The secret of the “fish bones” remains unsolved

Have you ever heard of “fish bones”? This is not a “skeleton” of fish, but a network of underground galleries in Lyon, the existence of which has been kept secret for centuries and which is currently banned from the public. The ban is picking up, isn’t it? Let’s find out together what is being said and what is being said about these mysterious galleries.

Fishbones, also known as the “Network of Fantasies” or “Underground Galleries of the Balsam Saint-Clair”, are a network of underground galleries in Lyon in the Croix-Rousse district. They consist of a main gallery, the spine, and about thirty side galleries, known as ridges, that stretch from the Rhône to Rue Magneval.

Where are these fishbones located?

Another main gallery is also just above the first, but does not serve the ridges. On the other hand, further north we find other galleries, so-called antennas – not equipped with side galleries, but littered with vaulted rooms – which are connected to the herringbones by a 123-meter-long connecting gallery between the shaft of the Rue Magneval and the western end of the river Antenna that forms three consecutive elbows, reports Wikipedia.

What do these galleries look like?

Carbon dating places the construction of these galleries in the Gallo-Roman period. However, no ancient or medieval text makes reference to it. In any case, a well manager came across these herringbones in 1959 when he was excavating the utility gallery for the town hall.

The main gallery is 156 meters long and 25 meters below the surface. The 16 side galleries each measure 30 meters and have the shape of herringbones. The second gallery without side edges is located 8 meters below the main gallery.

The only fountain that has been fully preserved in its original state is on the corner of Rue Grognard and Rue des Fantasques in the network of galleries known as “fish combs”. It is through this fountain that the Lyons road service will rediscover it in February 1959. The picture was taken on June 17th, 2020 from the “upper column” towards the surface. Photo credits: ASM8086 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

In total, the galleries of the underground network are 1.4 kilometers long, 960 meters for the ridges and 312 meters for the main galleries. 16 wells leading to these galleries have also been identified, adding 480 meters to this network. The galleries are all 2.2 meters high and 1.9 meters wide. The tunnels were damaged during the construction of the Croix Rousse tunnel. After all, they were banned from the public eye to this day in 1989.

The fish bones piqued the curiosity of the people of Lyon

These fishbones have apparently attracted the interest of the general public as well as the media who have written reports, articles and lectures. So far, however, it is still unclear for whom and what these tunnels were used for. Among all the theories that have been built around Lyon’s fishbone, two theories stood out.

Dig the end of a ridge looking for a possible raised floor. Photo credits: Grégory Kerouac – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

The hidden treasure of the Templars

The first theory belongs to Walid Nazim, a writer from Lyon who has been working underground in Lyon since 2006. According to him, the fish bones date back to the 8th century and were used as a warehouse for the Templars’ treasure. The underground network would have been designed by this religious and military order to hide any gems and treasures brought back from the Holy Land.

Later, towards the end of the 13th century, it was Guillaume de Beaujeu, the Grand Master of the Masonic Order, who owned most of the land on the Croix-Rousse plateau just above the famous labyrinth, but also land in the Mâconnais from which the red stones that would have been used to build the walls of the galleries.

He also explains that the fish bones would then have been walled in and then gutted, eventually being stripped of all of their contents. If you want to learn more about this fascinating theory, we recommend his excellent book “The Herringbone Riddle”, which we followed the conference in Fort de Vaise.

Herringbone plan

Roman underground passages connected to the sanctuary of the three Gauls

A second theory, coming from the director Georges Combe, on the other hand, claims that it may be Roman undergrounds associated with the sanctuary of the three Gauls. In any case, the archaeological study of the city was able to confirm the date of construction in the Gallo-Roman era and even revealed that the construction was not yet completed. But what these mysterious galleries were used for, we may never know.