Tucked away in amongst the busy thoroughfares of Bordeaux are a couple of covered arcades which offer a time capsule-like glimpse into the ...

Passage Sarget and Galerie Bordelaise: arcade games and the birth of Mollat

Tucked away in amongst the busy thoroughfares of Bordeaux are a couple of covered arcades which offer a time capsule-like glimpse into the shopping malls of yesteryear.

Our first stop is the elegant Passage Sarget, which connects Place du Chapelet with Cours de l’Intendance. Opened in 1878, the arcade is named after Baron Sarget, a local dignitary (his mansion house was located nearby) who funded its construction.

In 1917, Passage Sarget was purchased by the wine trader Nicolas Désiré-Cordier. Just two years later he sold it on to the city of Bordeaux for 1 million francs. The city was keen to acquire the passageway because pedestrians far preferred walking through the arcade to the road that runs parallel, Rue Martignac, which was considered unsafe at the time.

Top left is Rue Martignac, which is possibly not as rough as it once was.
During later renovations, archaeological digs took place and uncovered the traces of ancient baths and mosaics. Some objects which were retrieved dated back to the 1st century… Don’t expect to be able to enjoy a hot bath there now though; the arcade is solely comprised of luxury shops and tearooms! However, the atmosphere is unique, thanks in part to the arcade’s glass roof and metal framework, which for many years was obscured by a suspended ceiling.

Elegant features, classy shops and all within easy reach of the tram!
The second, slightly older exhibit is Galerie Bordelaise, which forms an unusual diagonal channel through the middle of its surrounding buildings, between Rue des Piliers de Tutelle and Rue Sainte-Catherine. This arcade was the work of the architect Gabriel-Joseph Durand and opened for the first time in April 1834. It had initially been funded by four rich South-American traders who had fled war in Mexico.

 
Possibly the most timeless of the thirteen trade units in the arcade is the Verdeun scale model and toy shop. As well as its arcade-side entrance, the roadside shopfront of this store is particularly charming (it will feature in another blog item further down the line). The shop was founded in 1948 by Maurice Verdeun, a successful track cyclist who won a world championship title in 1950! His sons Bruno and Frédéric now run the shop.

Despite undergoing renovations, funded by the outlets themselves (which also include a bicycle shop, a shoe shop, a café, a chemists and a theatre and concert booking office), the arcade is looking the worse for wear: cracked windowpanes, peeling paintwork and moulded or sculpted features that need attention. Furthermore, a number of the units are currently unoccupied and have been for some time. Will Galerie Bordelaise ever make a full recovery and enjoy the kind of golden period it experienced a century ago?


For it was here that, in 1896, a young man called Albert Mollat took over a small bookshop that had previously belonged to his cousin (I have yet to work out which Galerie Bordelaise unit it was located in). Mollat adopted an ambitious pricing strategy, branched out into publishing itself and by 1928 the shop had outgrown its premises. It moved to a new location, taking over property on the spot of the final Bordeaux living quarters of the writer and thinker Montesquieu. The shop, which is still called Mollat, is part of the genetic makeup of anyone who lives in Bordeaux. It has continued to flourish and expand, and today ranks as the biggest independent bookshop in France.

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