FOR SOME TIME NOW as part of my Paris Soundscapes project I’ve been recording and archiving the contemporary sounds in each of the twenty surviving nineteenth-century passage couverts in Paris. The Passage Choiseul in the 2nd arrondissement is latest of these passages to be added to my collection.
Work began on the Passage Choiseul in 1825 and it took two years to complete. The architect, François Mazois, came up with the original design but he died before the work was completed and so another architect, Antoine Tavernier, took over.
Like all the passages couverts, the Passage Choiseul resembles a street with two rows of boutiques on the ground floor with living accommodation above joined together by a glass roof. At 190 metres long this is the longest of the surviving passages couverts and it’s registered as an historic monument. The floor originally comprised grey sandstone floor tiles but they were covered over in the 1970’s with the speckled tiles we see today.
Like in so many of the passage couverts, the glass roof in the Passage Choiseul suffered over the years. It was replaced in 1907 but the ravages of time took a further toll and it once again descended into a sorry state. Recently, a young architect, Raphaël Bouchmousse, 32, came up with a proposal to renovate the roof at a cost of €740,000. The proposal was accepted and in May 2012 the work began. It’s now completed and the roof has returned to its former glory.
A Soundwalk in the Passage Choiseul:
The Passage Choiseul has a long association with the arts. Anatole France, a French poet, journalist, novelist and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, worked here as a proof-reader from 1867 to 1876. Louis-Ferdinand Céline the French novelist, pamphleteer and physician, lived here as a child. His mother, Marguerite Destouches, owned a curiosity shop in the passage. Alphonse Lemeere published the first poems of Paul Verlaine from here in 1864 as well as the works of the Parnassians who embraced a French literary style that began during the 19th century. Today, the former publishing house of Alphonse Lemeere is occupied by the painter and sculptor, Anna Stein.
Another occupant of the Passage Choiseul is the rear entrance to the Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens.
Inaugurated in 1855 by the composer Jacques Offenbach, the theatre was especially built to perform his opéra-bouffes. Orphée aux Enfers (Orpheus in the Underworld) was premiered here in 1858, La Belle Hélène in 1864 and La Vie Parisienne and Barbe-Bleue in 1866.
The main entrance to the theatre is in the neighbouring street, rue Monsigny.
After early success, like all the other passages couverts the passage Choiseul entered a period of decline. Its fortunes were revived in the 1970’s when the French actress, Sophie Desmarets, opened an antique shop here, Cactus Bazar. This was followed by Kenzo’s first fashion boutique, Jungle Jap, which has now moved to the Place des Victoires.
Today, the Passage Choiseul hosts Japanese eateries, clothing stores, jewellery shops, art galleries and art supply shops, as well as a plentiful supply of shoe shops.
The Passage Choiseul is to be found at:
40, rue Petits-Champs / 23, rue Saint-Augustine / 40, rue Dalayrac
And you can see more of my collection of les passages couverts here.
THE FRENCH ARCHITECT, Théodore Charpentier (1797 – 1867) specialised in designing theatres and restaurants. Amongst other things, he rebuilt the Opéra Comique after it was destroyed by fire in 1838, he designed the neo-Renaissance decor of the restaurant, “Trois Frères Provençaux”, in the Palais-Royal and he also built the Café Pierron. In 1842, he turned his attention to the Place de la Madeleine then, as now, an elegant and very expensive part of Paris. Charpentier was charged by the people who owned the Société du passage Jouffroy with designing and building a Galerie, a passage couvert, between the Place de la Madeleine and the rue Boissy d’Anglais, the Galerie de la Madeleine. Work began on the Galerie in 1840 and it was opened in 1846.
At 53 metres long and 4 metres wide the Galerie de la Madeleine was not the biggest of the nineteenth-century passages couverts but it was in a prime location and to ensure success location was everything. As well as being in a very fashionable part of Paris, the adjoining rue Boissy d’Anglais was a terminus for the early nineteenth-century stagecoaches providing a regular supply of eager customers with money to spend. There was also a very popular restaurant next door, Lucas-Carton, an English style tavern famed for its cuts of cold meat and puddings, which attracted visitors to the Galerie. This restaurant is sill there. Now named Senderens – Lucas-Carton, it’s noted for its Novelle Cuisine and no doubt still attracts customers to the Galerie de la Madeleine.
