The first covered shopping passages appeared in Paris near the end of the eighteenth century. At their peak, there was a network of more than 200 passages, many interconnected and ornately decorated (Muschamp, 2000). Parisian passages flourished until competition from large department stores, and the Haussmannization of Paris during the Belle Époque period, precipitated a decline in their popularity. However, these unique glass and steel structures captured the artistic imagination of writers, photographers, and painters as they epitomize the culture of 19th Century Paris. One of the most renowned passages is the Galerie Vivienne.
The newly covered passages created a space very new to Parisians. Gas lighting and heating were new additions. The ornately decorated, illuminated covered passages were the prototype for the grand department stores which would take over the streets following the Haussmannization of Paris. The passages were very different from the city, and offered a sheltered escape from the dirt and noise on the busy streets. They were used as a shortcut or escape from the overcrowded streets at the time (Street, 2012). Paris’s makeover allowed for passages to be lined with elegant shops, cafes and theaters. The passages invited Parisians to come and walk and observe the newly renovated spaces. When the passages were built, the streets of Paris were small and gross, so they attracted people into these covered passages as a way to escape. These people were known as the flaneurs. Flaneurs were given that title for their keen observations as they strolled through the passages and observed anything that caught their eye. This act of observing became an art of sort. It wasn’t about the purchasing of anything. It was only about the act of looking at the things around them. The reconstruction of Paris, known as Haussmannization, destroyed many of the passages with the widening of the boulevards and the creation of department stores. Fortunately, the Galerie Vivienne remained a renowned location due to the renovation and its unique chic- style.
The Galerie Vivienne built in 1823 is one of about 20 passages still prominent in Paris due to its renovations. With its glass domed ceiling, brass lamps, intricate Italian mosaic tile floors and ornate reliefs, the gallerie exudes elegance and attracted may flaneurs to observe, wander and, shop. The covered Galerie does not lack natural lighting. Structurally, the arcades’ iron frames support panels of glass that allow light into the interior space, much like a greenhouse, Several of the roof panels even open to allow fresh air to circulate. Iron beams are really the first construction material that makes the architecture of the 1820’s revolutionary. The passageway was especially radical at night because they were illuminated by the latest technology:gas lamps. The main aisle of the space is surmounted by a cupola shaped glass canopy. The lighting illuminates different parts of the unique space. The light from the archway accentuates the depth of the passage and creates shadows on the interior space. The natural sunlight streaming through the steel and glass roof illuminates the work and casts shadows which add dimension and vitality. The repetition of the arches creates a sense of verticality and prolonged extension. The lines of the metal grating in the foreground. The mosaic floor tiles add additional circular element to the curved arches that dominate the structure. The photographs of the Galerie Vivienne are usually taken in a straightforward manner, without using unusual angles or distortion to capture a documentary style. Many famous photographers photographed the Galerie, not only for its exquisite beauty but for documentation. The capturing of the images represents a pivotal moment in the history of the city as they show a shift in culture from the passages to the department stores.
The Galerie, popular to many, especially artists, has three separate entrances, some harder to find than others.The main entrance is at 4 Rue de Petits Champs. The passage attracts many people to wander observe and shop. As soon as you step through the small doors with unique door knockers, you are transported into its own mini-world outside the bustling city of Paris. The Galerie was built to bring people to one specific shopping area for all of their needs. Flaneur was the act of observing, and it became part of the art (Rollason, 4). It was a prominent cultural movement at the time, but after Haussmannization, the passages began to target people to shop as well as to observe because they had to compete with department stores and growing consumerism. The transformation started to shift. This marked the moment of transition of the vibrant culture of paris to the consumer world. To preserve this important culture of the city, Paris has made an effort to restore them (Woodward, 2007). The Galerie, home to many fashion boutiques and bookshops as well as wine vendors, has something for everyone. Some of the top attractions are the Legrand filles et fils which is thought to be one of the best wine shops in Paris. Jean-Paul Gaultier opened his first shop in 1986 in the Galerie and the flagship store remains (Beck, 2012). It is also home to galleries, stores and restaurants making it a destination for natives as well as tourists. Best of all, during Christmas time the Galerie gets a sparkling upgrade with decorations lining the entire passage.
While the creation of department stores in many ways has allowed the city of Paris to grow, there is something incredibly unique about wandering down the passages. Discovering hidden parts of the city is part of the charm. The Galerie Vivienne never disappoints to transport one back to 19th century Paris with vivid architectural design and aura. The transformation of the Galerie is seen through photography. The documentation from many famous photographers keep this historic landmark alive. As soon as one enters the Galerie, you are imminently brought back into 19th century Paris getting a look at what life back then would have been like. Allow yourself to wander and explore the unique hidden gem of Paris.