Passages with Personality
Before I broadened my exploration of Paris’ passages, I had a mental image of a “typical” one, something like the elegant, streamlined Passage du Bourg l’Abbé:
It was, to my mind, a classic 19th-century passage with glass ceiling, swank shops, and polished wood paneling.
But what about a pre-French Revolution passage with a colourful Art Deco roof? Or a passage that broadens into a space topped with a rotunda? Or a passage with atriums that open to the sky? How about one featuring a monumental clock automaton? And what does a 21st-century passage look like?
Maybe the “classic” one isn’t so typical. Like the parks of Paris, each passage has its own history and personality.
Pre-French Revolution passage with Art Deco roof
Passage du Prado
This originally uncovered passage was created in 1785. Its Art Deco roof and colourful decorations were added in 1925.
The alternate realities of three passages
On the Right Bank lies a stretch of three passages in a row, each linked to some form of alternate reality.
Passage des Panoramas
Nothing remains of the 19th century “panoramas” that gave this passage its name in 1800. The panorama was a scene — natural or urban — painted onto a rotunda. The viewer would climb stairs to a platform that allowed a maximal experience of the place depicted.
An enterprising American shipbuilder constructed two towers along Boulevard Montmartre featuring such panoramas, and opened them to the paying public. In order to offer visitors a comfortable and sheltered access to the towers, he constructed the Passage des Panoramas.
The towers with their painted rotundas were demolished in 1831. All that remains of the escape fantasies of Boulevard Montmartre is the name of the Passage des Panoramas. That, and the abiding human desire to experience a convincing elsewhere.
Two entrepreneurs — one of them a caricaturist named Grévin — created Passage Jouffroy.
The two eventually opened a wax museum with a façade in the passage. Musée Grévin, the Parisian version of Madame Tussaud’s in London, housed its own special brand of alternate reality.
Walking north, the streak of preserved passages continues with Passage Verdeau, a marketplace for collectors of antiques and books.
Bibliophiles are lured by the warm wood and colourful book spines of La Librairie du Passage. The bookstore is the heart of the passage, a haven for interrogators of reality.
A Passage with a Rotunda
Passage Brady widens to create breathing space in the narrow walkway, and geometrical interest in the rotunda that covers it. The narrow walkway on the other side no longer exists; it was truncated when Haussmann created Boulevard de Strasbourg.
Passage with open-air atriums
Quartier de l’Horloge
During the late 1970s, an updated version of the Parisian passage opened: Le Quartier de l’Horloge (The Clock District) and its two Passages de l’Horloge.
The developer commissioned a monumental clock automaton (in which sculpted figures become animated at certain times, like a cuckoo clock). Defender of Time features a man with a sword, who at the top of each hour would fend off one of three attacking animals: a crab, a dragon, or a bird — and at times, all three.
Decades later, the urban experiment could not fend off certain monetary and commercial forces that prevented it from functioning like a well-oiled automaton. Shops and restaurants moved away, and the arcades of the passage closed off. The clock, too expensive to maintain, has ceased working. It’s not clear whether it can be reset.
Paris again re-invented the passage at Beaupassage, an open-air arcade of high-end shops, restaurants, and sculptural art. An entrance to Beaupassage:
La Traversée (The Crossing): a huge cardboard forest sculpture lining a covered walkway leading into Beaupassage:
Sculptures in the large, open-air courtyard:
A tropical entrance to Beaupassage:
Next: A Paris Mashup