Exploring The Covered Passages in Paris

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,


If you are anything like me, one of your favourite things about travelling is finding those spots that transport you back in time, and for just a moment you can pretend that you are part of the era that gave birth to artistic genius, architectural marvels, or mysterious cultures.

The passages couverts (covered shopping passageways) in Paris, France are one of those spots. These shopping arcades emerged in the 19th century, post-Napoleon era, during a time of relative peace, prosperity and the rise of the industrial class. Paris was notorious at this time for being overcrowded and not having any sort of sewage, drainage or walkways. These passages were the first places that allowed shoppers the ability to stroll from store to store, blissfully apart from the filth and noise of the street.

These passages soon became a top attraction in the city and were THE destination for those visiting from the surrounding provinces. At the peak of their popularity, there were more than 150 of these covered shopping and entertainment Meccas — shopping was not the only reason to pay these spots a visit. 

Those with money in their pockets would have NO problem spending it drinking, dining, bathing (there were public baths in every passage), theatre, and activities of an... ahem,,, questionable nature (prostitutes frequented the area at night). 

Sadly, it was the opening of the city's first department store in the mid 1800s that caused a sudden drop in popularity of these once bustling destinations and now there are only a few dozen left. They are completely worth visiting however, as they showcase some fantastic architecture and take you on a quiet, off-the-beaten-path-tour through some pretty cool parts of the city. Some of them are completely deserted, some still have shops, cafes, and even hotels in them, but all evoke images of 19th century men in tailored jackets and women with parasols shopping, socializing and being fabulous Parisians!