Covered passageways around the Grands BoulevardsDuration: 3h
Before we start the walk, we’d like to give you a little history on the covered passageways of Paris.
History of Paris’ covered passageways
In Paris the 17th century saw the beginning of covered passageways lined with shops with the real expansion occurring in the first half of the 19th century. Located mainly on the right bank of the river Seine near the Grands Boulevards (Boulevard Haussmann, Boulevard des Italiens, Boulevard Montmartre), they attracted the wealthy classes. The passageways take the form of a corridor connecting two streets through a building block, each covered with a glass roof that provides both shelter from the rain and a muted, but deliciously mysterious, light adding to the peaceful atmosphere of muffled sound.
After nearly disappearing during the Second Empire, overshadowed by the new “Grands Magasins”, they found fresh impetus at the end of the 20th century and continue to thrive and evolve today. They all have their own specialty (from tea rooms to ancient books or stamp shops) and, in French, we distinguish the luxurious “galeries” from the more modest “passages”. We invite you to join us in a two mile long guided tour between Palais Royal and la Bourse (the Stock Exchange) to discover the most famous of them, along with the rest of this chic neighbourhood.
> Our walk begins at Metro Station Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre (lines 1 and 7).
Initially please take a moment to admire the façade of the Comedie Française theatre.
> Then, on the right, enter into the courtyard of the Palais Royal.
This courtyard features “Buren’s columns”, a contemporary work by artist Daniel Buren combining art and architecture with columns of various heights all painted in black and white stripes.
> Continuing on, you will enter the beautiful gardens of the Palais Royal.
This peaceful garden is surrounded by magnificent 17th-century architecture. Feel free to take some time to wander in the shade of the lime trees (from the 1970s) and chestnut trees (from 1910) that line the gardens, or to explore the arcades shops and cafes.
> When you are ready, leave the garden through the back left arcade leading to rue de Beaujolais turning right in this street, then turn left in rue Vivienne. At 6 rue Vivienne, enter the Galerie Vivienne.
Built in 1823, it is one of the most iconic covered arcades in Paris. Admire the colourful mosaics on the ground and then raise your eyes to appreciate the beautiful glass roof. Stroll around the numerous shops: Ready-to-wear boutiques (including Jean-Paul Gaultier), tea rooms, gourmet food boutiques, wine cellars, grocery shops, and old bookshops. Allow yourself to be transported into this old-fashioned luxury atmosphere.
At no.13, the French detective and adventurer Vidocq used to live and work as a private investigator – he was arrested there in 1842! At no.47, there used to be a magnifying mirror called “Cosmorama” acting as an attraction for the crowds. At no.55 to no.59, a so-called “Universal Exhibition of Incoherent Arts” was organised in 1882 by famous comedians and humorists of the time (including Alphonse Allais), which was, of course, a total hoax. Explore the two other ends (in Rue de la Banque and Rue des Petits Champs).
After such profusion, let’s head for a more modest passageway, emblematic of Parisians’ everyday life.
> When exiting into Rue des Petits Champs, turn right into the street and walk for five minutes. Pass Rue Vivienne, Rue de Richelieu, Rue Chabanais, Rue Sainte-Anne, then, on your right, you’ll see the entrance of our next stop: Passage Choiseul.
One of the most popular and locally used passageways, Passage Choiseul, built in 1825, has hardly changed in almost 200 years: even the entrance canopies, although slightly battered, are the originals from 1825. A length of 190 metres makes it one of the longest in Paris and a secondary entrance directly into the theatre “Les Bouffes Parisiens” helps maintain a lively ambiance. Once owned by operettas composer Offenbach, this theatre is now the property of French actor Jean-Claude Brialy. At no.23, the book publisher Lemerre used to have his office, where he published the first works of poet Verlaine. At no.64, writer Céline spent his childhood in a shop where his mother sold lace and antiques. Wander along the shops, you may find yourself cheap shoes and clothes, or simply a few postcards! The other end of the passageway will lead you to rue Saint Augustin.
Now that you have seen the most iconic instances of a luxurious “galerie” and an everyday “passage”, let’s head for the neighbourhood of La Bourse (the Stock Exchange).
> Exiting from Passage Choiseul, turn right into Rue Saint Augustin. Walk for five minutes until you emerge in Rue Réaumur at a square where you will find an impressive monument inspired from ancient Greece: La Bourse, also called “Palais Brongniart” after its architect.
Place de la Bourse
In the center of the square stands the Stock Exchange built in 1809 by order of Napoleon. This place is tightly linked to revolutionary movements. During the violent episode of the “Commune de Paris” in 1871, some Communards were tied to the grids and slaughtered. In May 1968, it was taken over and partly burned down by far left activists.
At no.11 and no.13 of the square, alongside the Palais Brongniart, check out the modern building erected in 1961. Typical of the architectural style of the time with its glass and concrete facades, this building hosts the “Agence France Presse”, the biggest French press agency.
Let’s explore the vicinity.
> Take Rue Vivienne northwards, that is, on your left when you face the Palais, then turn immediately right into Rue Feydeau, then left into the small Rue des Panoramas.
Whilst here, on both sides of the street, you get an insight into what was the typical architecture of the end of the 18th century, with arcades on the first floor surmounted by stone balconies. Now let’s move to the next passageway in our tour.
> At the end of Rue des Panoramas, turn right in Rue Saint-Marc and, on your left you will notice the entrance of the 133 meter long Passage des Panoramas.
Passage des Panoramas
Built in 1800 and described in Emile Zola’s book “Nana”, it is one of the oldest passages still in use. It was designed to encourage people to walk from the Palais Royal to the Boulevard Montmartre, sheltered from the rain and the mud of the streets, to attend the attraction of that time: the “Panoramas”, painted sceneries to be viewed inside a large rotunda.
