The Paris Explorer #3 – Discover 5 Hidden Paris Arcades

Imagine Paris in the late 18th century and early 19th century. Exciting technological advances were underway, France was becoming known for its luxury goods, and the burgeoning bourgeois society was beginning to enjoy the good life. It's no big surprise to learn that the first shopping malls were created during this era. Called arcades or passages or galeries, these covered passages were comfortable, dry places for shoppers to relax away from the muddy and unpaved streets. The Paris Explorer takes you on a virtual trip to five of early arcades of Paris that have survived.

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1. Galerie Vivienne

Galerie Vivienne

Today this famous passage feels a wee bit run down, but in 1823, the year it was built, it was one of the most luxurious arcades in the city. Distinguished by its mosaic floors, elegant storefronts, and gas lighting, architect François-Jacques Delannoy added neo-classical touches with the canopy, paintings and sculptures. The mosaic floors were made by Italian artisans and their geometric shapes are reminiscent of the mosaics found on Rue de Rivoli.

  • 5 Rue de la Banque
  • 2nd Arrondissement
  • Website

2. Galerie Colbert

Galerie Colbert

Adjacent to Galerie Vivienne, on the next street over (Rue Vivienne), is its long-time glamorous rival, Galerie Colbert, built just a few years later. Enter the arcade and continue to the central atrium to the current home to the Institut National d'Histoire de l'Art and the Institut National du Patrimoine. Le Grand Colbert, the classic brasserie featured in the 2003 film Something's Gotta Give, is also found here. Although Galerie Colbert is no longer a shopping arcade, it's worth a visit to see the historic architectural touches.

3. Passage Verdeau

Passage Verdeau

Located at the Grands Boulevards, Passage Verdeau was one of the last arcades to be built, in 1847. Verdeau is more or less an extension of two other arcades — Panoramas and Jouffroy. Today, it's one of the most charming extant arcades and is lined with cafes, bookstores, and antique shops. Note the elegant neoclassical glass ceiling and the pale pink and black stone floors.

  • 6 rue de la Grange-Batelière
  • 9th Arrondissement

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4. Passage des Panoramas

Passage des Panoramas

Built in 1799, Passage des Panoramas is one of the oldest arcades in Paris. Its name comes from the two rotundas showing panoramic cityscapes that once stood at the entrance. Unfortunately, these were destroyed in 1831 during an expansion and renovation. Also of note — this was the first arcade to introduce gas lighting. Today, Passage des Panoramas has cafes, restaurants and unusual shops. The Musée Grevin can be accessed through one of its maze-like galleries.

  • 11 Boulevard Montmartre
  • 2nd Arrondissement

5. Passage Jouffroy

Passage Jouffroy

Opened in 1846 as an extension of the older Passage des Panoramas, Jouffroy was the first arcade in Paris to be built entirely of iron and glass, and the first to have under-floor heating. There's an ornate clock above the Hotel Chopin, lamps line the arcade storefronts, and a geometric pattern of black, white, and grey floor tile complete the period look. Passage Jouffroy is also home to the Musèe Grévin, the popular wax museum.

  • 10 Boulevard Montmartre to 9 rue de la Grange-Batelière
  • 9th Arrondissement

BONUS – The Lost Arcades of Palais Royal

The Arcades of Palais Royal

Originally built as a royal residence, the arcades of the Palais Royal became a fashionable destination during the late 18th century. Here was found some of the first glass-covered arcades, with rows of luxury stores and restaurants beneath them. During its heyday there were almost 150 shops, jewelers, restaurants, and salons, including two theatres.

In 1830, at the Cour d'Honneur (the section between the palais and the gardens) was found the most famous of the arcades of Paris, called the Galerie d'Orléans. Unfortunately, it was demolished one hundred years later. What remains is a flank of columns that stand between the Cour d'Honneur and the Palais-Royal Gardens, shown in the photo above. (The short columns are an installation in the Cour d'Honneur.)

  • 8 Rue de Montpensier
  • 1st Arrondissement

There Used to Be More Arcades in Paris

Palai Royal Galerie

With the invention of gas lighting, the glass and iron arcades were popular hubs of the late 18th- and early 19th-century urban life. There were about 150 arcades built in Paris from the late 18th century until the early 1900s. (The print above shows an arcade in the Palais Royal in 1825.)

Advances in iron construction (later used at the Eiffel Tower) gave rise to a new form of architecture used in the arcades. The covered shopping arcades made of glass and iron were all the rage; a promenade through the warm and well-lit passageways was a fashionable activity.

Shops, cafes and theatres all flourished in the galeries and were pleasant places for the bourgeois society to see and be seen. The architects and developers spared no expense — installing mosaic floors, trompe l'oeil marble columns, ornamental plaster bas-reliefs to create a luxurious setting.

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