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Discovering the Art Nouveau Galeries Lafayette Cupola…

The Galeries Lafayette Cupola is Art Nouveau in architectural style and is almost as much of an institution in Paris as the nearby Palais Garnier Opéra House. Recently restored for the first time in its 100+ year old history, a few days ago I was invited to have a look inside the newly restored 8th arrondissement gem.

I was invited to Galeries Lafayette to have a behind the scenes look of the historic cupola. However, all photos and opinions are my own.

Galeries Lafayette Cupola

Galeries Lafayette Cupola

Galeries Lafayette is one of the main grand department stores in Paris along with Printemps, BHV, Le Bon Marché, and the recently restored La Samaritaine. Conceived at the beginning of the 20th-century to be a Luxury Bazaar selling all manner of goods to Parisians, the oldest building of Galeries Lafayette is that which houses the great cupola (cupole in French).

43 metres high and 43 metres wide, the cupola was created in a warm colour after the neo-Byzantine style. Originally, the cupola’s ceiling would have been covered in colour glass. Unfortunately, during WWII, the city of Paris mandated that all glass ceilings in Paris be removed in case an explosion caused the glass to shatter.

Though the coloured glass panes were stored somewhere for safekeeping, unfortunately the space was a little too safe and the panes were never re-discovered. The original glass was replaced by clear window panes. No one knows exactly what colours the panes were because the only photos we have in evidence are in black and white.

Galeries Lafayette Christmas tree: feeling festive in Paris, France

First restoration of the Galeries Lafayette Cupola

Despite what you might think, the Art Nouveau Cupola’s architecture is actually much more complex than first appears. You see, instead of just being one domed space, the cupola is actually formed of several different spaces, all inside of one another.

One way of getting an idea of the sheer size of the cupola is to spy it from the Galeries Lafayette rooftop terrace. Newly revamped just a couple of years ago, the space is free to visit and offers unparalleled beautiful 360 views of plenty of iconic Parisian monuments including the Sacré-Coeur and the Eiffel Tower. The rooftop space is also home to a couple of well-reviewed restaurants.

galeries lafayette cupola exterior
Galeries Lafayette Rooftop Terrace: one of the best panoramic views of Paris, France

As well as the dome you see from the interior of the store, the entire structure is encased in another dome which ensures it to be weatherproof, among other things. Within the two domes, there’s a fairly cavernous space which consists of structural beams, pulley systems (which allow the suspension of the annual Galeries Lafayette Christmas tree, among other things), and a complex lighting system.

This is the part of the cupola which is usually closed to the public for safety reasons but is the area that we were invited to explore with several of the architects who worked on the project in order to get a behind the scenes view of just how complex the cupola is!

One of the many unique aspects of restoring the Galeries Lafayette cupola was that the scaffolding could not be erected within the department store itself as it would detract from the visitor shopping experience. As such, the first port of call was to create a way of restoring and cleaning the many glass panes through the roof.

cupole galeries lafayette

The restoration project lasted over the span of two years, with the work largely taking place during the nighttime. One of the cooler aspects of the recently renovated cupola is that the new clear glass that was put up includes a special technology which means that it can be projected onto.

LED lighting was also installed, as well as a more modern pulley system which will ensure that the department store can suspend installations in the cupola for many generations to come.

As well as allowing daylight in, the glass can be projected onto from the interior of the storefront, which will undoubtedly be yet another visual appealing aspect for future collaborations and shows that the Galeries Lafayette puts on.

Discovering the Art Nouveau Galeries Lafayette Cupola...
Discovering the Art Nouveau Galeries Lafayette Cupola...

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