The demise of the stagecoaches signalled the decline of the passages couverts and although some of them disappeared altogether, others struggled on and survived and, like the Galerie de la Madeleine, have been preserved retaining some of their former elegance. But today, although now listed as a national monument, the Galerie de la Madeleine faces a further threat. Over the years, property prices have exploded and some of today’s small businesses and artisans have been forced to leave.
Sounds inside the Galerie de la Madeleine:
One business in the Galerie that has survived and continues to flourish is Chez Benjamin, a tailor’s shop.
The window display with an antique flat iron and pictures and engravings of fashion from the last century sets the tone of this “old fashioned” tailor’s shop.
Catering for both men and women’s tailoring needs, Monsieur Benjamin and his wife run this wonderful shop with impeccable service and style.
There are other boutiques in the Galerie de la Madeleine but there are empty spaces too. On the day I went to the Galerie there were one or two people sitting outside the cafés but most of the people there were passing through, using it as a short cut between the Place de la Madeleine and the rue Boissy d’Anglais, with very few of them even stopping to look in the windows let alone going into the boutiques. I couldn’t help wondering what the future holds for the Galerie de la Madeleine.
Galerie de la Madeleine:
9, place de la Madeleine / 30, rue Boissy d’Anglais
THE PASSAGE DU PRADO makes its way into my series about the surviving Parisian passages couverts by stealth rather than by virtue. Built in 1785, it might claim to be the oldest of the passages couverts in Paris – but it isn’t.
It was indeed built in 1785 but it was originally an open-air passage like many others built around the same time. It only became covered in 1925.
Its owners, inspired by the national Museum of Madrid, named it the Passage du Prado and it enjoyed some success in the 1930’s but, despite the best efforts of Les Amis du Passage du Prado, it looks pretty sorry for itself today.
About the only thing to commend this passage are the Art Deco style buttresses made of wood and plaster attached to the glass roof which remain in good condition despite dating from 1925.
Sounds inside the Passage du Prado:
The Passage du Prado used to host mainly wholesale clothes retailers but today it is home to a selection of African hairdressers, a hotel, cafés and an assortment of individual businesses.
Passage du Prado:
16, boulevard Saint-Denis / 16 rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis
Open every day from 09.30 – 19.00
IT ALWAYS SEEMS to me, that the Passage du Bourg-l’Abbé suffers a little from standing in the shadow of its larger cousin, the Passage du Grand-Cerf, which is just across the Rue Saint-Denis.
The Passage du Bourg-l’Abbé was built in 1828 by Auguste Lusson and it was designed to continue the line of the Passage du Grand-Cerf to the Rue Saint-Martin by linking up with the open-air Passage de l’Ancre. Thanks to Baron Haussmann’s transformation of Paris in the Second Empire, the Passage du Bourg-l’Abbé lost its eastern end to make way for the Boulevard Sébastopol in 1854.
Sounds inside the Passage du Bourg-l’Abbé:
It was in 1879 that Henri Blondel, architect of the Bourse du Commerce, the French Stock Exchange, tidied up the amputated eastern end of the passage by building the Empire style entrance (shown above) with its two caryatides sculpted by Aimé Millet.
The arched glass roof is impressive as are the clock and the barometer at either end of the passage.
The Passage du Bourg-l’Abbé has had a chequered history. Thanks to Baron Haussmann it’s not as long as originally intended whereas its cousin, the Passage du Grand-Cerf, is the largest of all the Parisian passage couverts. Over many years, the Passage du Bourg-l’Abbé became run down and, not all that long ago, it was ravaged by fire. But today, it’s been restored and although still smaller than it’s cousin across the street it is equally as elegant and home to thriving niche businesses.
Passage du Bourg-l’Abbé:
120, rue Saint-Denis / 3, rue Palestro
THE PASSAGE DES PANORAMAS was opened in 1799, which makes it the oldest of the passages couverts in Paris. It takes its name from the two round towers that once stood outside in the Boulevard Montmartre. Each tower contained giant circular frescos, or Panoramas, which were very popular at the time.
The passage was built on the site of the former Hôtel Montmorency in the prestigious 2nd Arrondissement. The site became even more prestigious when the Théâtre des Variétés was built next door in 1807. In 1865, Jacques Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène premiered here. The theatre is now listed as an historical monument and it’s been fully restored to its original décor. The artist’s entrance to the theatre opens directly onto the Passage des Panoramas.
