Passages were designed in the 19th century to give Parisians protection from mud and horse-drawn vehicles.
Galerie Vivienne is a beautiful restored nineteenth century passage with entrances at the rue des Petits-Champs, rue de la Banque and rue Vivienne.
It was built in 1823 with a neo-classical Pompeian style which included a gorgeous canopy and was decorated with mosaics, paintings and sculptures. It's most famous "resident" is Jean Paul Gaultier, who has a shop there.
Many of passage entrances are easy to miss, so be on the lookout! Sometimes where you emerge at the other end can be quite a surprise! Many are closed at night and on Sundays. Not only are passages free but they are great on a rainy day.
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A Fantastic Journey through Hidden Parisian Shopping Centers
During my three-day stay in Paris, I found five labyrinths of passageways from the late 18th century full of boutiques and bistros. One of my favorites was Galerie Vivienne. If you manage to peel your eyes away from its gorgeous neo-classical decor, you can buy a great wine at Les Caves Legrand and then browse the books at a biblitoeque. I even found a book with the same bookstore on the cover.
Nearly two hundred years ago, precursors of the modern indoor shopping mall were built all over Paris. There used to be hundreds of these covered "passages" or "galeries," but now only a couple dozen are left, mostly in the 2e arrondissement. Galerie Vivienne is on the border of the 1er and 2e arrondissement with an entrance on Rue des Petits Champs. Inside, like many of the others, there is an eclectic selection of specialty shops and restaurants. Even if you can't afford the upscale boutiques, just the architecture and interior embellishments themselves make it worth a visit. I felt like I was walking into another era.