The secret passages of central Paris

Right in the centre of the city there are at least three passages that people often miss. If not completely secret, a few of them are pretty well hidden. Each has its own style and ambience, and the three we’ve chosen will take you on a journey back in time from the rue de Montmorency into the heart of the pedestrian Montorgeuil area. Time to discover them then!

photos : JasonW

Our journey starts at 223 rue Saint Martin, slightly north of the rue de Montmorency and the apartment that we have to rent there.. A very ordinary-looking blue door hides a haven of peacefulness: the passage de l’Ancre (Anchor Passage).

The passage was restored less than ten years ago, and with its numerous plants you instantly feel like you’re somewhere else, like a village. In the past it was called the passage de l’Ancre-Royale, then the passage l’Ancre-Nationale. Where does the name come from? Around 1637 there was an inn called Au Grand Saint Pierre run by Nicolas Sauvage. M. Sauvage was the first to invent the system of ‘fiacres’, the precursor of the taxi. Some of them were permanently reserved for the Royal Marines, hence the name.

Nowadays, the passage has a few workshops, one for kids and another for cooking: l’Atelier de Fréd (Fréd rose to minor fame after a TV show documented his culinary travels around the world).

When you reach the end of the passage, there’s a strange shop dummy shop (in fact there are quite a few of these in the area. Odd!). I didn’t even know that the made pregnant shop dummies, but come to think of it it makes perfect sense!

The exit of the passage leaves you on rue de Turbigo, but before the boulevard de Sébastopol was created it continued on, leading to the passage Bourg l’Abbé. We cross the road junction to get to it…

The entrance and height of this passage are impressive. The two caryatids at the entrance are allegories for commerce and industry. Once inside though, you’ll see that the place is in need of repair. The glass roof hints of a former splendour…

It’s not really a place where you’d like to linger, despite a few curiosities such as the carpenter’s workshop of the PR agency and its slightly odd window display…

We continue across the rue Saint Denis and enter the beautiful passage du Grand Cerf.

It is said to have the highest roof of any Parisian passage: 12 metres! It was made around 1835 looks splendid since it was restored around ten years, noble even, even if the shops contained in it were more for artisans and small objects rather than luxury items. certain details are particularly well conserved, like this staircase that swoops up and round behind a diplay case, and these sculpted frescos at one end…

There’s quite a diversity of shops here; furniture (both exotic and designer), a florist, an estate agent, a couple of PR agencies, and quite a few small designers selling their clothes, jewellery, designer objects, toys.. One shop even sells just candles for birthday cakes! Definitely to be explored, and a good way to reach the pleasant pedestrian area of rue Montorgueil

The passage also has its own site and on 9th December 2008 will be held the “surprises du Grand Cerf”. All the boutiques will be open on the 9th, 15thand 22nd December.

So here’s the route. Have fun exploring! And you can see the rest of our photos in the Flickr galleries here, here and here.

Agrandir le plan