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Urban treasure hunt: A tour of covered passageways in Paris

Urban treasure hunt: A tour of covered passageways in Paris

Christophe Prosper Rammant
Christophe Prosper Rammant

Christophe is one of our founders and creative director. His passions are interiors, cooking, and traveling the globe for new inspiration.

Nothing is more magical than getting lost in a city and discovering its hidden gems. In Paris, we can certainly count on a variety of those treasures. So let’s get lost in the beautiful covered passageways spread around central Paris.

Historical background

France is a country of revolution. The best known was the French Revolution, which ended the monarchy and clergy regimes. As a result, Napoleon Bonaparte became the national ruler. He led the country until European troops defeated him. Another revolt forced Napoleon to step down, giving power back to the monarchy.

It was a period called the Bourbon Restoration. During that time, the city experienced not only political reorganization. It was when a transformation of city architecture began.

Urban architecture transformation

The architectural transformation in Paris began due to an end to feudal laws. It was followed by the massive sale of properties owned by the clergy. The city started to become urbanized, modernized, and the real estate market started to bloom. This was when the idea of creating covered passageways in Paris was born.

Between 1800 and 1850, people started imagining commercial and leisure properties for the city. And demand for related activities rose.

Function

The main idea behind the covered passageways was to provide a covered shopping experience for the wealthiest citizens.

But their function was also efficient. Firstly, they provided shortcuts between the streets. Moreover, the glass ceiling of the covered passageways protected guests from the rain. The bourgeois clientele could show off in these first promenades with that comfort. And they didn’t have to worry about their outfits getting wet or cars passing. The passages are too narrow for a sidewalk.

In their prime, covered passageways became the first commercial spaces. They provided access to restaurants, theatres, and boutiques (shops).

Treasure hunt

Today, we can explore the treasures of the remaining twenty-five covered passageways in Paris. It was Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s total rebuilding of the city architecture put an end to most of those tiny promenades. But back in the XIXth century, the city boasted over one hundred fifty of those hidden spots.

Those fancy covered passageways, filled with shops and cafes, quickly became popular in the capital of France. Then the idea was taken to other cities in the country and Europe, such as Boudreaux, Nantes, and London.

We spotted six of those unique covered passageway designs while walking around the Parisian city center. Let’s see what makes them so irresistible.

Passage Verdeau

Passage Verdeau took its name from its architect, Jean-Baptiste Ossian Verdeau. It was created in 1846 to extend to other covered passageways – Passage Jouffroy and Passage des Panoramas. The truth is that those two promenades took the most splendor in the neighborhood. But the Passage Verdeau deserves some attention. It has been seen as one of the purest neo-classical design examples in urban architecture.

Covered passageways in Paris, Urban treasure hunt: A tour of covered passageways in Paris Covered passageways in Paris, Urban treasure hunt: A tour of covered passageways in Paris

The antique stores draw attention from the vitrines with the unique book and art collections and rare treasures in philately. The light is invited through beautifully constructed fishbone-shaped roof glass. It makes the covered passageway design luminous and filled with natural light.

Covered passageways in Paris, Urban treasure hunt: A tour of covered passageways in Paris Covered passageways in Paris, Urban treasure hunt: A tour of covered passageways in Paris

Passage Jouffroy

The first look at the Passage Jouffroy’s façade gives us the first clue to its style – Art Déco.

The bold yet soft-edged type font that today surely, we would call a comic type magnetize the viewer. The most iconic Parisian metro entrances were also created in Art Déco style. Some stations still reflect this unique décor.

Covered passageways in Paris, Urban treasure hunt: A tour of covered passageways in Paris Covered passageways in Paris, Urban treasure hunt: A tour of covered passageways in Paris

This covered passageway design stands out with botanical shapes and round edges of the metal elements. We can see that in twisted lamps and handrails. The design is enriched with gemstones incorporated into the constructions. It all adds to the magnetic charm. This is a place for unique antlers, comic books, and poster window shopping.

Covered passageways in Paris, Urban treasure hunt: A tour of covered passageways in Paris

Covered passageways in Paris, Urban treasure hunt: A tour of covered passageways in Paris Covered passageways in Paris, Urban treasure hunt: A tour of covered passageways in Paris

The passage is also the location of the Hotel Chopin, with its classical wooden doors which take us back in time. The wooden elements of the storefronts in this covered passageway design are very popular. It reminds us of the first promenades built from wood, just next to Palais Royal.

