Les Halles: yet another controversial project in the heart of Paris

I have so many posts in the works for this blog: 18th court costume, the two wives of Louis XIV, Marie-Thérèse and Madame de Maintenon, film reviews, book reviews… But this morning I am in an autumn mood. I love fall, for me it is a season of hope and new beginnings. So I wanted to discuss something new, and the architectural plans of the Municipality of Paris for the district of Les Halles caught my eye.

To many Parisians and tourists, Chatelet-Les Halles is the largest public transportation hub of Paris. Alas, the construction of the underground station came at an shameful cost, the destruction of the splendid Pavillons Baltard (below) that had housed since the 19th century Paris’s central food market (the market itself had been there since the 12th century…) For an idea of what Les Halles used to look like, I refer you to the scene with Jodie Foster in the remarkable film A Very Long Engagement.

Halles-Pavillons-Baltard

Halles Pavillons Baltard

So only two of the Pavillons were saved and rebuilt elsewhere (one in Japan, the other in the suburb of Nogent), the food market moved to a more modern and appropriate setting in Rungis, to the south of Paris. But the demolition left for years a giant pit in the heart of the city. Parisians called this lasting eyesore Le trou des Halles (“The Pit of Les Halles.”) Finally the current thriving underground shopping mall, called Le Forum des Halles, was built on its location. End of story?

Oh no! Paris may appear to some as a museum-city, but it is always in flux. So now the Municipality has laid out plans for the new Les Halles: this time it will be Le Carreau des Halles (“The Square of Les Halles.”) For an illustrated history of the district, and an idea of what the future holds in store, see this slide show on the site of the daily Le Monde.

What do I think of the future Canopée? Truth be told, not much. It seems that it will obscure two of the enduring landmarks of the district: the Church of Saint-Eustache, gem of the gothic and Renaissance architecture, and the round Bourse du Commerce (former commodity exchange, built in the 19th century.) It should be time to end publicly sponsored vandalism in this historic district.

As Le Monde writes, this new operation, scheduled to begin in 2013, may yet run into some snags. I do hope so.

Les Halles panoramic view with Saint-Eustache

Les Halles panoramic view with Saint-Eustache

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