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Les Traboules: Secret Passageways of Lyon

The Traboules .. this evocative word is almost exclusively associated with Lyon. As soon as it is spoken it arouses curiousity. The French verb trabouler comes from the Latin "trans" to cross and "ambulare" to go around. It conjures up ideas of shortcuts and resourcefulness using one's knowledge of the local area.

Both Vieux Lyon and the slopes of Croix-Rousse in Lyon are known for their narrow passageways or traboules that pass through buildings and link streets on either side.

Most of the traboules date back to the Renaissance period, but they are thought to have existed since the 4th century. The inhaditants of Lugdunum settled in the lower part of the city, the traboules making it easier to obtain fresh supplies of water.

Later, they were very useful for customers visiting the numerous stalls and workshops of the Rue Saint-Jean. The carts stopped in the roads to unload their valuable goods which were then carried via the passageways to their destinations on the merchant's stalls. They have also been used for moving around without being seen by authorities. In fact, they are often credited with helping prevent the occupying Germans from taking complete control of these areas during World War II.

Today, thanks to an innovative agreement between the city council and the inhabitants of the buildings, many traboules are tourist attractions, and are free and open to the public.. The city bought many of the properties surrounding the traboules and made them available as low-cost housing, but with strings attached. Residents around a traboule must agree to keep it open to the public between 8 am and 7 pm. But like the traboules themselves, the agreement is a two-way street. Visitors are expected to be quiet so as not to disturb the residents.

The traboules of Lyon offer architectural gems and a wonderful tour of Renaissance Lyon to those who know how to "troubouler".


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