The Passages of Paris

Passage de l’Opéra (Galerie de l’Horloge) and Passage de l’Opéra (from the rue Le Peletier) (,c. 1868

Passage de l’Opéra (Galerie de l’Horloge) (ninth arrondissement), c. 1868
albumen print from collodion negative
Musée Carnavalet, Paris
Image © Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet

Passage de l’Opéra (from the rue Le Peletier) (ninth arrondissement), c. 1868
albumen print from collodion negative
Musée Carnavalet, Paris
Image © Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet

The Passage de l’Opéra, named for the nearby Opéra Le Peletier, was inaugurated in 1823. The passage was formed by a pair of parallel two-story galleries for shops, cafés, a restaurant, and a nightclub, as well as apartments on the top floor. Marville photographed both galleries and the glass-roofed corridor that connected them. The Passage de l’Opéra disappeared in 1926 on the completion of boulevard Haussmann.

Passages, iron and glass-covered shopping arcades, were introduced in Paris in the late 18th century and reached a fever pitch of popularity in the 1830s. Boasting a variety of shops with window displays of luxury goods, the passages were often located near theaters and also offered restaurants and cafés. Skylights provided illumination during the day, while indoor gas lighting made late-night socializing and commerce possible. A mid-19th-century guidebook described the arcade as “a city, a world in miniature, in which customers will find everything they need.” Although more than 140 covered passages were built, most were destroyed during the second half of the 19th century as shoppers gravitated toward the new grands magasins (large department stores) that offered a staggering proliferation of goods under a single roof.