Before the advent of paved streets, sewers, and street lighting, walking in urban centres was a largely unpleasant experience. Paris streets up until the late 19th century were crowded, narrow, muddy when it rained, and dark. Very few had sidewalks. The first gas street lights wouldn’t be installed until January 1829 and, even then, only a few privileged areas would have them until many years later. Water and sewage ran down the middle of the streets. Pedestrians competed for space with horse-drawn carriages and carts, getting splashed and stepping in all kinds of muck while in the process.
Below are a couple of examples of Paris streets in the mid- to late-19th century.
A view of the Panthéon.
This didn’t provide an ideal situation for shopping. However, a solution arose in the first half of the 19th-century. Covered passageways (passages couverts in French), also known as galleries, were built to provide warm, dry, and clean places for wealthy Parisians to shop and dine. Covered passageways were an early form of shopping arcade, and are the forerunners of modern department stores and shopping malls. The first covered passageway/gallery was opened in Paris at the Palais Royal in 1786, followed by the Passage Feydau in 1790-1791, the Passage du Caire in 1799, and then the Passage des Panoramas in 1800. By 1850, Paris had around 150 of them.
Below is an illustration of the Galerie des Bois at the Palais-Royal, the first covered passageway. The Galerie consisted of a series of wooden shops that linked the ends of the Palais-Royal. It offered a safe, dry, and warm place for the aristocracy and the emerging middle-class to shop and socialize. It hosted 145 shops, cafés, restaurants, two theatres, museums, and refreshment stands. Long glass windows were fitted in storefronts for the first time, allowing customers to window-shop. Retailers in the Galerie des Bois were some of the first in Europe to sell their merchandise at a fixed price, moving away from the practice of bartering.
A typical covered passageway is pedestrianized, contains a glass ceiling, connects two streets, and is highly ornamented and decorated. The ground floor is lined with shops, cafés, and performance venues. To keep them clean, an artiste de decrottage (a “shit-removal artist”) would be positioned at the entrance of the passages to clean the shoes of visitors. The galleries became a privileged rendez-vous location and strolling zone, where couples could meet and take a walk after going to a theatre show or enjoying a meal at a restaurant. In 1816, they began to be artificially lit at night by gas lamps (13 years before gas street lights began to appear on public streets). It was trendy and fashionable to be seen in one of these covered passages, years before the Avenue des Champs-Élysees would turn its attention to becoming a commercial district (the first merchant association for the Avenue was founded in 1860).
Below is the Galerie Vero-Dodat, built in 1826.
The galleries began to decline in the 1850s with the advent of the department store. Additionally, Haussman’s renovation of Paris (1853-1870) saw many of them destroyed. Only a couple dozen of them remain today. Neil and I toured five of them.
The oldest gallery that we toured was the Passage des Panoramas, which opened in 1800. It was built on the site of a residence that once belonged to Marechel de Montmorency, the Duke of Luxembourg. The name of the passage comes from an attraction that was built onto the site: formerly, there were two large rotundas that featured panoramic paintings of Paris, Toulon, Rome, Jerusalem, and other famous cities; these rotundas were taken down in 1831. The Passage des Panoramas is located in the 2nd arrondissement, and connects the Boulevard Montmartre with the rue Saint-Marc. It is 133 metres in length. Entrances are located at 11 boulevard Montmartre, 38 rue Vivienne, 151 rue Montmartre, and 10 rue Saint-Marc. It is open daily from 6:00 am – 12:00 am.
Merchant signs line the passageway.
A lot of the original façades of the stores have been kept, and many period decorations are still present. You might see signs for Stern Printing and Engraving, which opened in the passage in 1834 (now it’s a café). The Théâtre des Variétés, inaugurated in 1807, is still active. In 1817, gas lights were installed in the gallery.
Note the long glass ceiling in the photo below.
The Passage des Panoramas is also famous among stamp collectors, and it’s not hard to see why! I didn’t think I even liked stamps, but I was quickly sucked in by the display of historic stamps that a few of the stores had in their windows.
One of the stamp series below features Napoleon.
These stamps have a familiar sinister face on them.
10 cent stamps from 1914.
Stamps commemorating the Liberation of Paris on August 25, 1988.
A beautiful album for keeping post cards (which, in retrospect, Neil and I could have put to good use!).
There were some beautiful post cards in the window as well. If the shop had been open, I would have been very tempted by some of these! Do you recognize the former Trocadero Palace (demolished in 1937) on the postcard with the Eiffel Tower?
Another album. (Sorry for the window glare. I need to get a lens for my camera that reduces that, since I’m often taking so many pictures of things behind glass!).
An illustration for a cosmetic advertisement.
An Air France suitcase.
The Galerie Vivienne, located in the 2nd arrondissement, was opened in 1826. It was originally called the Galerie Marchoux, and was named after its owner Maître Marchoux, the President of the Chamber of Notaries. Shortly after its opening, it was renamed the Galerie Vivienne. Architect François Jean Delannoy built the gallery on the site of the former Vanel de Serrant hôtel and the Petits Pères passage.
The Galerie Vivienne is definitely one of the most beautiful covered passageways in Paris!
The Galerie Vivienne is one of the longest covered passageways, at 176 metres in length. It is also one of the most emblematic of the city of Paris, set in a prime location behind the Richelieu Library and between the Palais-Royal and the Paris Bourse (the historical stock exchange). Entrances can be found at 4 rue des Petits-Champs, 6 rue Vivienne, and 5 rue de la Banque. It is open Monday through Saturday from 8:30 am – 8:30 pm.
The Galerie Vivienne is decorated in a Neo-Classical Pompeiian style with mosaics, paintings, and sculptures of goddesses and nymphs representing trade and commerce. It is renowned for the colourful patterns of its mosiac floors, which were designed by Giandoenic Facchina.
