On our first day in Brussels in May of 2012 we walked up the hill from our hotel to visit the Grand Place and environs and on our way came across one of Europe’s first great shopping arcades: The Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert.
In 1836 an architect named Jean-Pierre Cluysenaar conceived of a three-lane arcade in a then rundown area near the Grand Place between the Rue de Marche aux Herbes and Montagne aux Herbes Potageres and his dream came true when the arcade consisting of more than 70 boutiques, restaurants and theaters opened to the public in 1847. The three lanes — Galerie du Roi, Galerie de la Reine and Galerie des Princes — are completely covered by glass inside a cast iron framework. Cluysenaar’s design is similar to the arcades that began sprouting up in different parts of Europe in the middle of the 19th century and are considered the forerunners of the modern shopping center. The St Hubert galleries are three stories high but the shops are only on the ground floor. The upper floors are reserved for private apartments.
The arcade became well known for the luxury shopping sprees it offered the rich and famous who could now shop and dine and play in the city and not have to worry about inclement weather. Soon the city’s intelligentsia began to frequent the Vaudeville restaurant next door to the Theatre de Vaudeville. Victor Hugo and some of his buddies were often seen just hanging out in the restaurants and shops. The arcade became known as The Umbrella of Brussels.
Today there are still 54 luxury shops in the arcade (including several chocolate shops) and the two theaters have been recently restored. There’s also a Museum of Letters and Manuscripts that features notes by Einstein and the letters and papers of Belgium’s own Georges Simenon and a movie theater that opened on March 1, 1896 with the first public showing of moving pictures. Click here to see an interactive map of all the current establishments.
The St Hubert Galleries are often compared to the Burlington Arcade (1819) in London and The Passage (1848) in St Petersburg. It also precedes by thirty years the famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II of Milan which we visited on our trip to Italy in 2009. Click here to read my posting on our experience with what I called Milan’s Most Famous Intersection.
We visited several other places that day on our walk to and from the Grand Place. My next posting will cover our tour of St Nicholas Church which is just a couple of blocks away from the Royal Galleries.