The Covered Arcades of Paris

Les Passages Couverts de Paris


A photographic survey of the pedestrian interior arcades constructed during the first half of the nineteenth century in Paris. The arcades became popular commercial and social centers for the society that emerged after the Revolution and in more recent decades have been restored and revived.


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Information about Digital Photographic Enhancement Techniques employed :
Panoramic Stitching for very wide angle view
High Dynamic Range (HDR) exposure for wide tonality
Press coverage
"It's as if Pendery was born to handle this topic...
And no one has ever captured the visual truth of the arcades as fully as Pendery."

Robert Campbell Architecture review in the Boston Globe
Calendar Coverage
in the Boston Globe

Interview in the Tufts Daily

In the first half of nineteenth century Paris, more than fifty Passages Couverts — covered, pedestrian interior arcades — crisscrossed blocks within the fabric of the city’s streets. The Baron  Haussmann had yet to implement the vast
“urban renewal” plans of Napoleon III. Most of Paris lacked any semblance of sanitation, paving or utilities, which would come after 1850 with the construction of its new, wide boulevards. That enormous “rehabilitation” was largely responsible for the destruction of passages, reducing their number down to the current count of fewer than twenty.
The society that evolved from the French Revolution and the fall of the Ancien Régime of Louis XVI saw the rise of a new bourgeois class and the merchants who came to serve them. Auctions of real estate in Paris following the Revolution allowed wealthy Parisians to assemble commercial property into passages where shopkeepers and service providers made themselves available to the consumer public.

Most of the arcades from the 1820s and 1830s in Paris were designed with an iron framework covered by a glass skylight system. Entrances from the street usually consisted of arched doorways in stone. This shelter provided an attractive refuge from weather, darkness and cold, offering, for the first time to the public, gas lighting and heated spaces. The accommodating atmosphere gave rise to various entertainment enterprises, both legal and otherwise. A society developed within them, as people came to stroll, browse and linger. The personality best known in the passages was the flâneur, who had been described by Baudelaire in the 19th century as a dandy who ambled along, leisurely exploring, observing and wishing to be observed.
A precursor of today’s department stores and shopping malls, the Paris Passages Couverts retain a flavor of nineteenth century ambience and remain animated, historical urban landmarks.

Les Galeries de Bois du Palais-Royal, first of the Paris passages, 1790
The tall, elongated fashion of the day is said to have been inspired by the arrival of the first giraffe in France at the zoo of the Jardin des Plantes

Daumier's Parisiens en Promemade and an illustration of a Salon de Décrottage in the Passage des Panoramas. The hazards of strolling around Paris in mud with no sidewalks were addressed by having "Clean-up Salons" at the entrances of many Passages
A chronicle by Auguste Luchet from 1835 lists the "Six Commandments" which define the principal characteristics of a Covered Arcade:
_ reserved for pedestrians only
_ be an enticing shortcut that ties two streets together
_ have shops and other attractive businesses along its sides
_ provide a covering which gives as much light as in the street, heat in the winter, cool in the summer, shelter in all weather, with no dust and 'never any mud'
_ have an artificial source of light [originally gas, followed by electricity]
_ luxury should be apparent in its architecture, the style of its boutiques as well as the goods they provide

The flâneur and Walter Benjamin
Walter Benjamin, over the course of the 13 years before World War II, wrote a treatise on the Paris Passages “which radiated through the Paris of the Second Empire like fairy grottoes.” Benjamin's work, entitled “Passengen-werk” or “The Arcades Project”, examines the urban impacts of the Passages, explores their sociological impact on modernity and paints portraits of their inhabitants. One of the main characters he analyzed was the flâneur, who had been described by Baudelaire, in the 19th century, as a dandy who strolled through the streets, leisurely exploring, observing and wishing to be observed. Quoting from “The Arcades Project”:

Maxim of the flâneur: “In our standardized and uniform world, it is right here, deep below the surface, that we must go. Estrangement and surprise, the most thrilling exoticism, are all close by.”
The flâneur is the observer of the marketplace. His knowledge is akin to the occult science of industrial fluctuations. He is a spy for the capitalists, on assignment in the realm of consumers.
In the person of the flâneur, whose idleness carries him through an imaginary city of arcades, the poet is confronted by the dandy (who weaves his way through the crowd without taking notice of the jolts to which he is exposed). Yet also in the flâneur a long-extinct creature opens a dreamy eye, casts a look that goes to the heart of the poet. It is the “son of the wilderness” – the man who, once upon a time, was betrothed, by a generous nature, to leisure. Dandyism is the last glimmer of the heroic in times of decadence.
The flâneur still stands on the threshold of the metropolis as of the middle class. Neither has him in its power yet. In neither is he at home. He seeks refuge in the crowd. The crowd is the veil through which the familiar city beckons to the flâneur as phantasmagoria – now a landscape, now a room.

Flâneurs of Les Passages Couverts
The Covered Arcades of Paris Exhibition Photographs
Web Links for more information about Les Passages Couverts:
Excellent walking tours with annotated maps on the City of Paris site
(in French):
General Introduction
1er, 2e ardts - Les passages couverts autour du Palais Royal
2e , 9e ardts - Les passages couverts autour des Grands Boulevards
2e , 10e ardts - Passages couverts autour de la Porte Saint-Denis

"Making a Pilgrimage to Cathedrals of Commerce" NY Times 2007

Association of Passages & Galeries (in French)

Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project and Contemporary Cultural Debate

Top 10 Passages of Paris

City of Paris Walking Tour Guide (in English)

Historical information and illustrations are drawn largely from the work of Patrice de Moncan, historian of the city of Paris, from his 2011 exhibition in Paris entitled Les Passages Couvert de Paris and his book of the same name published in 2002.
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