The passage comprises sixty one-story houses with boutiques on the ground floor. It was here in 1817 that the first tests of gas lighting took place.
Inside the Passage des Panoramas – Everything You Need to Know:
In 1831, the rotundas were demolished. In 1834 the passage was renovated and the architect Jean-Louis Grisart created the additional galleries, Saint-Marc, Variétés, Feydeau and Montmartre.
Today, the Passage des Panoramas has retained much of its authenticity. L’Arbe à Cannelle, today a restaurant, retains the decorated ceiling, columns and mirrors from the original chocolatier Marquis.
In 1849, the renowned graveur (printer and engraver) Maison Stern rented premises in the Passage des Panoramas. These premises are now listed as an historical monument but alas Maison Stern left some time ago.
Today the passage is renowned for its postcard and philately boutiques.
There’s even an autograph shop.
Like all the passage couverts in Paris, the Passage des Panoramas enjoyed huge early success but as competition appeared decline set in. Today, the passage retains its former nineteenth-century ambience and it seems to be as busy as ever.
Passage des Panoramas: 11 Boulevard Montmartre and 158 rue Montmartre, 75002 Paris
You can see more passages couverts here:
IT WAS A DECREE SIGNED on 3rd September 1860 by Baron Haussmann that authorised the opening of the Passage des Princes, the last of the passages couverts parisiens to be opened.
The Passage des Princes sits between the Boulevard des Italiens and the rue de Richelieu in the 2nd arrondissement and it, along with the Passage des Panoramas, the Passage Jouffroy and the Passage Verdeau, form the quartet of passage couverts known as the Passage du Boulevards.
Sounds inside the Passage des Princes:
The Passage des Princes was originally called the Passage Mirès, named after the banker, Jules Mirés who bought the Grand Hôtel des Princes et de l’Europe at 97 Rue de Richelieu. Mirès demolished the hôtel to make way for the passage and a new pedestrian access connecting the Rue de Richelieu and the Boulevard des Italiens. Unfortunately for Mirès, his bank collapsed shortly after his funding of the new passage couvert was completed.
Originally, this passage comprised relatively small ground-floor shops surmounted by a sloping glass roof punctuated by a double span metal arch decorated with arabesques and it looks much the same today. However, what we see today is not the original Passage des Princes.
In 1985, the original Passage des Princes was destroyed in the interests of another real-estate scheme. Thankfully, wiser heads prevailed and the passage was subsequently rebuilt faithful to its original form.
Today, the Passage des Princes is a lively and elegant place where all the shops cater for children. It’s a veritable Kid’s Kingdom.
Passage des Princes, 3/5 boulevard des Italiens and 97 rue de Richelieu 75002 Paris. Métro Richelieu-Drouot. Open Monday to Saturday 10.00 to 20.00
You can see more of Les Passages Couverts here:
THE PASSAGE DU GRAND-CERF is far more elegant than its modern day surroundings. Entering from the less than elegant and, in parts, rather seedy Rue Saint-Denis I was transported back into early nineteenth-century Paris.
The month of August, in the depths of the Paris holiday season, is not perhaps the best time to visit this passage since most of the boutiques are shut. I’ve lived in Paris for a long time but I’m still amazed by the seemingly casual way in which the commerçants deal with the summer holidays. The notice in the shop window below simply says that they are shutting for the summer holidays and they will let us know when they will reopen!
At least Carine in the shop next door approached things in a slightly more formal manner.
The records are unclear as to the precise date when the Passage du Grand-Cerf opened but sometime in 1834 is the generally accepted date. It takes it’s name from the roulage du Grand-Cerf, the terminus of the former mail coaches.
Sounds inside the Passage du Grand-Cerf:
Entering the Passage du Grand-Cerf, the striking characteristics are it’s height and the flood of light coming in from the verrière filant, literally, the free-flowing glass roof. It comprises two floors with glazed facades and then a third, attic floor, which contains living accommodation. At just over one hundred metres long and almost twelve metres high this passage is the largest of the passage couverts in Paris.
On the day I went perhaps the most intriguing boutique in the passage was open. This boutique, full of bric-a-brac with genuine antiques thrown in, is the sort of place one could spend all day in and still not see everything.
From the late nineteenth-century, the passage du Grand-Cerf began a long and painful decline and for many years it was in a state of complete neglect. However, in 1990 its rehabilitation began and a complete restoration has returned it to its former glory. It’s easily missed but once found, it’s an absolute delight.
