For a glimpse of Belle Epoque Paris, take a stroll through Galerie Vivienne.
Some of the most beautiful but most often over-looked features of Paris are its Passages and Galeries. These small, elegant arcades which date back to the beginning of the 19th century, were inspired by the Arab Souks and covered markets of the Middle East and North Africa. This is evident in the architecture with its arches, rounded windows, domes and Egyptian tiles. It is also reflected in the original purpose of the galerie which was to allow shopkeepers to display their wares, shoppers (especially Parisiennes Bourgeoise) to browse or buy and pedestrians to pass from one area to another, under cover from the weather and away from the clamour and dirt of the streets.
Most of the Passages and Galeries are located on the Rive Droite, or Right Bank, in the Premier Arrondissement. But the best one of all is in the centre of a square bounded by landmarks of Palais Royal, La Bourse and La Place des Victoires and La Bibliotheque Nationale.
Galerie Vivienne, between Rue Vivienne, Rue des Petits Peres and Rue des Petits Champs, was the brainchild of Marchaux, then Deputy of La Chambre des Notoires. It was begun in 1823 and opened to the Public in 1826. With its beautiful mosaic floors, its wrought iron staircases, its glass rotundas and its exotic, Arabian decoration, not to mention the sophisticated boutiques, bookshops, salons de the and cafés, it was a favourite Parisian haunt until the Second Empire, when the galleries were superseded in popularity by the Grands Magasins or Department Stores.
Today, Galerie Vivienne is home to a number modern boutiques but still has some authentic, old Paris, shops which sell letter paper, etchings, pictures as well as the fascinating and impossible to leave, antique bookshop Librairie Jousseaume. It still houses elegant cafes and salons de the, like A Priori, where the chocolat chaud and the cheesecake are legendary.
The Passages and Galeries take the tourist away from the glaring, blaring, fast-paced Paris of the 21st century and back to another age of quiet charm and gracious quiet surroundings, to another, older Paris.