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Le Forum des Halles: The 'belly of Paris' turns 40

The 'Canopy' which covers the revamped Paris Forum des Halles was designed by French architects Patrick Berger and Jacques Anziutti.
The 'Canopy' which covers the revamped Paris Forum des Halles was designed by French architects Patrick Berger and Jacques Anziutti. AFP/Ludovic Marin

On 4 September 1979, the mayor of Paris Jacques Chirac inaugurated the Forum des Halles, transforming what was once a huge wholesale market into one of the biggest shopping centres in France, with 150,000 visitors daily.

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In 2017, the Forum des Halles was the second most visited shopping centre in France with 42.3 million visitors a year.

But before becoming a huge shopping centre the area was a wholesale market.

The ‘belly of Paris’

Between 1852 and 1870, 12 pavilions were built by Victor Baltard on the former site of ‘Les Halles de Paris’.

The Baltard pavilions in Les Halles, Paris, 1870
The Baltard pavilions in Les Halles, Paris, 1870 CC/Wikimedia

The Baltard pavilions were made in cast iron in the Napoleon III style. They formed a huge food centre called "the belly of Paris" where Parisians could buy meat, vegetables and fish.

A butcher weighs a beef head in Les Halles in Paris on 25 February 1969.
A butcher weighs a beef head in Les Halles in Paris on 25 February 1969. AFP

But because of a lack of space, the wholesale market had to move to Rungis, southeast of Paris.

In 1969, the Baltard pavilions were destroyed, leaving a gaping hole in the center of Paris for a few years.

Watch the video (In French)

Forum des Halles construction

In order to give the neighbourhood a boost, the city of Paris decided to build a shopping centre above the future Châtelet les Halles RER station and Paris metro hub.

The architects Claude Vasconi and Georges Pencreac'h were in charge of the final project.

After ten years of works, on 4 September 1979, the Forum was eventually inaugurated by the mayor of Paris, Jacques Chirac.

Revamping in the 2010’s

Thirty years after its inauguration, the Forum des Halles needed heavy renovation work.

A picture taken in September 2015 from the roof of the Saint-Eustache church shows a view of 'The Canopy'.
A picture taken in September 2015 from the roof of the Saint-Eustache church shows a view of 'The Canopy'. AFP/Patrick Kovarik

In 2010, the site was completely redesigned with the main architectural innovation cover, 'The Canopy', made of metal and glass and designed by Patrick Berger et Jacques Anziutti.

It ended in 2018 with the inauguration of the "Nelson-Mandela" gardens.

Today the Forum has 150 shops and several cultural spaces such as cinemas, a library and a music and dance school.

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