A glazed link between two busy shopping streets, the Passage du Nord is a six-storey building 70m long and 6m wide, covering just over 5,000m². The shopping arcade was designed in typical nineteenth-century eclectic style.
On the first floor of the Boulevard Adolphe Max facade are four groups of children, sculpted by Albert Desenfans, holding candleabras topped with lanterns. These sculptures underwent a detailed restoration during the overall restoration of the facade in 2001.
The interior of the arcade is graced by the presence of 32 caryatids, sculpted by Joseph Bertheux. They are made up of 4 series of the same 8 designs. Their poses and attributes make allusions to metallurgy, commerce, the navy, astronomy, architecture, sculpture, painting and the decorative arts.
In addition to these 32 statues on the interior facades, two more statues of children by Albert Desenfans decorate the sides of the footbridge. One is an allegory of recreation and the other of meditation.
At the time it was built, the Passage du Nord did not create much of a stir, given its prestigious neighbours: (i) the House of Cats at 1, Boulevard Adolphe Max, designed by the architect Henri Beyaert and completed in 1874, which won several architectural prizes and is still considered today to be an outstanding example of nineteenth-century architecture, and (ii) the Hotel Metropole, which opened in 1881, and which had, and still has today, many links with the Passage du Nord.
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The Shops in the Passage du Nord
Today, the Passage du Nord contains a wide variety of shops.
The Passage du Nord contains two jeweller’s shops, a cutlery shop, a Davidoff luxury goods shop, an oyster bar and a Neuhaus chocolate shop.
An elegant florist’s shop rubs shoulders with an optician’s shop and a chemist’s shop, not forgetting the hairdresser’s salon. If you fancy a bite to eat there are two top-quality snack bars.
You can buy the latest mobile phone or some fashion shoes. One shop offers mainstream young people’s fashion clothes, while another has a more eclectic clientele. Finally, at the Rue Neuve end are a leather-goods shop and the trendy Naf Naf fashion boutique, which attract customers from the crowds walking along the Rue Neuve, the busiest shopping street in Belgium.
This commercial diversity is the main advantage of the Passage du Nord and helps to make it a go-to attraction of the city centre.
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Listing and Renovation of the buildings
The Passage du Nord was listed in 1993. The listing protects its external facades, its shop-fronts, its interior facades, its glazed roof and its floor.
Of course, the main effect of the listed-building status is to protect the remaining original architectural features, as any work done to them must comply with the original specification and designs. The Royal Belgian Commission for Historic Monuments and Sites in the Brussels-Capital Region must thus approve any work which will affect the listed features of the building, but, in return, the approval of work by the Commission gives the owner access to subsidies from the regional government.
Since 1994, the Commission has approved the complete renovation of the Passage du Nord’s roofs, interior friezes and external facades.
Next came the programme which began in 2002 that has seen around 2/3 of the shop-fronts in the arcade restored to their original design: blue granite bases with metal-framed stained-glass windows in the centre imitating the original basement windows; oak doors and window-frames; columns clad in mirrors and shop names in panels integrated into the restored frieze, repainted in the original colours. The most recently restored shop-front is that of the Davidoff shop at the Boulevard Adolphe Max end of the arcade. The management company’s intention is to continue this restoration programme for as long as it takes for all the shop-fronts to be renovated.
In parallel to the restoration of the shop-fronts, the glazed roofs and floor have also been renovated. The floor is once again paved in slabs of Comblanchien stone, laid out according to the original plan, whose execution was confirmed by period photos.
In the future, the interior facades above the shop fronts will be renovated, with the overall objective of maintaining the undoubted charm of this attractive and busy city-centre arcade, a beautiful vestige of the Brussels of yesteryear.