Paris, the city of light and love, holds many gems and hidden delights within her city streets. The Covered Passages (Les Passages Couverts) are one of those treasures and are a joy to discover.
‘The passages are a peaceful form of the crowd.
It controls itself better there, it stretches out;
it warms itself up by rubbing against the walls.
The pace of the pedestrians no longer slows down humbly,
winding around the line of cars like ivy on oak trees.
They no longer wade through mud or the elements.
The passage shelters them and envelopes them in an almost
domestic gentleness. It is a street that gathers itself together,
or an interior that constantly undoes itself.’
(Excerpt taken from Jules Romain’s ‘Puissances de Paris’)
Built in the late 18th to the mid 19th century to protect high-class shoppers from grime and from the elements, they were essentially the forerunners of today’s shopping malls. The passages were innovative both in their architectural shape and their social role. Each passage had a salon de décrottage where customers could have dog litter and mud scraped off their shoes. Built with dazzling glass ceilings, some of which were 12m high, wrought iron and intricate floor mosaics, the passages exuded a sense of opulence that still resonates today. Of the 120 or so passages that were built, only 20 remain as many were damaged during Haussman’s modernisation of Paris while others just fell into disrepair through neglect.
Each passage has its own distinctive personality and flavour; some are quirky, some crammed with toys, others with food and spices and some with high end boutiques – whichever your style, there will be a passage for you. Finding the passages may be tricky as some are clearly marked while others are rather obscure and hard to find, which adds to their appeal and lends and air of secrecy to visiting them. Stumbling upon a passage offers a glimpse into what shopping in Paris 100 years ago must have been like – they offered a warm, paved, enclosed retail oasis in the midst of a noisy and bustling city, where one could meander amongst the trinkets or have a meal with friends. Walter Benjamin, a German literary critic and philosopher who lived in Paris, was greatly inspired by the passages which were ‘neither in nor out’ and he based his work The Arcades Project, which highlighted the flâneur, men of leisure who strolled Paris, on them.
There is an organisation which began in 1999, called The Association of Passages and Galleries, which is dedicated to promoting and preserving the Parisian Covered Passages. Tours are given but it is entirely in French so if you are not fluent, you could perhaps download the maps from the itinerary section on their website www.passagesetgaleries.org and go at your own pace on your own tour of the beautiful Passages of Paris.
The best of the Passages of Paris:
Passage Jouffroy – one of the most visited, bustling and lively of passages. Jouffroy is packed with everything to provide pure retail therapy.
Address: 10-12 Boulevard Montmartre, 75009, Paris. Metro: Grands Boulevards, Richelieu Drouot. www.passagejouffroy.com
Passage du Grand Cerf – one of the largest covered passages at 12m tall, you can find anything here from handmade jewellery, knitted products, fashion, furniture, lighting and much more.
Address: 145 rue Saint-Denis, 75002, Paris. GPS : 48.8646519 / 2.35015640000006. Metro: Étienne Marcel www.passagesetgaleries.org
Passage Brady – known locally as ‘little India’ this is the place to come for spices and exotic food.
Address: 46 rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, 75010, Paris. GPS : 48.871569 / 2.3537506999999778. Metro: Château d’Eau, Strasbourg – Saint-Denis. www.passagesetgaleries.org
Passage des Panoramas – one of the oldest covered passages in Paris, dating to 1799 it houses many interesting shops including engravers, stamp collectors, curio shops, food shops and many more.
Address: 11 boulevard Montmartre, 75002, Paris. GPS : 48.8715591 / 2.341981300000043. Metro: Grands Boulevards, Richelieu Drouot. www.passagedespanoramas.fr
Passage du Havre – one of the trendy, high street fashion passages with multimedia shops, restaurants, shoe shops, perfume and jewellery shops and much more.
Address: 109 rue Saint-Lazare, 75009, Paris. GPS : 48.8756342 / 2.327395499999966. Metro: Saint-Lazare. RER: Auber. www.passageduhavre.com
Passage Verdeau – this passage has the most unusual glass roof in that it was designed to look like fish bones. Verdeau is the continuation of Passage Jouffroy and les Panoramas. Here you will find a lot of antiques and collectibles ranging from furniture to books and stamps, and more.
Address: 6 rue de la Grange-Batelière,75003, Paris. GPS : 48.8731452 / 2.342089299999998. Metro: Le Peletier, Richelieu Drouot. www.passagesetgaleries.org
Passage Vivienne – this passage is wide and beautiful. It has an exquisite tiled floor and the passage is 176m long. Here you will find everything from gourmet food to booksellers, opticians, hairdressers, wine cellars and much more.
Address: 4 rue des Petits-Champs ,75002, Paris. GPS : 48.8662561 / 2.339334699999995. Metro: Bou
rse, Pyramides. www.galerie-vivienne.com
Passage des Princes – this is a definite visit if you are travelling with young children as it is crammed with games, toys, scale models, Lego and much more.
Address: 5 boulevard des Italiens, 75002, Paris. GPS : 48.8716343 / 2.3392010000000028. Metro: Château d’Eau, Strasbourg – Saint-Denis. www.passagesetgaleries.org
Getting There: Cammy travelled with Aer Lingus, who operate direct daily flights to Charles de Gaulle Airport from Cork and Dublin from €45.99 each way taxes and charges included. For further information, visit www.aerlingus.com.
Staying There: The Hotel de Nell is a 5-star recently-renovated hotel close to the Opera district, with a superb level of comfort.
For further information, contact Hotel de Nell, 7-9 Rue du Conservatoire, 75009 Paris. Tel 0033 1 44 83 83 60.