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.