The first test of public gas lighting also took place in this passageway. Today, it is known for its shops and collections of stamps and postcards.
At no.55 stands a shop where the backroom was used as a reading room by writer Emile Zola, the shop also features a beautiful double spiral wooden staircase. No.47, the shop of the famous engraver Stern, is officially registered as a historic monument and shows a typical “Monarchie de Juillet” style (1830-1848).
This passageway crosses two other arcades: Galerie Montmartre and Galerie des Variétés, themselves leading to two other parallel covered ways, Galerie Feydeau on the left and Galerie Saint-Marc on the right. Even if they are of less historical interest, it is pleasant to get lost in this maze, all the more as you never get really lost! Check out anyway no.27 in Galerie Montmartre, which used to house the Julian painting academy, comparable to the “Académie des Beaux-Arts” but open to women, a revolution!
> Exit the Passage des Panoramas at the North end, cross Boulevard Montmartre and turn around.
Here you can see across, on your left, the Théâtre des Variétés, built in 1807 in an ancient Greece style, at a time when a decree by Napoleon limited the number of theaters in Paris to only eight! See our picture below featuring the theater and the rotundas of the “Panoramas” then. The theater hasn’t changed a bit, has it?
On the Boulevard Montmartre, directly across from the exit of the Passage des Panoramas, you’ll find our next stop: passage Jouffroy.
Since it was built in 1836, Passage Jouffroy has been one of the most visited covered arcades in the capital. Its charm comes from its beautiful iron and glass architecture (the lancet glass roof immediately catches the eye, doesn’t it?) and its marble paving, renovated in 1987. The other asset to this place is the variety and the originality of the venues it houses.
- The Musée Grévin has an entrance in this passageway. Famous today for its waxwork models, this museum used to be the place where technological demonstrations were premiered in Paris: the phone, the phonograph, the X-rays, the cartoon, and so on. Georges Meliès, who would become the well known cinema pioneer, made his debut here as an illusionist.
- At no.13, the “Salon des Miroirs” is a former 19th century brasserie that, today, is only used for private hire and transforms into a club on Saturday nights.
- Hôtel Chopin is a charming place to spend the night.
- Some of the most original shops add a special touch to the visit: old canes and walking sticks, old books, and paper specialists. The windows alone make a stroll here worthwhile!
- Gourmets can take a break at Valentin, the unmissable tea room.
When you exit at the other end, cross the street (Rue de la Grange Batelière): Our next curiosity starts directly across!
Built in 1847, the Passage Verdeau was named after its creator. A number of antiques dealers and unique shops (old books, postcards, collectors’ cameras) have set up here. Visitors’ eyes are caught by the beautiful shop windows bathed in light thanks to the high glass roof designed to look like fish bones. At no.14, admire the “Photo Verdeau” shop, where photographer Robert Doisneau was a regular, and filmmaker Agnès Varda still is. At no.8, check out the deliciously vintage shop “Le Bonheur des Dames” that sells embroidery in the old-fashioned way (Emile Zola wrote a novel with the same name to tell of everyday life in a clothing store). If you are fond of comics, and particularly Tintin, you’ll be overjoyed by the bookstore located at no.6.
> When exiting Passage Verdeau, turn right into Rue du Faubourg Montmartre.
Our next stop is ten minutes walk away, so look up and appreciate the architecture whilst you walk. The buildings at no.25 and no.27 date back to the end of the 18th century, note the fake iron balcony at no.25.
At no.24, the current snack restaurant used to be a fish shop: Look at the ceramic marine scenery on the back wall, it is from 1895 and reflects the taste for Japanese prints at that time.
> Turn right into Rue de la Grange Batelière, walk a hundred meters then turn left in rue Rossini.
At no.3, there is an example of what used to be an investment property for wealthy bourgeois just before Baron Haussmann became Prefect of Paris and revolutionised the architecture.
> Turn left into Rue Drouot
At no.9, on the ground floor, have a look at the famous “Hôtel des ventes de Drouot” (auction house). It was rebuilt in 1980 as a “surrealist interpretation of the Haussmannian style”! At no.6, enter the “Hôtel d’Augny” that hosts the City Hall of the 9th Arrondissement, built in 1752. Go through the carriage entrance (you are allowed to, it is a public place) to get a glimpse of the inside yard.
> Continue south on Rue Drouot until you cross Boulevard Montmartre, then you are in rue Richelieu: on your right, at no.97, you will soon see our next and last stop, the entrance of the Passage des Princes.
Passage des Princes (closed on Sundays)
This passageway is both the last in our tour and the last ever built in Paris. As a matter of fact, the Passage des Princes was opened in 1860 for the sheer convenience of a wealthy businessman, Mirès, who owned both a palace hotel in Rue Richelieu and a building on the other side of the block, Boulevard des Italiens.
At no.36, you would find the publishing house of Auguste Poulet-Malassis, who published Baudelaire and Lautréamont; But, the most peculiar venue of this passageway was unquestionably the luxurious restaurant “Peter’s” which became highly popular thanks to the Universal Exhibition in 1867. There used to be a basin here, hosting live crocodiles and giant turtles. The imagination of the tenant to attract the crowds was limitless: a young Siberian bear would wander among tables, sometimes eating from the clients’ plates. Customers were stock agents, publishers and journalists, as well as members of the bourgeoisie coming to watch and, sometimes, be watched. The turtle soup cost 4 Francs and the bottle of Fleurie (a fine Beaujolais wine), 1 Franc 50, which was the daily wage of a worker at that time.
Our tour is over now, you are currently at Metro Richelieu-Drouot, close to the Galeries Lafayette and the Opera and about half an hour walk from Montmartre: check out your SmarterParis guide to find a nice place to eat or drink in the neighbourhood!