Paris’ covered passages are close to the main tourist attractions, yet cleverly tucked away. Constructed in the early 19th century, the covered passages are the predecessor to shopping arcades or even the modern day mall. To a certain extent, they are hiding in plain sight. It is easy to miss these structures and the beautiful enclosed environment they create. It was not until I actually moved to the city and got a bit lost one day that I stumbled upon Gallerie Vivienne. Imagine my delight; it’s like finding a secret portal.
Originally, Paris had roughly 150 covered passages – all pedestrian walkways. They were full of shops, cafes, restaurants – places to see and be seen. Keeping socialites and shoppers out of the damp cold weather was a ‘modern’ convenience. Expansive glass windows were carefully curated to display the must-have goods of the day. Roughly two-dozen of these indoor promenades still exist. They are beautiful monuments to former lifestyles of the ladies and gentlemen of Paris.
The demise of the covered passages stemmed from Emperor Napoléon III’s public works program in the second half of the 19th century. He launched a demolition/reconstruction effort to rid the city of disease. Medieval streets and housing structures considered overcrowded or unhealthy were leveled. Under the direction of Georges-Eugène Haussmann, Napolean III’s city engineer/architect, the covered passageways fell victim to the city’s modernization. Streets were widened, public sewers installed, gardens and squares constructed across the city. The city was opened up and rebuilt to create Paris’ modern boulevards. Coincidentally, Napoléan’s public works program helped provide a strong military defense – think troops marching in procession down wide boulevards.
Today, the surviving passages function in a similar way as they did when they were first created. Shops of every type line the corridors, cafés and galleries are sprinkled throughout as well. If you are not captured by the antique signage, lighting fixtures and architecture, you will be captured by the shopping experience and cuisine options.