Thursday, 28 May 2015

secret passages of paris

It's always hard to tell what's secret and what isn't. When I posted a picture of one of Paris' many covered passages on Instagram, I was surprised by how many people discovered these for the first time - even after one or several visits to Paris. Living so close to them & regularly passing by, I forget that not everybody necessarily does that. But some of the passages were new to me too. The truth is, when I first started investigating (that's right, I take this blogging very seriously), I found out that there were a lot more than I had expected.

At a time, there were actually 140-150 (numbers vary) of these beautiful glass covered shopping arcades in Paris, nearly all of them built in the 1820's. Unfortunately most of them are gone today, destroyed by the city plans of Haussmann & his large avenues. The opening of the Grands Magasins (large department stores) also contributed to their closure. But there are still 24 left today. I actually counted them because I got so tired of seeing everything between 18 & 25 on the Internet (to be perfectly precise there are actually 25, but the last one is closed to the public).

I will not be showing you all of them. Some of them are so tiny that you can only take a few steps within them & some of them aren't that pretty. And to be honest, some of them I still haven't seen. They're on my list, with a lot of other stuff. I'm saving them for a rainy day. This was really why they were built, to allow people to shop in all sorts of weather, protecting them & the goods from the rain.

Most of the passages can be found on the right bank & especially around the second arrondissement, because at the time they were built, this was where the wealthiest people of Paris lived. They stand out as a typical Parisian architectural feature, recognisable by their glass roof (looking like fish bones) & for some of them magnificent mosaic floor tiles. Some also have stunning entrances while others are more discreet. Most of them go by the name of "passage", but a few have been titled "galerie" because of their more abundant decoration and luxury boutiques.

These are the passages I've chosen for this post:
-Galerie Vivienne, probably the most famous one;
-Passage du Grand Cerf;
-Passage Bourg l'Abbe;
-Passage Choiseul &
-Galerie Vero-Dodat

And who knows, I might write another post someday about a few of the other passages. Some of them are really too pretty not to share.

g a l e r i e  v i v i e n n e 

If you don't know Galerie Vivienne, there really aren't that many ways to tell you: Go, now, if only for the mosaic tiles made by the exceptional Italian artist Giandomenico Facchina. If the name doesn't ring a bell, surely his work will, if you've ever been to Paris. He's behind the gorgeous floors of Petit Palais, Opera Garnier, Carnavalet Museum, the department store Printemps Haussmann to name only a few. You can see his name inscribed on the floors of Galerie Vivienne together with the address for where his atelier used to be in the 17th arrondissement.

Declared a historical monument in 1974, the gallery was built in 1823 in a neo-classical Pompeian style & was a very popular shopping place. There are still a lot of funny & interesting art shops, an incredibly beautiful bookstore, restaurants, cafes, flower shops. There's also a beautiful staircase behind door no 13 (see picture below) with an interesting story behind it: Eugene Francois Vidocq* used to live here after his disgrace.

The famous pile of books next to the entrance with the three winged pigs.

6 rue Vivienne, 4 rue des Petits-Champs & 5 rue de la Banque - 75002 Paris

p a s s a g e  d u  g r a n d  c e r f 

The passage of the big stag (literal translation) is also located in the second arrondissement of Paris. It was opened in 1825 & you can enter it from rue Saint-Denis right across from Passage Bourg l'Abbe (see below). It's one of the most colourful & tallest passages, almost 12 metres high with a beautiful glass ceiling decorated with blue, red & yellow umbrellas. You will find little, very unique shops selling jewelry, art, design articles, clothes... and a cute cafe named "pas sage" in reference to the passage, meaning " not well behaved". Although everything looks very exclusive, it's not at all as expensive as you would expect.

