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Covered passages, gateways to the Paris of yesteryear

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Paris covered passages, small historical corridors

Paris covered passages are historical portals that let you in the Paris of yesteryear

About 150 were created between the late 18th and the mid-19th century.

Considered the forerunners of our commercial shopping malls, some appeared near the places of power and wealth such as the Louvre Palace, Madeleine Church and Palais-Royal.

Many more were built near the Grands Boulevards, in the vicinity of stagecoach terminus (a then very popular means of transportation).

These boast superb clocks above their entrances to allow travelers-come-shoppers to keep an eye on the time.

These privately owned passages, exclusively pedestrian, enjoyed immediate success, as people could shop protected from bad weather and muddy streets, but also without fear of being hit by a horse-drawn carriage.

Some covered shopping arcades attracted high-end, cultural and artistic businesses, others shops that served the affluent middle-class of the time (boot-makers, confectioners, haberdashers, tailors and wine merchants to name a few).

They generated a constant and renewed influx of customers; crowds flocked not only to shop, but also for a stroll or simply to meet friends in the many restaurants and cafés.

Paris covered shopping arcades, a perfect illustration of 19th century metal architecture

Their architecture was directly inspired by the souks discovered during the Napoleonic military campaigns of Egypt.

Oriental architecture largely influenced the French architects of the time who happily mixed traditional and eastern architectural features in a rather unconventional way.

These covered galleries were all developed on a similar layout and strike by their innovative architecture.

A long corridor protected by a glass roof (some are partly covered though) and lined on each side with 3 to 4-storey terraced houses.

The ground floor accommodated shops, restaurants, bookstores, theaters and businesses; the living quarters were on the upper floors and the attic above the glass roof.

A metal structure supported the glass roof, while the shops boasted a wealth of architectural and decorative features; carved wood paneling, sculpted cast iron pillars, plaster decors, bronze lamps, arched windows and elaborate floor mosaics to name a few.

Most covered passages were heated and lit with gas lamps.

However, each covered arcade had a unique atmosphere and style, as architects and decorators gave free rein to their imagination to create the most elegant and original designs.

All are stunning and have retained an old-fashioned charm.

Revival of Paris covered shopping galleries

Unfortunately, Baron Haussmann demolished most covered passages when he renovated Paris in the mid-19th century.

A few fully escaped his urban transformation; others were shortened to build new avenues, streets and buildings.

The construction of major railway stations sounded the death knell for the stagecoach companies; the remaining covered passages slowly fell into oblivion.

Today there are less than thirty covered passages left in Paris; twenty are classified Historical Monuments and 7 are protected by the City of Paris.

The Parisians re-discovered their covered passages in the 1970s and encouraged the City of Paris to put in place a development program in 2002.

Landlords received financial help (25% of the restoration works) to restore the history and architecture of their buildings, but in exchange must open the passages to the public (be aware that some close at night for safety reasons.)

Luxury boutiques, but also bookstores, philatelic shops, delicatessen boutiques and restaurants have taken over the 19th century shops and invested in the preservation of their original architecture and decoration.

Affluent covered shopping arcades in the Quartier de la Madeleine

This affluent district spreads between Champs-Elysées and rue du Faubourg St-Honoré; an enclave with elegant mansions, embassies, major institutions, luxury and Haute Couture boutiques and art galleries.

The Galerie de la Madeleine and Passage Puteaux both show the district’s refined opulence in their architecture.

Quartier Palais-Royal's elegant covered passages

Palais-Royal district developed outside the old city walls during the 17th century.

The Avenue de l'Opéra delineates it in two distinct entities.

The western side, near La Madeleine Church, is also dedicated to luxury, fashion, prestigious institutions, banks and insurance companies; the eastern side has a cultural identity and boasts many art galleries and theatres, among which the prestigious Comédie Française.

Look for Galerie Véro-Dodat, Palais Royal galleries, Passage des Deux Pavillons, Galerie Colbert and the affluent Galerie Vivienne.

Covered passages near the Grands Boulevards

By the late 17th century, Louis XIV had established peace in Europe; the wars were over, the old ramparts of Paris were obsolete.

The king replaced them with an elegant walk lined with trees.

Le Grand Cour, as it was known, became our Grands Boulevards with their plethora of theaters, cafes, cinemas and entertainment halls.

This busy and lively district boasts several stunning covered passages: Passage Choiseul, Passage des Princes, Passage des Panoramas, Passage Jouffroy and Passage Verdeau.

Near Porte St Denis, Porte St Martin and Place de la République

The two triumphal gates, Porte Saint-Martin and Porte Saint-Denis delimit the southern section of the district that developed along Charles V rampart.

This enclave, articulated around rue St-Denis and rue du Faubourg St-Denis, boasts a plethora of entertainment halls that attract a large social mix.

It was a privileged place to create covered passages.

Passage du Grand Cerf, Passage du Bourg l'Abbe, Passage Ponceau, Passage du Caire and Passage Brady.

The Place de la République marks the eastern end of the Grands Boulevards.

Paris open-air passages

Finally, Paris also boasts many open-air passages; very few have the elaborate decoration of the covered galleries, but they are all charming and picturesque.

They are the last witnesses of 19th century Paris.

The best known are Cour du Commerce St-André in St-Germain-des-Prés and Passage Molière in the 3rd district.

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