Rue des Colonnes, a private lane created during the French Revolution

Rue des Colonnes
Rue des Colonnes

Paris was not built in a day!

It evolved from a small island, Ile de la Cité, into a large metropolis that over the centuries has absorbed hamlets, villages and surrounding countryside.

New streets were created to serve new neighbourhoods and monuments.

The rue des Colonnes is one of them.

This street is also one of the rare examples of French Revolution urbanism.

It was indeed opened between 1793 and 1795 to link rue des Filles Saint-Thomas and the Théâtre Feydeau; you’ll find it between the Bourse and the Opéra de Paris.

A street to serve a theater

While many churches and monuments were destroyed or sacked during the Revolution, a few were also built!

Rue des Colonnes Neo-Classical architecture
Neo-Classical architecture

This was the case of the Théâtre Feydeau that was inaugurated in 1791 (yet demolished in 1829!) and gave performances of comic operas in French and Italian.

Its immediate success triggered the interest of two promoters; they indeed bought the next-door Hôtel de Verneuil, pulled it down and opened a private lane on its site to access the theatre.

The lane, a covered gallery closed by gates from 11pm to 5am, was given street status in 1797.

The width of the sidewalks was indeed incorporated into that of the roadway to make it conform to Paris streets width regulations. The grids were removed to allow public access.

A neoclassical architecture

The architect, Nicolas Vestier, was a master of neo-Classicism, a highly popular style during the Bourbon Restoration.

He drew inspiration from the temples of Paestrum, a former Greek colony near Naples in Italy, to create the buildings that frame the rue des Colonnes.

Rue des Colonnes and Bourse de Paris in the background
Rue des Colonnes and Bourse de Paris in the background

His houses have sober yet opulent facades that are open with rectangular windows with stone balustrades.

Each has 3 or 4 bays supported by porticoes with Doric columns adorned with glyphs and palmettes.

The use of palmettes, a traditional Etruscan architectural feature, was then very fashionable.

Works on rue des Colonnes started in 1793 under the direction of the master builder Joseph Benard.

However, they stopped a year later when one of the promoters was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to death.

By then the first 8 houses were completed. They were seized and sold to other promoters who hire a new architect to resume work.

A unique architecture

New urban planning regulations turned the Rue des Colonnes into one of the most original streets in Paris.

The new houses were built to match the existing ones, all on arcades supported by Doric columns adorned with palmettes.

These arcades protected the sidewalks and allowed pedestrians to visit the ground-floor shops and walk to the theatre while sheltered from the bad weather.

The upper floors were essentially intended for the habitat, and the road was in the open air.

This structure turned the rue des Colonnes into one of the liveliest streets.

However, the opening of rue de la Bourse (1826) and rue du Quatre-Septembre (1864) shortened its length (90m).

The remaining section has retained its original architecture, but busy shops of yesteryear have left place to cafes and restaurants.

The forerunner of the Parisian covered galleries

The rue des Colonnes is also unique because it was the first arcaded street intentionally designed to associate commerce and habitat.

This architectural feature, so popular in the 19th century, emerged in Paris a little while before:

Place des Vosges (17th century), Place de la Concorde (arcaded facades of Hôtel Crillon and Hôtel de la Marine) and Palais-Royal (both 18th century).

However, it remained limited to these few buildings until the creation of the rue des Colonnes.

The street even served as model for the creation of the rue de Rivoli (open in the early 19th century on the north side of the Louvre Palace and Tuileries Gardens) as well as the many covered passages and galleries.

The rue des Colonnes is definitively an unusual street to discover.

Directions: 2nd district
Metro stations: Quatre-Septembre or Bourse on Line 3
Coordinates: Lat 48.869386 – Long 2.339448

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