I have set myself the challenge of recording the sounds in all the surviving Passages Couverts in Paris. This is the third in the series.
You can find more about the Passage Jouffroy here:
And more about the Passage Brady here.
I’VE SET MYSELF the task of recording the sounds inside each of the surviving passages couverts in Paris and I will feature a series of them on this blog in the weeks to come.
Altogether, one hundred and fifty of these covered arcades were built mainly in two bursts of activity – from 1823 to 1828 and from 1839 to 1847. Of these one hundred and fifty, just twenty remain today.
The passages couverts were concentrated on the right bank of la Seine, an area more associated with commerce than the left bank. The most glamorous and most fashionable such as the Galerie Vivienne (perhaps the most elegant of them all) were concentrated in the area around the Palais Royal, the Boulevard des Italiens and the Boulevard Montmartre. All these passages faced in a north-south direction.
By contrast, another cluster of passages couverts, all in an east-west configuration, sprang up in the area around Saint-Denis. These were much less glamorous (save for the Passage du Grand-Cerf perhaps) and far less fashionable.
Close to Porte Saint-Denis is the Passage Brady and one could be forgiven for thinking that this is not in Paris at all.
Inside the Passages Brady:
Opened on 15th April 1828, the Passage Brady today is an oriental delight. With its exotic smells and the atmosphere of an Indian bazaar, the chipped floors, ailing glass roof and peeling, graffiti-adorned walls somehow don’t seem to matter.
Indian immigrants first came here in the early 1970’s from Pondicherry, a former French territory in India and later, immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh joined them. The food, exotic spices, clothes, trinkets and even the hairdressers reflect this cultural mélange.
A shopkeeper and entrepreneur, perhaps not surprisingly called Brady, conceived the idea for the Passage Brady. His idea was to create one of the longest passage couverts in Paris comprising one hundred and thirteen shops with housing above. And he would have succeeded had it not been for Baron Haussmann’s city planning. Originally, the Passage Brady had a large glass dome at its centre before continuing further to the east as an uncovered passage. The main entrance was under the glass dome.
In 1854, the new Boulevard Sévastopol was under construction and the glass dome suffered as a consequence. This new road cut right through the Passage Brady taking the dome with it. Today, the covered Passage Brady lies to the west of the Boulevard Sévastopol with the uncovered part to the east.
The Passage Brady may not be the most elegant of les passages couverts, perhaps not elegant at all, but the smell of exotic spices and incense, the colours and the sounds seem to capture the essence of the original passages couverts.
To see more of les passage couverts take a look at this piece.
Today, the Palais Royal, in the 1st arrondissement, accommodates both the old and the new in harmony. In the Cour d’honneur, Daniel Buren’s black and white columns, known as Les Colonnes de Buren, and the seventeenth-century facades somehow seem to sit comfortably together.
Cardinal Richelieu lived here in the early seventeenth-century, as did various itinerant ‘Royals’. In the second half of the eighteenth century, Louis-Philippe-Joseph, duc d’Orléans moved in and changed the character of the place.
In the arcades of the Palais Royale:
In the 1780’s he turned this aristocratic home into a public place with a shopping mall complete with luxury shops, cafés and even a circus and a waxworks museum. The Palais Royal became the place to see and to be seen in. It attracted customers, flaneurs, passers-by and prostitutes in equal measure – a hotbed of pleasure and entertainment. But more than that, it represented a significant change in the social dimension – a sort of classless rubbing of shoulders.
By the end of the eighteenth-century it had become a hotbed of political radicalism. In 1789, close to the restaurant Le Grand Véfour, which still stands in the Palais Royal and where Napoléon and Joséphine, Victor Hugo and Honoré de Balzac once sat, a young lawyer, Camille Desmoulins, an immature, reckless but passionate young man, stood on a table and issued his call ‘To Arms’. The crowd around him were to storm the Bastille the next day and the French Revolution was about to unleash unimaginable bloodshed.
Although the shops and restaurants are still there, the Palais Royal has a more sedate feel to it today.
Music outside the Palais Royal:
But keeping the eighteenth-century spirit of revelry alive, this group of young musicians enthusiastically reflect the former atmosphere of the Palais Royal much to the enjoyment of the large crowd rubbing shoulders around them.