OF ALL THE PARISIAN passages couverts that sprang up mainly in the first half of the nineteenth century, the Galerie Vivienne was perhaps the most fashionable.
The passages couverts, or covered passages, were an early form of shopping arcade concentrated either in the fashionable area around the Palais Royal, the Boulevard des Italiens and the Boulevard Montmartre, or around the less fashionable rue Saint-Denis.
Of the one hundred and fifty original passages couverts, only twenty now remain and I’ve been to all of them to record and archive their contemporary soundscapes for my Paris Soundscapes Archive.
The Galerie Vivienne was built in 1823 by the Président de la chamber des Notaires, maître Marchoux. Marchoux lived at N°6 rue Vivienne and he built the Galerie Vivienne around his house and three adjoining properties he acquired, including the former stables of the duc d’Orléans, and a terraced house and garden overlooking the rue des Petits-Champs.
The French architect, and winner of the prix de Rome in 1778, François-Jean Delannoy was commissioned to design and build the passage. His design successfully turned an irregular ‘L’ shaped, slightly inclined passage into a remarkably attractive shopping arcade while integrating the existing buildings.
Galerie Vivienne in the 1820s
The Galerie Vivienne was opened for business in 1826. It boasted seventy boutiques including a tailor, a boot-maker, a wine merchant, a restaurant, a haberdashery, a confectioner, an engravings dealer, a hosier and a glassblower. The gallery also hosted the Cosorama, where one could view scenes of distant lands and exotic subjects through optical devices that magnified the pictures and the Unanorama, where you could observe the stars.
The Empire style decoration inside the galerie combines arches, pilasters and cornices. The high glass ceilings are embellished with friezes representing the symbols of success (crowns of laurels, sheaves of corn and palms), of wealth (horns of plenty) and commerce (the caduceus of Mercury).
The Italian mosaic artist, Giandomenico Facchina, created the mosaic floor.
Sounds inside the Galerie Vivienne:
These are the contemporary sounds inside the Galerie Vivienne, recorded a few days ago. But we do have a record of the impression the nineteenth century sounds of the galerie made on one person: the composer, Hector Berlioz.
In 1830, a few days after the July Revolution, Berlioz went out into the streets of Paris and was mixed up with a crowd filling the Galerie Vivienne and the neighbouring Galerie Colbert. He writes in his Memoirs:
“It must be imagined that the gallery which terminated at the Rue Vivienne was full, that the one into the Rue Neuve des Petits-Champs was full, that the middle rotunda was full, that these four or five thousand voices were piled up in a sound-room closed to the right and left (…) at the top by stained-glass windows, at the bottom by resounding slabs (…), and one may imagine the effect of this fiery refrain (…) I fell to the ground, and our little company, terrified at the explosion, was struck with absolute silence, like the birds after a thunderclap.”
With the coming of the retail revolution in the mid-nineteenth century, the new department stores springing up across the city signaled the demise of all of the Parisian passage couverts.
When Hermance Marchoux, daughter of maître Marchoux, died in 1870 the Galerie Vivienne was bequeathed to the Institut de France, but by 1897 the gallery was deserted and in 1903 it faced the prospect of demolition.
It did manage to survive though although it wasn’t until the 1970s and the revival of interest in the architectural heritage of the passages couverts, that it gradually returned to life.
Kenzo held a fashion show in the galerie in 1970 and then, a little later, more fashion shops began to appear. It was the arrival of Jean-Paul Gaultier in 1986, which established the Galerie Vivienne once again as a place of Parisian high fashion. The lustre of the Galerie Vivienne had returned.
Two of the boutiques in today’s Galerie Vivienne have a long pedigree.
The wine merchant, arguably one of the best in Paris, Lucien Legrand Filles & Fils is one of the longest established boutiques in the galerie, still occupying its original position.
The oldest surviving boutique can be found at N° 45 Galerie Vivienne: the Librairie Jousseaume. Established in 1826, some say this is the oldest surviving bookshop in Paris.
The bookshop was bought in 1900 by M. Petit-Siroux who then bought the boutique opposite, at N° 46.
Located between the Palais Royal, the Paris Bourse and the Grands Boulevards, the Galerie Vivienne lies at the heart of fashionable Paris. Despite coming close to destruction at the turn of the nineteenth century, the galerie now boasts prestigious labels and quality artisans that link both past and present. The sumptuous architecture, delicate mosaics and grand statues have been wonderfully preserved, and the shops and restaurants are seriously chic and expensive!
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.