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Passage Vivienne


Passage Vivienne

PASSAGE VIVIENNE

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Passage Vivienne
Passage Vivienne
Passage Vivienne
Passage Vivienne
Passage Vivienne


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ABOUT AND HISTORY

Passage Vivienne

Conceived by town planners in the nineteenth century to protect pedestrians from mud and horse-drawn vehicles, the passages, or shopping arcades, are now enjoying a new lease of life as havens from traffic. By around 1840 there were over one hundred of them, but a number were later destroyed to make way for Haussmann's boulevards and only twenty remain. For decades they were left to crumble and decay, but many have recently been renovated and restored to something approaching their former glory and are being colonized by chic boutiques. Their entrances are easy to miss and where you emerge at the other end can be quite a surprise. Most are closed at night and on Sundays.

The most homogeneous and aristocratic of the passages, with painted ceilings and panelled shop fronts divided by faux marble columns, is Galerie Véro-Dodat (between rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs and rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau; M° Palais-Royal-Musée-du-Louvre), named after the two pork butchers who set it up in 1824. It's recently been spruced up, and fashionable new shops have begun to open up in place of the older businesses. Retaining the old style at no. 26, Monsieur Capia still keeps a collection of antique dolls in a shop piled high with miscellaneous curios.

The Banque de France lies a short way northwest of Galerie Véro-Dodat. Rather than negotiating its massive bulk to reach the passages further north, it's more pleasant to walk through the garden of the Palais Royal via place de Valois. Rue de Montpensier, running alongside the gardens to the west, is connected to rue de Richelieu by several tiny passages, of which Hulot brings you out at the statue of Molière on the junction of rues Richelieu and Molière. A certain charm also lingers about rue de Beaujolais, bordering the northern end of the gardens, with its corner café looking out on the Théâtre du Palais-Royal, and with glimpses into the venerable Grand Véfour restaurant, plus more short arcades leading up to rue des Petits-Champs.

On the other side of rue des Petits-Champs, just to the left as you come from rue de Beaujolais, looms the forbidding wall of the Bibliothèque Nationale Richelieu, part of whose enormous collection has been transferred to the new François Mitterrand site in the 13e. The library's origins go back to the 1660s, when Louis XIV's finance minister Colbert deposited a collection of royal manuscripts here, and it was first opened to the public in 1692. Visiting its temporary exhibitions (closed Sun) will give you access to some of the more beautiful parts of the building ? the Galerie Mazarine in particular, with its panelled ceilings painted by Romanelli. You can also see a display of coins and ancient treasures in the Cabinet des Monnaies, Médailles et Antiques (Mon?Fri 9am?6pm, Sat 9am?5pm; free). There's no restriction on entering the library, nor on peering into the atmospheric reading rooms. Researchers take their cigarette and sandwich breaks in a courtyard on rue Vivienne, in a corner of which stands a pensive statue of Jean-Paul Sartre.

Galerie Colbert, one of two passages linking rue Vivienne with rue des Petits-Champs is currently closed and is due to be incorporated into a new national institute of art history, under the umbrella of the Bibliothèque Nationale, though you can still access the 1830s-style brasserie, Le Grand Colbert (see "Listings"), to which senior librarians and academics retire for lunch. The flamboyant decor of Grecian and marine motifs in the larger Galerie Vivienne establishes the perfect ambience in which to buy Jean-Paul Gaultier gear, or you can browse in the antiquarian bookshop, Librairie Jousseaume, which dates back to the passage's earliest days.

From here you can detour three blocks west past the Bibliothèque Nationale to see a more workaday passage. The passage Choiseul, between rue des Petits-Champs and rue St-Augustin, has takeaway food, cheap clothes shops, stationers and bars, plus a few arty outlets along its tiled length of almost 200m. It was here that the author Louis-Ferdinand Céline lived as a boy, a period and location vividly recounted in his novel Death on Credit.

Back at Galerie Vivienne, you can exit onto rue Vivienne and head north for further passages. En route you'll pass the Bourse, the Paris stock exchange (?8.50), an imposing Neoclassical edifice built under Napoleon in 1808 and enlarged in 1903 with the addition of two side wings. To visit you'll need to book in advance on 01.49.27.55.55. guided tours around the eerily quiet building (most of the action takes place on-line these days) last about an hour and include a presentation on how Parisbourse works. Overshadowing the Bourse from the south is the antennae-topped building of AFP, the French news agency. Rue Réaumur, running east from here, used to be the Fleet Street of Paris, but now only Le Figaro's central offices remain, on the junction of rue Montmartre and rue du Louvre, alongside a mural of tulips laid across newspaper cuttings.

The grid of arcades north of the Bourse, just off rue Vivienne, is known as the passage des Panoramas. In need of a little repair and not as elegant as some of the other passages, it combines old-fashioned chic and workaday atmosphere. Most of the eateries make no pretence at style, but one old brasserie, L'Arbre à Cannelle (see "Listings"), has fantastic carved wood panelling, and there are still bric-a-brac shops, stamp and secondhand postcard dealers and a printshop with its original 1867 fittings. It was around the Panoramas, in 1817, that the first Parisian gas lamps were tried out.

In passage Jouffroy, across boulevard Montmartre, a M. Segas sells walking canes and theatrical antiques opposite a shop displaying every conceivable fitting and furnishing for a doll's house. Near the romantic Hôtel Chopin, Paul Vulin spreads his secondhand books along the passageway, and Ciné-Doc serves cinephiles. Crossing rue de la Grange-Batelière, you enter passage Verdeau, where a few of the old postcard and camera dealers still trade alongside smart new art galleries and a designer Italian delicatessen.

At the top of rue Richelieu, the tiny passage des Princes, with its beautiful glass ceiling, stained-glass decoration and twirly lamps, was due at the time of writing to be taken over by the toy emporium JouéClub and set to become one of the largest toy stores in Paris. Its erstwhile neighbour, the passage de l'Opéra, described in surreal detail by Louis Aragon in Paris Peasant, was eaten up with the completion of Haussmann's boulevards. While in this area, you could also take a look at what's up for auction at the Paris equivalent of Christie's and Sotheby's, the Hôtel Drouot (9 rue Drouot; M° Le Peletier & M° Richelieu-Drouot). To spare any fear of unintended hand movements landing you in the bankruptcy courts, you can simply wander round looking at the goods before the action starts (11am?6pm on the eve of the sale, 11am?noon on the day itself). Auctions are announced in the press, under "Ventes aux Enchères"; you'll find details, including photos of pieces, in the widely available weekly Gazette de l'Hôtel Drouot or on their website www.drouot.fr.

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All photographs are copyright "Eric Rougier / FromParis.com". Please, do not to use without written authorization.
The pyramid of the Louvre museum: Leoh Ming Pei, architect. "La Geode": Adrien Fainsilber, architect.
The "Grande Arche": Otto van Spreckelsen, architect. Bibliotheque Nationale de France: Dominique Perrault, architect.
Lighting of the Eiffel Tower is copyright "Societe Nouvelle d'Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel".
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