Les passages couverts de Paris

They’re like the +15 in Calgary or Montreal’s Underground City. They’re a series of eloquent glass covered passageways that allow(ed) Parisians to move from street to street without getting wet. These passageways are full of old bookstores, shops with collectables, galleries, restaurants, museums, and so many things to explore in each nook and cranny.

Most date to the early 19th Century and at one point there were 150 different passages, but many of these were seen as an unhealthy blight and destroyed in Haussmann’s expensive renovation of Paris during the reign of Napoleon III (1848-1852). It amazes me how in such a short period of time, so much history can simply vanish. There are only 25 passageways remaining.

This little tidbit is all over the internet but I thought it too “French” to not repeat. Each of the passageways had a coinmis-marchand or an artiste de décrottage who sat in a special spot at the entrance to clean the poop off the shoes of visitors. The title sounds so PC that I thought of a quote from the Merovingian in the Matrix: how speaking (or swearing) in French is like wiping your ass with silk.

Here are a few of the passages we encountered on our journeys.

Passage Verdeau


Built-in 1847 and named after Jean-Baptiste-Ossian Verdeau who financed the construction, this passageway is a collector’s dream because of all the tiny shops full of old books and collectables (bottle caps, old postcards, photos, etc). It may be a little less glamorous than some of its neighbouring passageways, but this passage couvert is a favourite of those who frequent l’Hôtel Drouot, which is Paris’ collectable auction house.

Passage Jouffroy


Built-in 1845 and named after the Count Félix de Jouffroy-Gonsans, it is still privately owned by the descendants of the Count. Ironically, Madame Tussaud did not have a wax museum in Paris; instead, there was the Musée Grévin, which is located near the Boulevard Montmartre entrance. At the end (or in the middle, depending on how you enter the complex) is the Hôtel Chopin Grands-Boulevards, a cute little old fashioned hotel that opened at the same time as this passage couvert.

According to the hotel, this particular passageway was built over a cobblestoned medieval road, which still exists and can be accessed via the basement (under the historical heating grids).

Passage des Panoramas


Built-in 1799, this is the oldest passageway in the city. Inside is an old theatre as well: the Théâtre des Variétés, from which actors dress in period costumes often wander the passageway. You’ll find so many great little restaurants here… from a variety of different cultures. You could easily spend your entire vacation just eating food found in Passage des Panoramas. As an extra bonus, if you’re a fan of philately (stamp collecting) or wine, you’ll probably find heaven in a shop or two.

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