Thursday 15 May 2014

Traboules de Lyon

From a Renaissance staircase at the mysterious heart of a tenement building sloping up the hill of the Croix-Rousse district

to this amazingly futuristic design of the early 19th century,

the traboules of Lyon are an impressive civic resource I'd failed to access on my previous flying visits to the city. But over the Easter weekend, between Britten performances at the Opera, we managed to explore quite a few. 'Traboule' may come from the Latin 'trans ambulare', and signifies the labyrinthine alley routes between the main streets possibly in existence from Roman times. In the middle ages, they led to water supplies in the courtyard shafts, which accounts for the byways often crossing private housing areas.

The most commonly held perception is that they were created to provide covered access for the transport of the silks woven by the cordeliers/canuts of Croix-Rousse, whose uprising in 1831 followed by even bigger revolts in 1848 and '49 led to improved social conditions. There's a commemoration on a plaque in the cour des Voraces, done up by the the Habitat et Humanisme Association led by Father Bernard Devers in 1995 and illustrated in the second of the photos above.

Later the alleys were of vital help to the Resistance.

Armed with my main source of information, Corinne Poirieux's Lyon et ses traboules, we left our peaceful hotel near the Place des Terreaux and the Opera - despite its rather blingy makeover, the charm of the old, narrow building and the view down the street from our room still worked their magic - and climbed the Croix-Rousse via the second of the city's Roman amphitheatres, des Trois Gaules (AD 19). 'Not of great interest', says my Blue Guide, but its situation and views were welcome on a sunny Sunday morning.

Nearby is the Rue des Tables-Claudiennes, where antique bronze plaques reproducing one of Claudius's speeches were discovered in 1528. I wonder whether the most prominent of the graffiti here marks a Christian protest against the Emperor?

At any rate, it was one of very few reminders in Lyon of the seasonal event passing relatively unmarked.

Our first attempt aller trabouler, from the rue des Fantasques, was blocked by a locked door. It shouldn't have been: by agreement between owners/dwellers, the city and the Urban Community, approximately 60 traboules should be kept open during the hours of daylight. But many are resolutely shut. No matter; we wandered into the little jardin Villemanzy with its splendid view over the Rhône and gawped at a group of tranquil tai-chi practisers.

And then the first mystery opened up, from the montée Saint-Sébastien up to the place Colbert, which meant ascending and then descending the staircase of the futuristic 1830s staircase. Many of Lyon's immigrant population live here, in a kind of echo of the waves that have passed through London's East End.

And then we ambled back and forth from the hilltop place Colbert with its cafe reflecting Lyon's hilly position

down the rue Diderot

finding one entrance in the narrow Rue Capponi shut, but having better luck on the montée de la Grand Côte side, which led to the magic staircase and up to a pretty garden, and sampling one more traboule off the rue des Tables Claudiennes. Note the outside toilets still in use.

Then it was time for an open-air interlude coming down the south-east side of Croix-Rousse. The place Ronville gives views over both sides of the Saône valley, very lush and green going north-west

and along the rue de l'Annonciade is one of Lyon's many dynamic art-projects, the Mur peint Végétal Lumière, frescoes alternating with vertical planting.

Down past more quirky wall-painting on the rue Tavernier

we came across a more familiar tourist attraction, the trompe-l'oeil Fresque des Lyonnais Célèbres down by the quai Saint-Vincent.

The local celebs include the Brothers Lumière alongside the inventors of the Grand Guignol and the Petit Prince (after whom, of course, Lyon's Aéroport Saint-Exupéry is named)

as well as Bertrand Tavernier shooting from a corner.

Then we crossed  the passerelle St.-Vincent

and as we had plenty of time before our late lunch reservation at the Musées Gadagne, we tried a few more traboules in Vieux-Lyon. Nos 7, 8 and 10 of the quai Romain Rolland were closed, but folk were just coming out of No. 17 so we got to see its well shaft

and to look up

before coming out on the rue des Trois Maries (-Salomé, -Jacobé and -Magdalene) where the entrace/exit is surmounted by a smiling woman's head on the keystone.

A quick wander past the Cathedral

via its 'jardin archeologique'

and we walked along the rue du Boeuf, stone-signed

and No. 16 with its celebrated 16th century round pink tower, next door to the hotel which according to Vadim Repin makes the best madeleines (the receptionist denied all knowledge when I asked),

back to the Gadagne, which offers one of the best courtyards and a bit of a traboule.

