A Brief History Of The Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert

Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert | © Mattias Hill/ WikiCommons
Paulina Gono

Right in the heart of Brussels is the magnificent Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, one of first shopping arcades built in Europe. In this solid two hundred meter long complex, amazing shop window displays lure visitors into high-end specialized boutiques or chocolate shops, and also a variety of cultural organizations. It was built in 1847, and after almost 150 years still remains a center of grandeur in Brussels — grandeur that can be admired by everyone in the spirit of its motto ‘omnibus omnia‘ (everything to everybody), which can be seen on its overarching facade.

Building a dream

The idea for the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert came from the young architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer, who had a talent for business too. In 1836, Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer decided to turn the bare streets of the area into a covered shopping complex. Cluysenaer also found a partner — a banker named Jean-André Demot, but the journey from a dream to its realization was not easy. It took the business partners nine years to deal with all the property rights; (apparently, bureaucracy in Belgium is deeply rooted).
The actual construction project itself required much less time. The papers were all set in February 1845, and the construction started in May of the same year; the inauguration was only 18 months after. The passage was inaugurated by King Leopold I and his sons.
Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer studied in the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts where he was mesmerized by the Italian Renaissance, and used this as the inspiration for the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. The complex has three sections — two 100 meter long galleries called King’s Gallery and Queen’s Gallery, and a small side Gallery of the Princess. Between King’s and Queen’s Gallery, there is a colonnade; it is the place where Rue des Bouchers crosses the arcade. The common name for all three sections — Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert — was created in 1965.

Brussels Galeries St. Hubert

History under a glass roof

La verrière de la Galerie

Interestingly, Brussels was also the first city that the Lumières brothers (the founders of cinematography) visited after debuting their first films in the Grand Café in Paris. These ten short movies — called moving pictures at the time — were screened in the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert in March 1st, 1896. These movies were very short, with just a few seconds each, combined to be seven minutes and 24 seconds in total. The cinephile scene continues to this day, as the arcade now hosts the prominent Cinéma GALERIES, a popular spot screening art-house films.
Perhaps another notable distinction is that the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert contains several letters and manuscripts by renowned scientists, artists and cultural figures. The Museum of Letters and Manuscripts houses an extensive collection showcasing the correspondence and personal thoughts of some of the world’s most historic figures in the arts and sciences including Einstein, Van Gogh and Brussels’ own Jacques Brel.

Galeries Royales St. Hubert
landscape with balloons floating in the air


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