No, Traboule is not the last trendy dance on TikTok or an exotic food specialty. Traboule is a Lyonnais’s word to identify passages through buildings. You enter a door like if you were going home but you just cross several buildings through their courtyards and then, you exit through another door in another street. Like a secret shortcut through private buildings.
That’s it... Thank you very much and see you!
Nice intro but...
According to the french dictionary "Le petit Robert", a Traboule is a regional word from Lyon to name a narrow path through a block of house. A more appealing way to put it would be to define it as a kind of secret passage through a private building. That’s more or less what I’ve said in the intro isn’t it ?
The word by itself may come from Latin. According to the historian Amable Audin, it is the contraction of two Latins words: "trans" meaning "through" and "ambulare" meaning "walking, moving forward". So, it means to walk through what is a quite straight description of what it is. You see, sometimes french language does make sense !
No but, seriously, how can we find a Traboule?
Seriously, except for few of them that are open to the public with an explanatory plate in front of their doors, you just can’t guess if there’s a Traboule or not behind the door. The best way is to take a tour with LyonExplorer (A bit of self advertisement is always good!).
But, if you really want to find some by yourself, in Vieux Lyon, look for historic plates with an explanatory text with the world Traboule in it. If you find one, just push the door, it should be open during daytime. For the ones in Croix Rousse, there are some paths that you can follow quite easily. My favorite one is the one starting on the corner of "place des terreaux" and "rue Sainte Marie" and ending 3 "Montée saint Sebastien". There’s an explanatory map at both ends of this path, you just have to follow the blue Lion’s heads on yellow tiles to go through several Traboules.
And finally, of course, you can just search even more on the internet and you’ll find many maps with the main Traboules of Lyon, even the ones that are not officially open to the public. But we’ll come back to this subject soon.
Just one very important thing, please be respectful of the people living there. That’s their home and it can be very annoying for them if people that are going through their Traboule are too loud or touching everything and degrading the place. But I trust you 😉
So, as I said, you can’t really know if there’s a Traboule behind a door or not but you will have way more chance to find one in 3 different districts of Lyon. The most iconic ones are in the old district (Vieux Lyon). They are the oldest ones that you can find and many people say that they are the most beautiful. That’s also the place where you’ll find the highest concentration of Traboule.
The second best area for Traboules is "La croix Rousse" in the 1st district. These ones are very different. They were mainly built on the 19th for the silk industry. But once again We’ll come back to this... (I’m doing a lot of teasing in this article)
And finally, you can find few of them on the peninsula but most of them are just closed and not accessible at all. So, except for the one situated between "13 rue de la Poulaillerie" and "2bis rue des Forces", there’s not so much to see in this area in terms of Traboules.
As I said in the previous chapters, you’ll find many Traboule in Lyon and you can easily find it on the internet. But only few of them are really open to the public. For these ones, no tricks are needed to snick in. The doors are just open and you’re welcome to enter. There is an agreement between the city and the inhabitant of the place. The city pay for the maintaining of the common parts of the building in exchange of the authorization for everybody to go through.
For these Traboule, you’ll find them on official website like this one for Croix rousse : Traboules Croix Rousse
And this one for Vieux Lyon: Traboules Vieux Lyon
323. Exactly... Just kidding. I wish it was that simple. In reality, it’s impossible to say. Personally I’ve heard and read about very various figures between 300 and 700. But I personally think that 300 something is a realist number and already impressive enough so I’m fine with it. (Not directly related to our subject but I’m curious to see if Google will “read” and propose my arbitrary and probably false number of 323 as a quick answer... It would be fun! Anyway...)
That’s a tough question too. In fact it’s almost impossible to answer to this one. The oldest ones you’ll find nowadays were built during the 15th century and are, of course, in Vieux Lyon. But in reality the concept of Traboule is certainly way older than that. Let’s talk very quickly about the history of Lyon. Lyon was first created on top of the Fouviere Hill to keep an eye on potential enemies attacking the city. But after a while, on the 4th century, as the kingdom was mostly at peace and the city was starting to be powerful, they’ve started to build the city on the bottom of the hill, by the river Saône. It happened after a huge fire in the city on the hill but it’s not very important.
The fact is that they were developing the city by the river and they needed a good access to the water. So, we think that they’ve started to build these Traboule as shortcuts to access the Saône river for the water and the business as most of the goods were traveling by boats. And still nowadays, if you pay attention to the direction of the Traboules, you’ll notice that most them are going straight toward the river.
That’s why we think that the first Traboules were built on the 4th century.
As I’ve just explained on the previous paragraph, we can only guess that it was used to have a better access to the river. For the commerce that was done on the river and because not everybody had a well in its courtyard.
But then throughout the times, they found different use. They were and they are still used mostly as shortcut especially on the Croix Rousse hill. During the 19th century, when the silk worker ("Les canuts") were populating the hill, they were using it for a quicker and easier access to the river (Yes, once again, the same reason more or less). But it really became important for them during the 3 main revolts in 1831, 1834 and 1848. You will even find a plate in the famous "Cours des Voraces" talking about it.
And the last event which bring them alive once again was the second world war. When Lyon was occupied it was the perfect solution for the Resitants to sneak around the city without being followed by the Gestapo and the french Milice.
Nowadays, it’s way quieter. It’s used by myself during "La fête des lumières" to skip the line and avoid the crowd but don’t talk about it, I’m not sure it’s legal... Maybe it’s used by unfaithful men or women to hide their crimes? But at 99%, it’s used by people living in Vieux Lyon and tourists.
I hope that these few lines will have answered your main questions about one of the most iconic thing you can find in Lyon: The Traboules. And if you never heard about it before, I hope it has awaken your curiosity and that you’ll come soon to Lyon to see it by yourself.
And finally, if you have more questions about this topic, just join one of our tour and ask to our guide! (Always end an article with self promotion 🙂 )
Article By Nicolas PETIT - LyonExplorer