145 rue Saint Denis & 10 rue Dussoubs - 75002 Paris

p a s s a g e  b o u r g  l ' a b b e

You can't go to passage du grand cerf without coming here too as the two arcades are separated by a street only. Built in 1828 & amputated by a few metres in 1854, it's less spectacular than its neighbour & actually just a shadow of its past splendour. There are only few shops left & it almost seems forgotten. But the entrance on the side of Palestro street is gorgeous with its two caryatids representing trade & industry, sculpted by Aime Millet & you will find some funny, vintage shops & old signs still hanging there. If you look up, you will also see a beautiful barometer that still seems to be working & notice that, contrary to most other passages, the glass ceiling is round here.

120 rue Saint Denis & 3 rue de Palestro - 75002 Paris

p a s s a g e  c h o i s e u l

The novelist Louis-Ferdinand Celine used to live in this passage when he was a child. As an adult he wrote about it, describing gas lamps that "stank as badly as the stagnant air", mixed with the smell of "dog's urine". Luckily, things have changed since then. As in most other arcades you will find book, jewellery & stationery boutiques as well as art galleries, crafts shops, restaurants & clothing stores. Kenzo used to have a large boutique here but has since moved. You can also spot the back entrance to the famous Theatre des Bouffes Parisiens & on the upper floors, there are still private apartments where people live. 

A historical monument of Paris since 1974, this covered passage is also the longest in Paris, almost 200 meters long & it has recently undergone extensive renovation work, especially of its glass roof that was threatening to fall down, giving new life to this place.

40 rue des Patits Champs, 23 rue Saint-Augustin - 75002 Paris

g a l e r i e   v e r o - d o d a t

You're still here? This is definitely the longest blog post I have ever written. 

Passage Vero-Dodat has been on my bucket list for a while, but I stumbled upon it by accident one day last week. I actually thought it was located somewhere else. This happens to me all the time, even after all these years in Paris. I have no sense of direction. But the truth it that stumbling upon something unexpectedly somehow makes the visit even better, adding a taste of discovery & surprise.

I think it's one of my favourite passages & I'm not just saying that because of the Christian Louboutin shop. Everything about it oozes with charm in a very timeless manner that's hard to resist. The ceiling is beautiful, the glass covered part as well as the paintings in the beginning of the gallery. This is why it came as a bit of a surprise to me to read it had been built by two charcutiers (Vero & Dodat) in 1826. But there you go, the love of meat doesn't mean you can't have a perfect sense for neo-classical beauty. Today's shops are more on the high end scale.

19 rue Jean-Jacques-Rousseau & 2 rue du Boloi - 75001 Paris

And to think that I still haven't told you about the passages of Verdeau, Jouffroy, Panoramas or the galleries of Palais Royal & Madeleine... Oh & much, much more. Maybe it's a good thing Paris didn't keep all 150 of its covered passages.

*(If you don't know Vidocq, please do yourself a favour & read his story here. I can assure you that you won't be bored: )

And here's a full list of the secret passages of Paris if you want to discover all of them:
1. Galerie Vivienne
2. Galerie Colbert
3. Galerie Vero-Dodat
4. Galerie de la Madeleine
5. Galerie du Palais Royal
6. Passage Jouffroy
7. Passage Verdeau
8. Passage des Panoramas
9. Passage des Princes
10. Passage Choiseul
11. Passage du Grand Cerf
12. Passage Bourg l'Abbe
13. Passage des Deux-Pavillons
14. Passage du Caire
15. Passage du Ponceau
16. Passage Sainte-Anne
17. Passage Vendome
18. Cour du Commerce Saint-Andre
19. Passage Puteau
20. Passage du Havre
21. Passage Brady
22. Passage du Prado
23. Arcades du Lido
24. Passage Moliere

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  1. Oh c'est parfait. J'ai tellement hâte que les partiels soient finis pour pouvoir découvrir ces passages!

  2. Merci beaucoup, Laura! T'y es presque. A bientôt les vacances ;-)

  3. super Bénédicte, tes photos sont superbes et les textes parfaits. Le passage du grand cerf était sur ma liste; j'ai encore plus envie d'y aller!
    Bisous et bravo Cécile

  4. Merci beaucoup Cecile. Ca me fait super plaisir. Alors qu'en plus je n'a meme pas demande ton autorisation avant de poster ta jolie chevelure ;-)


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