Its museum of the city's history takes you from the basement upwards via a spectacular winding staircase and architectural features on each floor, including a monumental Renaissance fireplace. Thihs doorway gives a small-scale idea of the decoration within.

The museum hour I saved until after lunch while J went back to the hotel to nap. And the food was good, though it had turned a bit chilly outside - Lyon should have been warmer than Basel and Zurich but our earlier glimpse of summer had vanished and the weather was a typical Easter mix. Britten report (over)due on The Arts Desk on Sunday.


Susan Scheid said...

Yet another grand travelogue. I want to walk into these photographs and follow the trail of traboules--of which I knew nothing before this introduction, so many thanks. I was curious to know who might have designed the Cour des Voraces staircase, but came up empty-handed on a look through some links. Do you know anything of its story?

David Damant said...

The traboules remind one of the staircase at Blois, and the Double Helix staircase at Chambord. One feels that the latter name was not contemporary with the building.

We do not have in the UK the idea of naming streets after people, as they do in many countries especially France. Walking from Colbert to Diderot makes one wish that one could bring people like this together, though I doubt if Colbert would have financed the Encyclopedia.

David said...

No, Sue, the architect isn't mentioned in my book nor anywhere else I've looked, but the date appears to be even earlier than I thought, 1830. The 'Voraces' who were behind the uprising took their name ('the Voracious Ones') from the members (devoirs). Certainly, as I wrote - and I've added a bit - they were the drivers behind the movement for social change in 1848.

David, it's true, we don't have enough streets named after people; sadly, it's 'Princess Diana Close' which springs most readily to mind, and most of the London streets are named after unthinking aristocratic landowners.

On the other hand, we're quicker to name buildings. I live between Arnold and Chaucer Mansions (though Brandon was less distinguished). It struck me as the cruellest condescension that I passed a very ugly block in Hoxton called Caliban Tower.

David Damant said...

I do not think that you should say that the aristocratic landowners in London were or are unthinking. They (Westminster, Cadogan, etc)built and importantly preserved many of the elegant features of the townscape during long periods in which other parts of London were mutilated before proper planning laws came in. And look at the Russells - Covent Garden ( the former market and St Paul's)is as elegant as Woburn. I read somewhere that when at the beginning of the 20th Century they sold Covent Garden itself ( they have quite a bit of London left) the Duke sadly forgot to retain the Bedford box in the Opera House.
In 1848 Europe reached a turning point. And failed to turn.

David Damant said...

I am prompted by your picture of the amphitheatre at Lyon to report an explanation given to me years ago as to why there are always amphitheatres even in the most remote Roman outposts ( Petra for example) as well as in centres of civilisation such as Lyon. Could it be, one wondered, that Roman soldiers were madly keen on Tragedy ( one can imagine that they might like Aristophanes). The explanation is rather obvious - these theatres were used in military environments for military instruction - general briefings, and specific demonstrations as to how to bop an enemy by feints or direct techniques etc.

Susan Scheid said...

Ah, a mystery as yet unsolved. The Voracious Ones, wonderful. I didn't think to look up the French. How I love the history behind the traboules! I was telling the Edu-Mate about all this and showed her the photographs. We both marveled at it all. Must get to Lyons!

Laurent said...

I had no idea that Lyon was a hilly town and of this system of staircases to go places. How very interesting.

David said...

As with all humanity, Sir David, I guess some are/were good, some bad. A case of the latter being the sheer greed of the aristo who was quite happy to see Gaby's Deli, a London institution on the Charing Cross Road, vanish for the sake of mammon (Duke of Westminster?)

At any rate one feels almost fond of them as London is changed by the new wave of outside billionaires and property developers. The feeling in Chelsea the other night when I went to hear Pretty Yende in the Cadogan Hall was really very horrible.

Yes, the amphitheatrical explanation is rather prosaic. I guess there is a connection in this case with the Claudian tablesasking the Gallic noblemen to join the Senate.

Isn't the history of the Canuts fascinating, Sue? And I love the idea of the raw material being carried up the hill and the worked fabrics being carried down. It all came to a sad end in the 1930s, when the apartment blocks crammed into the side of the hill fell into disrepair. And, Laurent, it is a very strange feeling to enter a building on one level and come out several lower, and 30 or more steps up or down.