Note the figures adorning the sides of the arch in the picture below.
A look at the mosaic floor.
Some more mythological figures in the photo below.
Taking it all in at once.
The passageway consists of 70 shops that have seen a wide range of merchandise and services for sale including cobblers, tailors, ready-to-wear fashion, haberdashery, print shops, and the famous restaurant, Grignon. Present highlights in the gallery include chic tea room À Priori Thé, the flagship boutique of Jean-Paul Gaultier, Le Caves Legrand (which has been described as the best wine shop in Paris), and bookseller Librairie Jousseaume—opened as Siroux in 1828, this is the longest-running establishment to remain in the gallery.
The Librairie Jousseaume, full of antique books.
A close-up at some of the books they have in the window.
A broader view of the bookstore and its place within the passageway.
A cute store that I also liked the look of.
The Passage Jouffroy, located in the 9th arrondissement, was built in 1845. It was the first Parisian passageway built entirely of metal and glass. A private company headed by Count Felix de-Jouffroy-Gonsans, from whom the passage gets its name, was formed to manage it. It is 140 metres long, and connects the Grand Boulevards with the rue de la Grange-Batelière. Entrances are at 10-12 Boulevard Montmartre and 9 rue de la Grange-Batelière. It is open Monday through Saturday from 8:30 am – 7:30 pm, and Sundays from 10:00 am – 7:00 pm.
The Passage Jouffroy is one of the busiest covered passageways in Paris, and gives a real feel for how crowded and fun the galleries were in Paris during their mid-19th century heyday. Present highlights of the passage include the Musée Grevin (a wax museum similar to Madame Tussauds), Pain d’Épices (an old-fashioned toy shop), the Hotel Chopin, and the Librairie du Passage, which carries beautiful art books. There was also a train-themed restaurant called Victoria Station, where diners eat in booths that look like the passenger seats of a Victorian-era train!
Neil and I weren’t hungry at the time, otherwise we might have grabbed a bite. But it was still cute to look at!
Looking down the passageway towards the Hôtel Chopin.
Entrance to the Musée Grevin.
A clock that commemorates the year the Passage Jouffroy was opened, as well as signage for the Maison Gilbert (founded in 1848) and “The Toy Box.”
A colourful umbrella for sale.
One of the entrances to the passage.
The Passage Jouffroy was built across the street from one of the entrances to the Passage des Panoramas, with the aim of capitalizing on the Panorama’s popularity. Pedestrians just have to walk north across the Boulevard Montmartre to get from the Passage des Panoramas to the Passage Jouffroy. In 1847, the Passage Verdeau was built just north across the rue de la Grange-Batelière from the Passage Jouffroy. This makes three shopping galleries lined up in a row! If one was inclined, they could start at the Passage des Panoramas, walk though the Passage Jouffroy, and then end with a turn through the Passage Verdeau!
The Passage Verdeau, located in the 9th arrondissement, was built in in 1847. It was also named after its creator, the entrepreneur Monsieur Verdeau. It is 75 metres long and connects the rue de la Grange-Batelière with the rue du Fauborg Montmartre. Entrances are located at 6 rue de la Grange-Batelière and 31 rue du Fauborg Montmartre. It is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 am – 9:00 pm, and on weekends from 7:30 am – 8:30 pm.
It was a little quiet the day that Neil and I were there. You can also find several cafés, boutiques, book shops, and sellers of antique stamps and postcards in this covered passage.
The Galerie Vero-Dodat, located in the 1st arrondissement near the Louvre, was built in 1826 by two charcutiers (butchers) after whom it is named. It is 80 metres in length and connects the rue de Jean-Jacques Rousseau and rue Croix-des-Petits Champs. Entrances are located at 19 rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau and 2 rue du Bouloi. It is open Monday-Saturday, 7:00 am – 10:00 pm (closed on Sundays and public holidays).
The Galerie Vero-Dodat has remained largely untouched since the mid-1800s and still has many of its original façades. The passage features beautiful marble flooring in a black and white diamond pattern. It was one of the first passages to be installed with gas lighting in 1830. It contains several chic boutiques, a store that sells musical instruments, a toy store that contains old dolls, a brewery, and a restaurant. Women’s shoe designer Christian Louboutin opened his flagship store here in 1992, selling his sky-high stilettos with their signature red soles. In 2012, Louboutin opened an additional store in the gallery selling men’s shoes.
It definitely feels like you’ve stepped back into the mid-19th century in this covered passageway.
A peek at the Christian Louboutin store.
A luthier, if you are in the market for some fine instruments.
Beautiful old store fronts.
The Passage Choiseul, located in the 2nd arrondissement, was built in 1829. It is the longest covered passageway in the city, measuring 190 metres in length. It connects the rue des Petits-Champs with the rue Saint-Augustin, and is a continuation of the rue de Choiseul. Entrances are located at 40 rue des Petits-Champs, 23 rue Saint-Augustin, 40 rue Dalayrac, and Passage Saint-Anne. It was built on a site that formerly held four hôtel particuliers.
Look at that long, beautiful glass ceiling!
A lovely stained-glass window.
The sign below translates as “The Girl with Nylon Stockings.”
“The Art Loop.”
Some cute cloth mice in a display window.
The mice were on sale at this store, “Made with Love.”
Another pretty stained-glass window.
It was also fairly quiet when Neil and I explored this passage. It might have been a Sunday.
I hope you enjoyed this tour of a few of Paris’ covered passageways! They are a fun piece of history to check out, especially since a lot of them still have original store fronts and signage. It’s almost like stepping back in time!