Rue de Rivoli – Palais-Royal

The Rue de Rivoli

Maps of the 18th century, such as the Plan de Turgot, reveal the houses and winding streets that choked the Jardin des Tuileries. To disengage the gardens and palace, Napoléon, in 1811, opened his “voie triomphale,” the Rue de Rivoli, along the north side of the Jardin des Tuileries, from the Place de la Concorde to the Place du Carrousel in the courtyard of the Château des Tuileries. He arcaded the Rue de Rivoli in “monumental style.” The Rue de Rivoli, via the Rue de Castiglione, gave access to the Place Vendôme, which Napoléon adorned with the “colonne Vendôme.”

This section of the Plan de Turgot, 1739, is reproduced in Yvan Christ and Jean-Marc Léri, Vie et histoire du 1er arrondissement (Paris: Editons Hervas, 1988), 45.


The Palais-Royal

Louis-Philippe continued construction of the Rue de Rivoli beyond the Château des Tuileries, and the Place du Palais-Royal to the Hôtel de Ville. The Palais-Royal, and the Galeries de Bois it contained, was an important place on the map of Balzac’s Paris.

Cardinal Richelieu built the Palais-Royal in the early 17th century (construction began in 1632). Richelieu willed the palace to Louis XIII in 1642, when it became Palais-Royal instead of Palais-Cardinal. Louis XIV lived there a short time; subsequently it was given to Philippe d’Orléans, brother of Louis XIV. Under the Regency it was famous for its lavish and dissolute “soupers.” In 1780, it fell into the hands of Louis-Philippe d’Orléans who, in the spirit of the times, undertook a bold plan of real-estate development. Around the three sides of the garden he built three new streets—the rue de Montpensier, rue de Beaujolais and rue de Valois. Along each street, facing the garden, he built rental apartments, under which were commercial galleries. These became a favorite strolling place for Parisians before and after the Revolution. He later constructed in the garden itself a series of wooden structures with glass skylights, which housed shops, called the Galeries de Bois.

The drawing, taken from Paris à travers les siècles (IV, 103), depicts the Palais-Royal toward the end of the 19th century, as revealed by the dress and customs of the people figured. It was, and remained then, a place of fashionable promenade.


The Café de Foy

The Duc d’Orléans allowed freedom of thought as well as of conduct within the walls of his establishment and it soon became a hotbed of revolutionary activity. During Napoleonic times and after, these commercial galleries, and the series of open-air shops and cafés that came to occupy the garden of the Palais-Royal, remained important meeting places for intellectuals as well as members of respectable Paris. The most famous of these outdoor cafés is the Café de Foy, from a table of which Camille Desmoulins launched his harangue of 1798.

The engraving, from the Bibliothèque nationale collection and reproduced in Vie et histoire du 1er arrondissement, 74-75, gives a sense of the atmosphere of the outdoor cafés of the Palais-Royal of Balzac’s time.

Clearly, the Café de Foy remained a place of intellectual ferment during Napoléon’s reign. In Balzac’s Le Centenaire, Centenarian Beringheld mysteriously appears in this establishment and engages some of its habitués in a discussion of Mesmerism and the Rosicrucian “science” of life extension. The year is 1814:

Un soir, au Palais-Royal, et dans un coin du Café de Foy, sept à huit personnes étaient réunies autour de deux tables de marbre sur lesquelles erraient des demi-tasses vides. . . (Centenaire, IV, 69.)

[One evening, in the Palais-Royal, in a corner of the Café de Foy, seven or eight individuals were sitting around two marble tables on which were scattered a number of empty demi-tasses. . .]

The Café des Milles Colonnes

At the same period, one of the major features of the Palais-Royal was the large glass rotonda that housed the Café des Milles Colonnes, which for many years was considered the most elegant establishment in the garden.

In the engraving displayed, taken from a collection of contemporary drawings preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale and reproduced in Vie et histoire du 1er arrondissement, 75, we see depicted the wife of the owner, Madame Romain, nicknamed La Belle Limonadière. Sir Walter Scott, whose historical novels were greatly admired by the young Balzac, is said to have fallen madly in love with her.

Raphael de Valentin Loses His Last Louis d’Or

The galleries of the Palais-Royal also housed a number of gambling houses that continued to flourish during the Restoration. In the opening lines of Balzac’s novel La Peau de Chagrin (1830), young Raphaël de Valentin enters a disreputable-seeming gambling house in the Palais-Royal. The year is 1826:

Vers la fin du mois d’octobre dernier, un jeune homme entra dans le Palais-Royal au moment où les maisons de jeu s’ouvraient, conformément à la loi qui protégé une passion essentiellement imposable. Sans trop hésiter, il monta l’escalier du tripot désigné sous le nom de numéro 36. (Pléiade, IX, 11.)

