PARIS PASSAGES: Historical Precedents of the Modern Mall

If there is a place that can ignite a person’s passion for history and architecture, it is Paris. History here is not the stuff of boring text books, it’s the city that lives and breaths around us each day telling stories of how they came to be.

Paris Rendezvous

If you’re wandering the streets of central Paris’s 1st and 2nd arrondissements, you are bound to stumble into one of the city’s passages. The old clock below the glass ceiling, still ticking, reminds you that despite appearances, time has not stopped here after all. The old tile floors of the narrow passageway are lined with shops and craftsmen’s ateliers, each one with their original wooden façades and glass street lamps. The passages are like a little maze of history you can walk through and see Paris of the past, yet somehow they go largely undiscovered by tourists. Some better known than others of course, each with their unique name, Passage des Panoramas, Passage Bourg L’abbé, Passage Brady, and so on…!

Paris’s passages, or arcades and galleries as we also call them, are the true precursors of the modern indoor mall. They were constructed in the early 18th century as places of commerce, covered by glass and iron roofs to shield pedestrians from the elements, but leaving each space bathed in a delicate light. A century later most of them had fallen into disrepair, all but forgotten as the commercial spaces competed with new large department stores. Luckily though, their charm endured and history and architecture lovers like myself restored them to their original glory, repopulating them with quirky little shops, booksellers, woodworkers, cafés, wine merchants and more.

I learned about the passages in my French history course at university here in Paris, but it took me some time to actually go and discover them. Now they are some of my favorite places to return to, wander, and discover. I wanted to share this little secret with you so if you make it to Paris you can experience them too, and of course be reminded that wherever we are, there are beautiful little corners of our cities worth revisiting and being inspired by every day…

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