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:
AT THE END OF AUGUST I made a blog piece about La Fête de Ganesh, the annual festival to celebrate Genesha, the Hindu deity of wisdom, propriety and good fortune. In July, I made a piece about the Passage Brady with its exotic smells and the atmosphere of an Indian bazaar. So yesterday, when I found myself in ‘Little Jaffna’ in the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis in the 10th arrondissement, I couldn’t help feeling that, unwittingly, a theme was developing.
Stretching from the Boulevard de Bonne-Nouvelle to the Boulevard de la Chapelle, the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis is a mélange of Turkish, African, and Indian communities. Yesterday, it was the stretch from the Metro station, La Chapelle, to the railway station, Gare du Nord that particularly interested me and it was along here that I did a Soundwalk.
A Soundwalk in ‘Little Jaffna’:
This part of the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis is quite distinctive. It would be easy to call it, “Little India”, but that would be an over-generalisation, even though one of the shops bears that name. The fact is, that what we often refer to as the Indian community here comprises a far wider diversity than just “Indian”.
Of the immigrants originating from the Indian sub-continent who have settled in Paris, only a minority are natives of India proper. Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Punjabis, and Sri-Lankan Tamils form culturally and socially distinct groups in Paris. Something I didn’t know until recently, is that the largest these communities is the Tamil.
Most of the Parisian Tamils fled Sri-Lanka as refugees in the 1980’s during the violent civil war. Over time, they have thrived in a close-knit community in this part of the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis. The soubriquet, “Little Jaffna”, comes from the name Jaffna, the capital of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, the area from which most of these people are descended.
I began my Soundwalk at the Metro station, la Chapelle, where the African and Indian communities meet. The distinctive sounds of “M’Ice, M’Ice, M’Ice” and “Vum Ice, Vum Ice, Vum Ice”, are the African ladies outside the metro station busily trying to sell ice cubes from plastic bags tucked away in shopping trolleys. They are a common feature in all the African communities in Paris but I’ve yet to see any of them actually making a sale.
Passing through the entrance to the Metro station, crossing the road and walking towards the Gare du Nord, I leave Africa behind and enter into the world of the Indian sub-continent with all its colour, exotic smells and sounds.
A greengrocer is selling exotic fruit and vegetables outside his shop whilst inside, the checkouts are working at a frantic pace.
An Halal butcher, surrounded by colourful sari and textile shops, is chopping meat. Conversation abounds.
This is so much more than a place to shop; this is a place to see and be seen, a place to meet friends, neighbours and family, a place savour and to enjoy. This is “Little Jaffna” and these are its sounds.
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.