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 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.