Lyon - Capital of Silk

Lyon was declared Capital of Silk by King François 1er in 1536, but it is with King Louis XIV (r.1643 – 1715) that the city emerged as the center of a reorganised industry and the largest French producer of luxurious silk textiles.

By the eighteen century, more than one third of the population of Lyon was involved in the silk industry either directly or indirectly.

Technical innovations to the loom occurred throughout the XVIIIth century, as weavers tried to speed up the process of loom preparation and weaving.

During the XiXth century, printing techniques evolved as well: from block printing, to cylinder printing and finally in the 1920s Impression à la Lyonnaise – Flat screen printing - was finally invented.

Just before dawn on a chilly January day, we took the funiculaire to the Basilica of Fourvière which was built in the XIXth century on the site of the ancient forum of Lugdunum, capital of Gaul from 27 BC. From that high point, we witnessed the sunrise over the city and the Croix-Rousse, the centre of the silk trade in the XIXth.

We descended the steep slopes that lead to the old St Jean Cathedral and the river Saône, through narrow lanes and countless steps. From there, we followed the embankments, as the honeyed light of the morning poured on the river and buildings erasing the shadows of twilight.

At Maison Marc Rozier’s headquarters in a bourgeois XIXth century building, we were guided through the workshops and dicovered the fabulous archives dating back to the beginning of the house in 1890.

We followed the traces of the silk workers through a labyrinth of covered passagesways through various buildings known as Traboules which were created to protect the transportation of silk from workshops to merchand houses. We finaly arrived at La Maison des Canuts, a museum devoted to the art of silk making and the expertise, talent and skill of the silk workers of the past: the Canuts.