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Chatelet-Les Halles, an ever-changing district

July 4, 2012
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Chatelet-Les Halles is one of the oldest districts in Paris. Back to the Middle Age era, it was a cemetery, called the “Cimetière des Innocents”. Today, it is mostly known for its huge underground shopping mall, “Le Forum des Halles”, home to more than 200 shops, 2 movie theaters and a swimming-pool… It is also famous for being a huge public transportation hub. With more than 750.000 commuters passing through it every day, it is the largest underground metro station in the world. No less than 5 metro lines and 3 RER lines connect at the Chatelet Les Halles station…

If you wander there, you will most certainly notice some turmoils and craves… The area is indeed being totally revamped and is undergoing an ambitious urban restoration monitored by French architects Patrick Berger and David Mangin. The program’s goal is to bring some “fresh air” to the area in order to make it friendlier and safer. The ground surface will be turned into a vast park with a canopy, the RER station will be enlarged and the shopping mall will be renovated in order to host more cultural facilities and let in more natural light. A huge transformation for a district whose history is marked by changes…

The history of Chatelet has always been closely linked to trade. Back to the 12th century, a decision by king Louis VII led to the creation of a market. After being left abandoned for a long time, it was re-built under king Francis I during the 16th century. Back then, it was mainly a flower and fruit market. At the start of the 19th century, as it grew in importance and popularity, Napoleon I had the place totally reorganized and implemented rules in order to improve safety and hygienic conditions. 50 years later, Napoleon III turned it into a permanent market and commissioned the erection of 10 metallic structures known as “Pavillons Baltard”. It was then the main source of food for Parisians. Food was brought to the Frigos de Paris in the 13th district where it was stored before being sold at Chatelet. The market was a great source of inspiration for artists. Doisneau spent a lot of time capturing moments in the daily life of fishmongers, butchers or visitors. An exhibition displaying his most famous photographs was held at the city hall in 2012.

The expansion of Paris and the increasing number of Parisians soon made it necessary to have a larger market, in the suburbs of Paris… This led to the creation of the “Marché de Rungis” near  the Orly airport. The move in 1969 left a gigantic area unused… Six “Baltard Pavillons” were demolished in order to leave enough space for the construction of the RER station, a gigantic project. Of the remaining Pavillons, one has been moved to the suburban city of Noisy-le-Grand and another one has been offered to the city of Yokohama in Japan. The last visible monument that remains from the market area is the “Bourse du Commerce” (“Trade Stock Exchange”) on the nearby rue du Louvre.

The creation of the metro station was then a source of fascination for Parisians who wanted to see by themselves the progress of the work as the caterpillars dug deeper and deeper… forming a huge hole referred to as the “ventre de Paris” (“Paris’ belly”).

A few years later, in 1976, work started in order to build the “Forum des Halles” shopping mall, which was to be inaugurated in 1979.

The new “Chatelet” is supposed to be finished in 2016, with the Canopy being completed in 2013. It will be better integrated into the urban environment and will offer more security, more light and more comfort to commuters.

For more information, visit the www.parisleshalles.fr website.

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