These superb glass-covered shopping arcades are generally credited as the first enclosed shopping “mall” in Europe. Built in 1846 after the plans of architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer, it is located just northeast of the Grand Place.
The use of the glass arcades was a technological advancement that allowed for the unification of what otherwise would be a regular street of shops into a cohesive whole. The threat of poor weather would be eliminated in a covered environment, yet the glass allowed sunlight to penetrate into the street level below and allow for a more pleasant atmosphere. This was important, because the weather in Brussels can be frequently gray and gloomy. This design set the table for later developments, such as the vaunted Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milan. Unfortunately, the concept eventually was bastardized by the typically ghastly American suburban shopping centers.
Galeries Saint-Hubert actually is composed of three arcades: the Galeries du Roi (King’s Gallery), the Galerie de la Reine (Queen’s Gallery), and the smaller Galeries des Princes (Princes’ Gallery). The elegant mauve-hued elevations are Italian Renaissance in appearance with three levels of pilastered and Palladian windows. The semicircular glazed vaulting is supported by thin metal frames. This allows for the end facades to take on a particularly attractive shape and appearance, with classical statues in niches peering over the shoppers below. The ground is laid with thick stone pavers that have endured heavy foot traffic over the years. It is said that the pavers need to be replaced soon because they are approaching the thin side, but the risk of closing off sections for construction is that business would be heavily dampened.
The motto “Omnibus omnia” (“Everything for everybody”) appears above one of the entrances. The shops here include famous bookstores that have been there seemingly forever, swanky cafes and luxury goods emporiums. There are other outlets in town selling the great Neuhaus Belgian chocolates, but the shop here is credited as the location where the first praline was invented. The upper levels house apartments for lucky locals. I am told that the rent is not terribly expensive, but the waiting list to live in one of these apartments is extraordinarily long.
A recent development within the Galeries is “Brussels On Stage,” sort of a multimedia exhibition with fifteen scenes that review the history of Brussels for visitors. This tourist attraction is wrapped around an intimate vaudeville theater dating from 1884. The rows of seats can stored away to make room for swanky receptions. Racks of brochures can come in useful for visitors.