Sunday 21 November 2010

From the archives: Paris's shopping passages

I love exploring the covered passages in Paris. Often run down today, nonetheless traces of their past remain: a rather more glamorous past, as I explored here.

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 about 150 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.


andrew1860 said...

I love Paris covered passages, they are a treat and a walk down another century.

Otter said...

500??? What is your source for that figure?
(I used to love wandering through these arcades; haven't done so now for more than ten years.)

CarolineLD said...

Andrew and Otter, it's lovely to hear from other people who appreciate these. Otter, I think some of them will have changed a lot since your visits: a few are significantly different even to their descriptions in the 2002 guide I used. There is something timeless about them, all the same.

Otter, re the '500' - you won't be surprised that it's a typo. Not sure how I missed that - now corrected. 150 is the correct figure (according to multiple sources including Jean-Claude Delorme, Passages Couverts, 2002).