The Croix Rousse, Lyon

The Croix Rousse, ‘the workers’ hill’, as French historian Jules Michelet called it in 1853, actually incorporates two neighbourhoods: the Croix Rousse ‘plateau’ and its slopes. The Croix Rousse is the extension of the city-centre peninsula and is part of the area inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The Romans occupied the Gaulish site of Condate on the slopes of the Croix Rousse, where they built a sanctuary to ‘Rome and Augustus’ and the Three Gauls Amphitheatre. It was on this site, excavated in the 1950s, that Christian martyrs were persecuted in the year 177, including Pothin, the first bishop of Lyon, and the slave Blandine. The ‘Montée de la Grande Côte’, a street lined with recently-renovated 15 th and 16th century houses, has been an important thoroughfare since Medieval times. Numerous religious congregations arrived beginning in the 17 th century. The dome of the Saint Bruno des Chartreux church, which boasts an extraordinary Baroque baldachin, has dominated the skyline since the 18 th century. On the banks of the Saône, the former Sainte Marie des Chaînes convent is now the Subsistances, a space for artistic creation and home to the School of Fine Arts.

In the 19 thcentury, the silk weavers settled in the Croix Rousse. On the slopes and on the plateau, many live-in workshops were constructed, where new Jacquard-type looms could be installed. These workshops have since been converted into flats are nowvery much in demand. There is a small-town feeling in the Croix Rousse, with its numerous shops, market, funfair and authentic bistros.

The Maison des Canuts (‘silk weavers’ house’) and the Association Soierie Vivante (‘living silk association’) are open to the public, perpetuating traditional silk weaving techniques and transmitting their expertise to future generations. The ‘Mur des Canuts’ or silk weavers’ wall, the most spectacular of Lyon’s ‘trompe l’oeil’ painted walls, gives the visitor a peek into the collective memory and identity of the neighbourhood.

Many ‘traboules’ or passageways thread their way through the slopes of the Croix Rousse. These were used to transport silk yarn and bolts of cloth and were also social gathering places for silk workers of all stripes. They connected the weavers’ neighbourhood with that of the silk traders. The most spectacular traboule, the ‘Cour des Voraces’, with its monumental staircase, figured prominently in the silk weavers’ revolts of 1831 and 1834 and in the Resistance movement during the Second World War. Nearby, Résidence Villemanzy, once the Ladies of Saint Elisabeth convent, offers a commanding view of the Rhône and its left bank. Down near the place des Terreaux, the ‘passage Thiaffait’ with its designers’ village, the silk workshop, plus numerous art galleries and nightclubs have all breathed new life into the neighbourhood.

La Croix-Rousse, the “hill that works”

Croix-Rousse is like a village in the heart of the city. As everywhere else in Lyon, Roman remains are very present, but it is the “workshop” buildings, with their large windows and high ceilings that are so characteristic in this district. These homes were constructed around the large Jacquard weaving looms used by the silk workers, or Canuts, when the Croix-Rousse plateau was incorporated into Lyon in 1852. To get to this plateau, you have to navigate the pentes (slopes), a maze of alleyways, courtyards and traboules reminiscent of Vieux-Lyon.
Nowadays, the noise of the bistanclacs is more rarely heard, and the stores of young designers are multiplying and giving the district a facelift. Near the Saône, Les Subsistances has taken over the former Saint Marie des Chaînes convent. Now an artists’ residence and home to the School of Fine Arts, it is also host to alternative events such as Les Nuits Sonores. The pentes are hip, trendy and innovative, a perfect illustration of tradition revisited.

The origin of “traboules” in the slopes of the Croix Rousse district The silk manufactured on the Croix-Rousse plateau by the Canuts was loaded onto boats waiting on the Saône, at the bottom of the slope (“pentes”), to be sold. As silk was sold by weight, traders used the traboules to ensure the fabric stayed dry, so that it could be sold at its true value.

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