[Toward the end of the month of last October, a young man entered the Palais-Royal at the very moment when the gambling houses were opening their doors, in accordance with the laws that protect this passion that is eminently taxable. Without the least hesitation, he mounted the staircase of the gambling joint that bore the name of Number 36.]

Raphael loses his last piece of gold, and in despair leaves the Palais-Royal and walks toward the Seine, thinking to end it all by throwing himself in the river:

Il se trouva bientôt sous les galeries du Palais-Royal, alla jusqu’à le rue Saint-Honoré, prit le chemin des Tuileries, et traversa le jardin d’un pas indécis. . Il s’achemina vers le Pont Royal en songeant aux dernières fantaisies de ses prédécesseurs.

[He soon found himself beneath the galleries of the Palais-Royal, continued on until he reached the Rue Saint-Honoré, took the direction of the Tuileries, and crossed the garden with a halting pace. . .He headed toward the Pont Royal, mulling over in his mind the last thoughts and fantasies of those who had taken the same path.]

The engraving, from Ponts de Paris travers les siècles, 38, depicts a scene on the Pont Royal, perhaps not much different from what Raphael might have encountered.

The landscape may seem familiar, but we remember that Raphael, walking through the gardens toward the Seine, had the Palais des Tuileries to his left, which is gone today. Resisting the urge to jump into the river, Raphael crosses the Seine to the left bank, where he wanders along, looking at the shops that displayed their wares there. His gaze is, interestingly, captured by monuments familiar to today’s tourist: the Louvre, Notre Dame. Among these monuments is named the Pont-des-Arts, which was one of the first iron suspension bridges over the Seine, built by order of Napoléon in 1803, and then, as today, a footbridge.

The Galeries de Bois

Another familiar aspect of the Palais-Royal complex, as constructed by Louis-Philippe d’Orléans before the Revolution, was the Galeries de Bois, temporary galleries constructed of wood and covered by glass skylights and built in the middle of the gardens; they obstructed the view from the apartments along the permanent galleries. Erected in 1784, they were not demolished until 1826. During the Paris of the Empire and the Restoration, this was a place where female and male prostitutes gathered and where all forms of shady commerce took place. It was also the place where journalists, authors and publishers—all part of the nascent publishing industry with its shady dealings that so fascinated Balzac—went to do business. The place was gaudy, dirty and brightly lit.

The engraving, from the Collection Bulloz of the Musée Carnavalet, is reproduced in Antoine Adam’s edition of Balzac’s Illusions perdues (Paris: Garnier Frères, 1963), ix.

Lucien de Rubempré Visits the Galeries de Bois

One of the most famous and detailed descriptions of the Galeries de Bois is in Balzac’s novel Illusions perdues. Here the journalist Lousteau takes aspiring author Lucien de Rubempré, who hopes to conquer Paris with his poetry, to visit the famous bookseller-publisher Dauriat at his shop in the Galeries de Bois:

Puis les deux amis entrèrent dans les Galeries-de-Bois, où trônait alors la Librairie dite de Nouveautés. A cette époque, les Galeries de Bois constituaient une des curiosités parisiennes les plus illustres. . . (Bibliotheque de la Pléiade, IV, 690)

[Then the two friends entered the Galeries-de-Bois, where at that time reigned the press called “the novelty press.” During this period, the Galeries-de-Bois constituted one of the most illustrious curiosities of Paris.]

Balzac’s description contrasts the impermanence of the constructions—all the gaudiness and dirt of a place he calls a “gipsy encampment”—with the colossal nature of the business deals made there, a place where financiers gather before going to the Bourse or Stock Exchange, a place where great fortunes are made and lost at the gambling table—and where a freewheeling business like publishing, with all of its graft and corruption, can flourish:

Ainsi, l’opinion publique, les réputations se faisaient et se defaisaient là, aussi bien que les affaires politiques et financieres (IV, 692)

[Thus public opinion, reputations were made and unmade there, as well as political and financial deals]

The engraving, from the Bibliothèque nationale collection and reproduced in Vie et histoire du 1er arrondissement, 73, offers a good picture of the variety of people—lewd old men, prostitutes, dandies, hustlers—that frequented the Galeries-de-Bois at the time of Lucien’s visit.

Copyright © 2003 Regents of the University of California, UCR College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, Tomás Rivera Library. All rights reserved.