Covered passageways in Paris, Urban treasure hunt: A tour of covered passageways in Paris Covered passageways in Paris, Urban treasure hunt: A tour of covered passageways in Paris

Passage des Panoramas

Passage des Panoramas is probably the most famous covered passageway in Paris. Built in 1799 as one of the first in the city, it is 133 meters long. It has glazed roofing and was one of the first places that used gaslighting.

Covered passageways in Paris, Urban treasure hunt: A tour of covered passageways in Paris Covered passageways in Paris, Urban treasure hunt: A tour of covered passageways in Paris

What directly caught our attention was the eclectic designs of the restaurants housed in the passage. Not only can we find the stylish oriental décor of the Indian, and Asian restaurants. There is also a train-style restaurant. Its interior is arranged with vintage furniture. We can see velour seats and carpets in geometrically-shaped patterns covering the floor and pad the doors. The lighting is soft, and the ambiance invites us to enjoy a beautiful journey back in time.

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Just next to the train-style restaurant, we pass another unique cafe decor. It’s enriched with beautiful wooden columns and arcades with carved ornaments. Our eyes are indeed indulged by the vibrant mix of styles and cultures provided by the Passage des Panoramas.

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Galerie Vivienne

Built in 1826 in neo-classical style, Galerie Vivienne was inspired by ancient Pompei. It invites us on a beautiful stroll around an old décor.

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What definitely makes a huge impression is the mosaic floor. It is covered in yellow, red, white, and black stars and circles. But let’s not forget the Roman-style elements. The sculptures, paintings, and ornaments present nymphs and goddesses and decorate the walls. The monumental pilasters, arches, and cornices are embodied with Roman symbols of success. We can see icons of laurel crowns or horns of plenty.

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The glass roof is varied by a glazed rotunda that enhances the airflow. The rotunda also gives a hemispherical glass dome view. The design of the galleries completes the sophisticated look. That ensures that Galerie Vivienne is one of the most elegant covered passageways in Paris.

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Passage des Deux-Pavillons

Passage des Deux-Pavillons, built in 1820, is the smallest covered passageway in Paris. The idea for this passage came from a private developer who owned the two buildings that surround it. It is only 33 meters in length but has its charm.

Covered passageways in Paris, Urban treasure hunt: A tour of covered passageways in Paris

Initially, the passage was supposed to be built in a rectilinear cross shape and exit at Galerie Colbert. But finally, it was bought by the owner of Galerie Vivienne. He modified the design of this passageway to a diagonal form and led it to his covered passage next door.

Covered passageways in Paris, Urban treasure hunt: A tour of covered passageways in Paris Covered passageways in Paris, Urban treasure hunt: A tour of covered passageways in Paris

The Passage des Deux-Pavillons is very alluring. But what makes it truly unique is the open patio. It separates the passage from the busy street and brings us, for a moment, to a peaceful enclave. We loved the ambiance of this place. Its outdoor plants and plant trees complete the covered passageway design. And, best of all, we could admire artists at work through the glass walls of their artisanal stores.

Covered passageways in Paris, Urban treasure hunt: A tour of covered passageways in Paris

Galerie Colbert

Galerie Colbert is one of the most astonishing covered passageways in Paris. It was created in 1830. And since the beginning, it has competed with the nearby Galerie Vivienne for the crown of a beauty queen.

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But in 1986, Galerie Colbert was bought by France’s National Library (which, by the way, has the most spectacular interior!). That move probably ended the rivalry. The institution transformed this covered passageway into a stunning art and culture center. Today, it houses the National Institute of Art History and the Institute of Heritage.

Covered passageways in Paris, Urban treasure hunt: A tour of covered passageways in Paris Covered passageways in Paris, Urban treasure hunt: A tour of covered passageways in Paris Covered passageways in Paris, Urban treasure hunt: A tour of covered passageways in Paris

A short walk through the passage leads us to a magnificent glass rotunda. Its natural light shines onto the sculpture of dying Eurydice. What a great ending to our tour of the covered passageways in Paris.

Covered passageways in Paris, Urban treasure hunt: A tour of covered passageways in Paris Covered passageways in Paris, Urban treasure hunt: A tour of covered passageways in Paris Covered passageways in Paris, Urban treasure hunt: A tour of covered passageways in Paris