Paris’ largest urban cultural park
The Parc de la Villette, Paris’ largest cultural park, boasts a wide range of cultural and recreational facilities:
Several concert and exhibition halls, cultural and leisure centres, music and sciences museums and restaurants.
Music and dance lovers: look for the Cité de la Musique and the Philharmonie de Paris and the WIP, a centre mainly dedicated to street dance.
Sport addicts: visit the water sports and equestrian centre or the cycle track Velib’ d’Automne.
The Grande Halle, the old animal market, was converted into a cultural multi-purpose venue.
It stands between the Pavillon de Janvier and the Théâtre Paris-Villette.
Both venues are both located in 19th century stone buildings, which respectively accommodated the Bourse aux Cuirs (leather market) and the slaughterhouse admin offices.
These buildings overlook the park’s main entrance on Rue Jean-Jaurès and the Fontaine aux Lions de Nubie.
The Pavillon Paul Delouvier, near Avenue Corentin Cariou, offers temporary exhibitions.
Finally, La Maison de la Villette will give you a full history of the slaughterhouse and the district.
The icing on the cake: the Parc de la Villette is always open and admission is free!
How to read the colour-coded Parc de la Villette
The good thing about the Parc de la Villette is that you can’t get lost as everything is colour-coded.
A superb swing bridge spans the Canal de l’Ourcq, the park’s spinal cord, that links its two sections.
The Parc de la Villette is a perfect illustration of the domestication and control of Nature by man.
Its layout and landscaping were indeed thoroughly planned and focus on 4 thematic colours.
Green for the meadows, 11 thematic gardens and coppices.
Blue for the sky and water.
White for the buildings.
Vibrant red for the metal structures, known as Folies, in order to symbolize the colour of life and blood.
Contemporary architecture and art
Twenty-six Folies are scattered among meadows and trees.
One of them serves as entrance to Le Zenith de Paris.
This popular auditorium is located a stone’s throw from an unusual art work, Bicyclette Ensevelie, a partly buried giant bicycle.
La Villette, from a leper hospital to an industrial zone
La Villette has a long history.
La Ville-Neuve-St-Ladre indeed developed in the 12th century in the vicinity of the leper hospital St-Lazare – St-Ladre.
This tiny community became known as La-Petite-Ville-de-St-Ladre (small town) then La Villette-St-Ladre-lez-Paris (small town near Paris).
It spread between two major communication axes, the current Rue de Flandre and Rue Jean-Jaurès.
However, it remained a sort of ‘no-go zone’ because of the presence of the leper colony, but also the gallows of Paris.
These indeed stood in La Villette from the 14th until the late 18th century.
That said, La Villette started to expand with the construction of the General Farmers Wall (fiscal wall) in the 1770s.
Open-air cafés, restaurants, ballrooms and guinguettes opened in the vicinity of the village’s three fiscal gates.
However, wealthy Parisians were still reluctant to buy land in La Villette!
Major transformations occurred in the 19th century when the Bassin de la Villette was developed.
This gigantic industrial zone built in the early 19th century included a basin and haulage depot, docks and a vast reservoir.
It also included a slaughterhouse and live animal market, both opened in the 1860’s in order to serve Paris.
La Villette district’s rehabilitation
This resulted in a five-fold increase of the local population within the decades that followed the French Revolution.
As a result, La Villette and the neighbouring village of Belleville merged during the territorial reform of 1860 and became part of Paris.
This highly industrialised and over-crowded labourers district remained active until the closure of the slaughterhouse in 1974.
In 1979, the City of Paris engaged in a vast rehabilitation program and commissioned the architect Bernard Tschumi in 1982 for its development.
Work lasted 15 years. It turned the 55-hectare land into the largest urban cultural park in the capital.
The park has rejuvenated a district, once shunned by the Parisians, and turned it into one of the most vibrant places in Paris.
Directions: 19th district
Metro stations: Porte de Pantin on Line 5 and Corentin Cariou, Porte de la Villette on Line 7
Coordinates: Lat 48.893849 – Long 2.390260