A traboule, coming from the Latin transambulare via vulgar Latin trabulare meaning “to cross,” is as much a symbol of Lyon as Fourvière Hill. For those of you who are new to my blog, Lyon has two main hills- Fourvière and the Croix Rousse and was a town with a rich history dating back to the Roman Empire. In the last millennia, Lyon was historically known as an important area for the production and weaving of silk. The Croix Rousse was the historical area in Lyon for silk manufacturing (thus giving it the nickname of the “hill that works”) whereas Fourvière, with its Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière was known as the “hill that prays.”
Now that we have that straight, let’s talk more about these traboules. A traboule is a traditional, historical passageway that allows for people to go from one building to another, mostly up and down the Fourvière and Croix Rousse hills. In Lyon, they were originally used by silk manufacturers and other merchants to transport their products. More recently, during World War II, the traboules of Lyon were used as covert activity networks against the German occupiers. Little known to foreigners, dark, and secretive – the traboules were key for the French who wanted to plot and plan against their German enemies.
A friend who used to live in the Croix Rousse took me on a quick tour of his old neighborhood this past weekend. And we went through one of the most famous traboule of them all, the Cour des Voraces built in the 1840s. Sometimes referred to as la Maison de la République, this building court is famed for its 6-floor stairway façade. It links 9 Place Colbert, 14 bis Montéee de Saint-Sébastien, and 29 rue Imbert-Colomès in the 1ère arrondissement.
There is a plaque there that states: “In the Cour des Voraces, hive of silk work, canuts struggled for their lives and their dignity.” The term Voraces comes from a group of workers called the Vorace Weavers. The Court of Voraces was reputed to have served as a refuge for canuts workers during their revolts; later it was used during the French Resistance. The Cour des Voraces represents silk, resistance, and Lyonnais history.
There are about 230 traboules in Lyon. Unfortunately many of them have been closed to the public because the inhabitants of the buildings have gated them off; luckily many are still open for exploration. The Lyonnais are rightfully proud of this aspect of their city and their history. Spend any time with a local and they will tell you all about the silk weaving and Lyon’s role during the French Resistance.