Monday 17 November 2008

Paris's shopping passages

Many of us are familiar with shopping arcades running between major streets, such as the Burlington Arcade off Piccadilly built in 1819. It inspired similar arcades in other cities: in 1847, for example, the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert were opened in Brussels.

From the end of the eighteenth century, there was also an explosion in the number of such arcades in Paris, where they are known as passages. The name alludes to their dual purpose: they offered themselves as quiet short-cuts between the dirty, overcrowded, traffic-filled streets, but once the pedestrian entered they did everything they could to keep her there. Their glass roofs made them light and attractive, while gaslight kept them bright at night in an era without efficient streetlighting; the surroundings were often elegant. Public toilets were a crucial innovation first found in the Galeries de Bois at the end of the eighteenth century. As well as shops, there were cafes, restaurants and even entertainments: concerts were held, many passages housed theatre entrances, and the Musée Grévin was located on the Passage Jouffroy and still has its exit there.

Built in 1847, the Passage Jouffroy lies between two others, the Panoramas and Verdeau - together they formed the largest covered walkway in Paris. While the earliest passages had been built in wood, the Jouffroy was the first entirely of steel and glass. It was also the first to have under-floor heating. To fit into the awkward space available, it is dog-legged, with a short flight of steps linking the two sections. This difficult location also gave rise to another interesting feature, the unusual shop shown here:

Looks like an ordinary second-hand bookshop? Well, in fact the whole of the shopfront in the photo is fake. Because of the constraints of space, the facade is in reality nothing more than a row of shelves with windows in front. The shop does have a modest interior at one end, but is nothing like the huge emporium the storefront suggests.

In their heyday, there were over 500 of these passages in Paris. However, once Haussmann remodelled the city with brighter, wider, safer boulevards, the passages began to seem dingy and dubious by comparison while their small shops were overshadowed by the new department stores. Many disappeared altogether during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Today, those passages which survived are popular once more and are home to a number of small, interesting shops.

Related post: Musée Grévin.


rashbre said...

Interesting also how the ex markets like Leadenhall and Covent Garden have morphed into shopping passage like structures.

CarolineLD said...

That's an interesting point - and something similar has also happened at Hays Galleria which has that metal-and-glass type structure too.