Duck into any of Paris’s 25 covered passageways, and you’ll find history hidden in plain sight. Les passages, covered shopping arcades, are beloved 19th century landmarks.
Glass roofs were erected over narrow shopping streets in Paris as early as 1776; the oldest existing passage, Passage du Caire, in the 2nd arrondissement, dates to 1799. Most were created between 1820 and 1840.
Light and airy with glass roofs, neoclassical reliefs, and mosaic floors, the passages provided not only elegant surroundings, but shelter from weather, traffic, and dirt. Lit from within by gas lights, they became gathering places of the affluent.
The expansive nature of the second half of the 1800s did them in. Large department stores provided more merchandise in equally fancy surroundings (La Samaritaine and Le Bon Marché are good examples). And many passages were destroyed when Haussmann’s new city plan demolished neighborhoods to create broad avenues.
Pictured above is perhaps one of the most sumptuous of the remaining arcades: Passage Vivienne, behind the Palais Royal gardens. Cool in summer, warm in winter, and removed from both cars and tourist traffic, it provides visitors a chance to discover up-and-coming artisans, used bookstores, galleries, cafés, and restaurants.
As well as a chance to walk back into the past.
Un grand merci to Wikipedia for this a full list of Paris passages.