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pardon, monsieur, est-ce que cela traboule, par là ?

TRABOULE–Région. (Lyon surtout et Saint-Étienne). Passage étroit, généralement couvert, qui relie deux rues en traversant un pâté de maisons. “Les traboules du quartier de la soierie étaient faites à la semblance des étroits et sombres passages dans le quartier Saint-Jean.” —TRIOLET, Prem. accroc, 1945, p. 182.

“Pardon, monsieur, est-ce que cela traboule, par là?Mais oui, mademoiselle, par là et par là et par là. . . . De traboule en traboule.” —TRIOLET, Prem. accroc, 1945, p. 89.

“Traboules (from Latin transambulare via vulgar Latin trabulare meaning “to cross”) are a type of passageway primarily associated with the city of Lyon, France, but also located in the French cities of Villefranche-sur-Saône, Mâcon, Saint-Étienne, along with a few in Chambéry). In Lyon, they were originally used by silk manufacturers and other merchants to transport their products.”

Imagine a city that had very little or no city planning. Imagine constructing very large, long buildings that had no alleys so pedestrians could walk from one street to another. One would need to walk to the end of the building, take a detour, in order to cross the city. That is how vieux Lyon–old Lyon–was built.

A traboule solved that problem. It is a maze of covered alleys–sort of–that allows pedestrians to pass from one street to another through the heart of a building. To enter a traboule, unlike an alley, one opens a door, and one can ordinarily turn on a light to see the way. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)

Many of the traboules in Lyon are unmarked. Sometimes a door is left open, the entry may be dark, but a brave soul will be rewarded after a walk inside. No one will tell you to leave.

Sometimes a door is closed, but one can enter by pushing the “service” button. It may or may not be listed as such. If not listed it could be the button without a name and at the bottom of the list of occupants in the building. Go ahead. Push the button.

Some traboules are marked. Next to a door is triangle-like plaque which gives a clue. On the door will be another plaque that asks pedestrians to respect the privacy of the residents who live inside the building.

Some addresses for taboules are well known:

27, rue St Jean connecting with 6,rue des Trois Maries
54, rue St Jean with 27, rue de Boeuf
31, rue du Boeuf with 14, rue de la Bombarde
2, place du Gouvernement with 10, quai Romain Rolland
9, rue des Trois Maries with 17, quai Romain Rolland

Walking through the passages is fun. There a sense of mystery. Sometimes the light will go out. They are on timers. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)

In one passage I saw a grilled gate that descended into another dark, forbidden, scary passage.


The grilled gate that should have been locked was slightly ajar. Maybe, someone had forgotten to secure it. While descending and carefully feeling my way into the cavern, I could not think of a reason why anyone would go down there. I went exploring, because the grilled gate was open and no one was around to say, “No.” I descended cautiously into the pitch black.

Then I used my iPhone’s flashlight feature to light the way. When I took photos, I realized I needed to light the cavern with the flashlight. The camera could then sense some light and capture an image.

All I found down there was junk, stuff, left over material.

Often the traboule will open into a small place where there are entrances to apartments and storage areas or onto places where garbage is stored for pick up later. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)

Sometimes the flâneur will walk into an open space that has light from the sun. Looking up one will see the apartments and the internal structure of the buildings and maybe even some plants. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. L Welch #

    traboules – “dark, forbidden, scary”
    You a slightly crazy flaneur, remember rats bite! Please leave a trail of something so we can find your body.

    • They do bite and thankfully I was smart enough not to wonder around in bare feet. Once I climbed a bell tower in bare feet up several flights in southern India. At least then it was daylight and I could more easily make my way.


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