The parc de la Villette


In association with the Etablissement Public du Parc et de la Grande Halle de la Villette, the Philharmonie de Paris website presents a historical panorama of the great symphony auditorium’s future home

A place steeped in history

1808 : Rural woodlands covered the current site of La Villette until the end of the 18th century. In 1808, the area was linked to Paris via an aqueduct that was turned into a navigable canal in 1825, called the Ourcq canal. In 1841, La Villette-Saint-Denis was physically separated from the Pantin commune with the construction of the Thiers wall, the last Parisian fortification that corresponds to today’s ring roads. In 1860, La Villette was integrated into the commune of Paris and became a part of the 19th arrondissement.

1867 : On Napoleon III’s command, the Paris City Council asked the Seine Prefecture to transfer the Poissy and Sceaux livestock markets inside city walls. The location chosen was the current Villette grounds and extensions, back then a vast rural zone barely integrated into the city of Paris. Architect Louis-Adolphe Janvier designed the slaughterhouses and the market, taking inspiration from Baltard, the creator of Les Halles in central Paris. A goods station soon sprung up next to the livestock market. The place becomes one of the capital’s economic hubs.La Villette’s slaughterhouses were among the city’s biggest employers. Besides the meat industry, there was the subproduct industry, mainly for leather. After Gavroche and Francisque Poulbot’s street urchins, northern Paris produced a third “hero”: the butcher-boy. Popular culture saw him as a gruff, big-hearted lad, a kind of executioner despite himself. Like much of the Parisian working-class, the butcher-boy hailed from the country (mostly from Auvergne, Aveyron and Limousin) and was a product of rural depopulation and the Industrial Revolution.

1949 : The Municipal Council decided it was time to renovate the slaughterhouses, which were now dilapidated, narrow and unhygienic, and whose pestilent smell afflicted the surrounding residential areas. But funding was slow to come. The design competition was only launched in 1955, and building only started four years later. The new complex, equipped with refrigerators that were very modern for the times, was partially inaugurated in 1969, even though it still lacked a sales room. Meat transportation conditions having greatly improved with the advent of refrigerated trucks, it was no longer necessary to do the slaughtering in the marketplace. Purchasing plummeted and the activity fell into a deep recession, creating serious economic problems.

1974 : In 1967, the National Audit Office already condemned the huge cost overruns of the initial renovation price. The Senate got involved in 1970 and created an ad hoc commission whose report, made public in 1971, was devastating. The fate of the slaughterhouse and livestock market were now in the hands of the government, who decided close them down on March 15, 1974. The buildings - brand new and barely used - were torn down, leaving an industrial wasteland in their place..

A second lease of life to La Villette

1979 : Creation of the Etablissement Public du Parc de la Villette, an administrative organisation in charge of renovating the 55 hectares of industrial wasteland.

1982 : Organization of the Parc de la Villette design competition. Swiss-born French landscape architect Bernard Tschumi won the competition. The Parc de la Villette project was regarded as a meeting-point between urbanism and lifestyle, arts and sciences, Paris and its suburbs. La Villette took its place alongside the other great architectural projects launched by newly-elected president François Mitterrand.

1984 : Opening of the Zenith, designed by Philippe Chaix and Jean-Paul Morel. In 1981, the Minister of Culture decided to build a large-size concert hall for rock and pop music. The concept of a contemporary music concert hall turned into the Zénith de Paris. The Zénith has a capacity of 6,400 seats.

January 1985 : Opening of the Grande Halle, an old livestock market renovated by Bernard Reichen and Philippe Robert. Inspired by Baltard’s Halles, the glass and steel building is used for events, fairs, exhibitions, etc.

May 1985 : Opening of the Géode, France’s biggest movie theatre with a 1000 m² hemispheric dome screen. It was designed by Adrien Fainsilber and Gérard Chamayou according to the geodesic architectural principles of Richard Buckminster Fuller.

1986 : Opening of the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie on March 13th, 1986 by the president of the French Republic, François Mitterrand. The opening was timed to occur during the encounter between Halley’s Comet and the Giotto European space probe. Adrien Fainsilber was the architect in charge of construction. The Cité des Sciences includes the Cité des Enfants, a children’s science museum, the Cité des Métiers (in partnership with ONISEP), the Cité de la Santé and a scientific media library .

1987 : Opening of the Parc de la Villette, designed by Bernard Tschumi. Its 35 hectares of green space make it Paris’ biggest park area. Dedicated to artistic expression, it hosts several street art and circus shows, free open-air cinema and major exhibitions.

1990 : Opening of the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris, the nation’s first institution for higher education in music and dance. Leaving behind its cramped premises on the rue de Madrid, which had been its home since the early 20th century, the CNSMDP moved into La Villette on the Porte de Pantin side, near the Grande Halle. Although it was the Parc de la Villette’s first “cultural” building, institutionally it is its most ancient, since the “Conservatoire National de Musique” was founded August 3, 1795. It was designed by Christian de Portzamparc.

1995 : Opening of the Cité de la Musique, also designed by Christian de Portzamparc, shortly before the Conservatory’s 200th anniversary. Dedicated to the performance of all forms of erudite music, it is Paris’ first flexible hall for this kind of programming. A hub of the cultural information network, the facility contains concert halls, a large media library and an educational department. The Cité de la Musique also presents concert seasons, organised by cycle, alongside related temporary exhibitions.

1997 : Opening of the Musée de la Musique inside the Cité de la Musique. It houses one of the largest collections of musical instruments around the world.

2015 : Opening of the Philharmonie de Paris.

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