The Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert in Brussels: an architectural gem
This impressive covered pedestrian street served as a passageway between two main streets in the heart of Brussels. And, since the 19th century, many luxury stores have adorned the ground floor of these galleries, which were genuine showcases of modernity back in the day.
The distant precursors of these galleries were the covered streets of Roman markets and Oriental bazaars. But their most direct inspiration is a stone-covered walkway on a Parisian shopping street dating back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
After Belgium's independence in 1830, industry and commerce soared. Under the impetus of the bourgeoisie, the centre of Brussels became a thriving shopping area. In 1836, the architect Jan Pieter Cluysenaar, then 25 years old, had the idea to connect Rue du Marché Aux Herbes to Rue de la Montagne aux Herbes Potagères via a gallery. To do this, the maze of sordid and ill-famed alleyways, including Rue Saint-Hubert had to disappear following expropriations and the demolition of this district. The administrative and financial aspect of the project alone took nine years, with the buildings' owners proving to be reluctant to leave their premises. The protests sometimes had dramatic outcomes. One barber even went so far as to cut his own throat with his razor rather than agree to being evacuated while the neighbouring houses were being demolished.
From slum to the most luxurious galleries of the time
But the architect Cluysenaar persevered! He was able to convince King Leopold I that his project would be a symbol of the prosperity of the new Belgium. Although Brussels already had magnificent districts in the upper part of the city, with Brussels Park/Royal Park, Rue Royale and its beautiful surroundings, the city centre still needed to expand its prestigious areas. Inevitably, such arguments from Cluysenaar won over the new monarch.
On 6 May 1846, Leopold I finally laid the first stone of the project in the presence of his wife and children during a festive ceremony. He returned on 20 June 1847 for the formal inauguration of this architectural gem. In his honour, the original name of Passage Saint-Hubert, in reference to the former Rue Saint-Hubert, was renamed in three sections as Galerie du Roi, Galerie de la Reine and Galerie des Princes. It was not until 1965 that the complex was named Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert.
In the middle of the 19th century, the Galeries Saint-Hubert was the longest, highest and most beautiful shopping mall in the world, offering exceptional natural light thanks to its vast 200-metre long glass roof. Divided into six levels, the space features a basement level, a ground floor with luxury stores, a mezzanine level, two floors with apartments and an attic space hidden beneath the glass roof. With its marble-covered lower walls, copper-rimmed display cases, and large cast-iron house numbers, gold, red and black abound in a style that ranges between neo-Renaissance and neo-classicism.
In addition to its initial commercial function, the galleries also used to be a hotbed for cultural life and entertainment, with theatres, cinemas, ballrooms, a newsroom, and a place for literary meetings. Even today, theatres, a cinema and a bookshop have their place alongside the luxury stores, chocolatiers cafés and restaurants.
A beautiful heritage to cherish!