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Posts tagged ‘Palais Royal’


Paris Journée sans Voitures

CAN YOU IMAGINE a city without traffic? Well, in Paris last Sunday we had a glimpse of what such a city might look and sound like.

Place Colette

In August 2014, an organisation called Paris sans Voitures, a citizen collective made up of scientists and high-profile individuals, residents of all ages, professionals, activists and dreamers, put forward a proposal to the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, to reclaim Paris and liberate the streets. Their vision was for a car-free day; a day when private vehicles would be banned in Paris and public transport would be free.

Anne Hidalgo was impressed but the Paris police were more difficult to convince. Nevertheless, a decision was reached on 5th March this year that for one day Paris would experience ‘une journée sans voiture’ – a car free day.

The Mayor was not able to persuade the police that the car free zone should extend across the entire city so an accommodation was reached.


Click to enlarge

On Sunday 27th September, between 1100 and 1800, the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th arrondissements – the heart of the city – were car free zones. Several areas away from the centre, including part of the quai on the Left Bank, most of the Champs-Élysées, the Bois de Boulogne, the Bois de Vincennes and the tourist area of Montmartre were also to be car free.

There were exceptions – buses, taxis and emergency vehicles were allowed.

I spend a large part of my life recording the street sounds of Paris and the sound of traffic is my constant companion so this ‘Journée Sans Voitures’ was an opportunity for me to capture an unusual sound tapestry of the city, one without the weft of constant traffic.

Avenue de l’Opéra

L’Avenue de l’Opéra on Sunday afternoon

On Sunday afternoon I walked along the Avenue de l’Opéra from Place de l’Opéra to Place Colette and, apart from occasional buses and taxis, the restriction on other motor vehicles seemed for the most part to be effective.

Place Colette

I chose to record the sounds of the Journée Sans Voitures from Place Colette, which stretches from la Comédie-Française théâtre to the Palais-Royal and le Conseil d’État.

I thought it would be particularly interesting to contrast the sounds in Place Colette on this unique day to those found in the same place on a normal working day.

Place Colette

Place Colette on a normal working day

Sounds in Place Colette on a normal working day:

On a normal working day Place Colette is a space shared between Parisians going about their daily business and tourists passing through. The sounds of passing traffic pervade the air all the time.

Place Colette

Place Colette: Journée sans Voitures

Sounds in Place Colette – ‘Journée Sans Voitures’:

On Sunday in Place Colette there were Parisians and tourists but the sound tapestry was very different. The absence of traffic highlighted sounds that are always there but seldom heard, the rustle of the leaves in the trees for example. The sounds of the people reclaiming the city took centre stage.

When you listen to these sounds, remember that they were recorded in exactly the same place as the working day sounds above.

Place Colette

One might conclude that the Journée sans Voitures was either an experiment worth trying or simply a wheeze by the city authorities to provide a late summer’s fun day out. But it’s worth remembering that for a few hours in March this year Paris gained the unwelcome accolade of being the most polluted city in the world.

Excessive vehicle emissions were at the root of the problem. These emissions, combined with sunshine, a drop in temperature and an absence of wind to disperse the pollutants, caused a stagnant cover of warm air to settle over Paris. A toxic haze enveloped the city obscuring some of its most well known landmarks. Schools were instructed to keep children in classrooms and limit sports activities and health warnings were issued to the elderly to avoid even moderate exercise.

Paris usually enjoys relatively clean air for a city its size so the bad press stung the city authorities.

Is it too fanciful to suggest that the Journée sans Voitures might be a signpost to the future – cities without noxious vehicle emissions, cleaner air and a much less polluted sonic environment?

Place Colette


Galerie Véro-Dodat – A Speculative Venture

THE GALERIE VERO-DODAT is another of the surviving passages couverts in Paris. It’s also another example of Restoration property speculation in the nineteenth-century.

During the post-revolutionary Restoration period speculation was rife in Paris and some people became very rich indeed. One example is Benoit Véro, a butcher, who by 1840 had turned 4,000 Francs inherited from his wife’s parents into a fortune of some 850,000 Francs.

In 1818, Véro had a shop at the corner of the Rue Montinesque in the 1st arrondissement. The following year he bought the small hôtel Quatremère in the Rue Bouloi opposite his shop. This was the genesis of the Galerie Véro-Dodat.

Sounds of the Galerie Véro-Dodat:

Véro teamed up with his neighbour, the financier Dodat and together they bought another parcel of real estate in the Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  In 1822, Véro and Dodat began connecting the two properties with a passage effectively providing a shortcut from the commercial district of Les Halles to the elegant Palais Royal. Into this space they created the nineteenth-century shopping mall, the Galerie Véro-Dodat, which eventually opened in 1826.

The venture was a success.  Véro and Dodat had proved that location is everything. The entrance in the Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau just happened to be the terminus of the mail coaches, Messageries Laffitte et Gaillard.

The passengers waiting for, or alighting from, the coaches provided eager customers ready to sample the magasins à la mode. By 1837, Véro and Dodat held two hundred shares in the Galerie Véro-Dodat with each share valued at ten thousand Francs!

Like the other passage couverts in Paris, the early flush of popularity eventually passed.  For the Galerie Véro-Dodat the decline began during the Second Empire with the demise of the Messageries Laffitte et Gaillard. It wasn’t until 1997 that the Galerie was restored to its former nineteenth-century neo-classical glory complete with its elegant shops specialising in antiques, objets d’art, art books and fashion accessories.

Galerie Véro-Dodat:

19 rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and

2 rue du Bouloi

75001 Paris

Metro: Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre

You can see more of Les Passages Couverts here:

Passage des Princes :

Passage du Grand-Cerf:

Passage Brady:

Passage Verdeau:

Passage Jouffroy:


Mozart in the Place Colette

THE PLACE COLETTE IS named after Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, the French novelist and former music hall performer who, amongst other things, wrote Gigi, the novella that was made into the Lerner and Loewe movie starring Leslie Caron and Maurice Chevalier.

Some time ago, I published a blog piece about the Palais Royal, which stands behind the Place Colette and I featured the sounds of a string orchestra entertaining the crowd there.

On Saturday, on my way to the Galerie Vero-Dodat to collect material for a new blog piece for my series about les passages couverts, I had to cross the Place Colette. Once again, the same string orchestra was playing there.

I couldn’t help stopping to listen … and to record.

Mozart in the Place Colette:

Set against the grandeur of the Comédie Française on one side and the delightful Café Nemours on the other, a little Mozart seemed perfect on this blisteringly hot Saturday afternoon.


The Palais Royal

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.