.
These passageways, called “Traboules“, became an integral part of the building structure of the houses in the old city. Instead of walking the long streets, and getting wet, you would duck into a traboule and exit several streets further, and then ducking into the next one.
Today there are some 215 Traboules spread around the “Vieux Lyon” (Old Lyon) and a total of 500 of them all over Lyon. But the vast majority are private and can not be visited. In the old town, some 40 of them are open to visits, but 1) you need to know where they are, since often they are hidden and 2) they are privately owned, forming part of a building so you need to keep quite.
In the above photo you see a traboure hidden by a door. The only way you know it’s one, is to read the sign which asks visitors to keep quite since people live here. Push open the door and you are in a traboure:
The traboures are often dark, narrow and low. But at least they are dry.
The passageways normally transverse small open air, or totally closed, courtyards:
So you will be walking through a traboule and suddenly you see an oasis like the one above. And then you look for the next passageway:
The next passageway can lead outside, or in my case, into another courtyard:
Here the inhabitants have placed signs asking people to remain quite. Sound carries, and they can hear all noises which is probably not so nice when you are trying to sleep. On through to the next portion of the traboule:
As you can see, it’s a myriad of passageways, often interconnecting in courtyards. This allowed the merchants to crisscross the city.
Eventually you will see a door that brings you back to the street. During the Second World War (WWII), it was this reason that the Germans were never fully in control of the city, since the resistance was able to hide from the Germans, striking when they wanted and then leaving without being seen.
Some of the courtyards are quite tall with a big staircase.
Here is one another trabole behind a normal door.
If you are in Lyon, you really need to discover these traboules. But often they have no sign; You just need to push a door open to see if there is one. Just be brave… go on, you know you want to. Push open the door.
Here is a map with most of the traboules in Lyon (there is also an interactive website, although in French, the traboule description and location is in English. Click here to access it):