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

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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5 Comments to “Les Halles: yet another controversial project in the heart of Paris”

  1. Catherine Delors says:

    You are welcome, Elisa! And Saint-Eustache is one of the most “historic” churches in all of Paris, and its organ is rated the best in France. All the more reason to respect this wonderful district…

  2. Elisa says:

    When I was on summer study aboard in July 2004, our hotel was right within Les Halles. I attended Saturday evening Mass at L’eligse St-Eustache (center, last photo) which was a short walk from where we were housed.
    Thanks for the flashback!

  3. Richard says:

    I will view it.

    Hving a minor in history she is very capable to see any non-historical themes. She has a tendency to be my Frankensteins monster.

    This weekend is the anniversary of the 1st battle of the Marne and the salvation of Paris in the Great War. It was as near run a thing as Waterloo.


  4. Catherine Delors says:

    If you get a chance to see A Very Long Engagement , Richard, I would love to have your opinion. I rate it among the best historical films, and am not surprised your daughter loved it. It manages to honor the courage and sacrifice of the troops and their loved ones during World War I without being jingoistic, and it is also pays tribute to the strength of undying hope and love.

    The destruction of the Pavillons Baltard actually predates the Louvre Pyramid, and it is in my opinion much worse. Whatever one’s opinion of the Louvre in its current form, at least nothing was destroyed and the magnificent remains of the medieval fortress were open to the public. There was no such excuse for Les Halles. It is maddening to think of the many uses the unique ensemble of the Pavillons Baltard could have been put to. At least the Bourse du Commerce is now a protected landmark, but I don’t like to see it, with Saint-Eustache, obstructed by this new monster project.

    I have been looking again at the design and wondering whether the architects watched Star Wars one time too many…

  5. Richard says:

    I have never seen this film but my daughter saw it while she was at University in Angers. She raved about it. So perhaps i will see it too…

    As for Paris, alas, people are forgetting the past, by destroying it. I suppose the out cry was the same when Louis Napoleon destroyed houses to widen the boulavards. It wouldn’t be overly bad if the structures put up inhanced rather than detracted from the surroundings. But then we should all have known this was coming when the pyramid went up at the Louvre.


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