You might like what Lyon architect Tony Desjardins wrote in 1853:

'I could never understand that in this day and age one could take pleasure in covering with buildings a mountain whose slopes are so steep that parts of the streets leading to them are inaccessible to carriages. Despite their extreme simplicity, the very poverty of the buildings and the considerable transportation costs for the materials should have prevented these districts from developing, and yet in less than 25 years a community of more than 20,000 souls has been created, and this city keeps increasing in size. I can find no reason...unless that human congregation is a need felt by our silk workers - the need to live together and to communicate...'

David Damant said...

The Charing Cross area is a bit too far East for the Duke. In fact the landlord is Lord Salisbury who - I understand - is rather good at taking a civilised view of his property. I have often wondered how the little old fashioned bookshops in the area ( such as in Cecil - family name of Lord S - Court) survive. One has to know all the details of a case to make a judgement. In other cases I have come across (not involving Lord S) the subsidy just gets so large that one cannot continue it.

I made a whoops in my comment on amphitheatres - the word means in the round, as at Lyon. These were for various performances ( gladiators etc) but did not need excellent acoustics. It was the theatres ( no amphi ) built in a semi-circle, which were designed with good acoustics for plays and - as I suggested - lectures

David said...

That's it, Lord Salisbury. A question of subsidy, or sheer greed and short-termism, trying to squeeze a London institution out by upping its rent to untenable levels? Anyway, Gaby's has a short stay of execution. So does the wonderful Union Theatre underneath the arches in Southwark (council, in that instance. Ridiculous argument about needing more office space when the office blocks in the vicinity haven't yet been occupied).

It's a big issue, the making of swathes of London unaffordable to the very people who create its lifeblood.

David Damant said...

As you say it's a big issues and I should not want to over extend this discussion, but the central point is that FAR too many people and businesses want to live in central London. So the pressures of demand overwhelm the supply of real estate. I cannot see any end to the demand, especially as so many rich people fleeing unhappy countries run up the prices at the top end of the property market ( residences over say £6 million are nearly all bought by the non British)and the effects filter down. If a few of those benefiting provide some subsidies ( as it is reported Lord S does for bookshops - and what else, we do not know: perhaps now Gabys) they should be congratulated. And only private people can do this.......any company with shareholders can hardly hold back in taking advantage of development possibilities. I agree that Councils and similar could take another view, but if that were done on any scale ( so as to make a difference) and that meant putting up Council Tax what would the reaction be? The sums involved get larger and larger. We are in the presence of a social phenomenon of vast importance but how it can be analysed I do not know

Ann Lander said...

Absolutely fascinating, thank you! I was in Lyon for Curlew River and Peter Grimes (absolutely loved both) but didn't have time to explore the traboules. Going back next month for Simon Boccanegra and will definitely find time this time and will use your description as a guide.

David said...

Shareholders, David, of course. But it'll be the ruin of the city as we know it.

Good to hear from you, Ann, and Lyon can take any number of visits. I do recommend the Corinne Poirieux book I mentioned above - I found one in the Musees Gadagne but it's fairly widely distributed in the town - and bilingual, though the English translation is rather quaint at times.

David said...

May I add a further reason for a visit - visits - to Lyon, and that is gastronomy, of which Lyon is the capital of France. The quennelles de brochet come to mind ( quennelles of other fishes are just fluffy rissoles, though I have always thought that shark has the necessary hardness of flesh as does the pike.) Food is a cultural activity, lower in status than opera, but met with much more frequently. [David]

David said...

Well, we went there last time I posted about Lyon, but in case Ann didn't join us then, I can't recommend a visit to Les Halles de Lyon, modern and unatmospheric though the building is: a good lunch or snack can be enjoyed there. We made up for our lack of Bouchon fare in Lyon by eating similar offal at a modest restaurant in St Germain, recommended by the two Parisian friends who took us there, on the way back via Paris.

Ann Lander said...

Thanks for the information and will look for the Corinne Poirieux book. Can you recommend a good Bouchon? Did read up on them before I went but didn't have time to go.

David said...

Try the Cafe des Federations in the tiny Rue du Major Martin - just round the corner from the hotel I still adore despite its blingy makeover, des Terreaux. We got to this bouchon too late after the Britten lunchtime concert but it was bustling and comes warmly recommended.

If not, Leon de Lyon isn't a bouchon, but it's a Lyon institution, looks terrific and is close by. And hit Les Halles for something lighter: I now realise I should have followed 'can't recommend' in the above comment by 'too strongly'. Too late to delete and repost it now.

Ann Lander said...

Thanks! And not far from my hotel.