In the past, Les Halles was the bustling central market of the French capital city, also known as the ‘Belly of Paris’. It is now a shopping precinct and besides numerous shops, this open air area located below the street level also contains sculptures, fountains and mosaics as well as museums (including a wax museum – Musée Grévin).
Previously a traditional area of merchant shops, Les Halles used to be known as the ‘Belly of Paris’ and dates back to 1183, when a marketplace was built by King Phillipe II Auguste.
In the past, Les Halles used to be the traditional central market in Paris. In 1183 king Phillippe II Auguste enlarged the marketplace in Paris and built a shelter for the merchants, who came from all over France to trade their goods. In 1850s massive glass and iron buildings were constructed and Les Halles became known as the ‘Belly of Paris’ (the name was coined by Émile Zola in one of his novels depicting the busy marketplace of the 19th century).
In 1971 the colourful ambience that used to be associated with the bustling area of merchant stalls disappeared when Les Halles was dismantled, as it was unable to compete in the new market economy. The whole market was relocated to the suburb of Rungis.
The site was to become the point of convergence of the network of new express underground lines (RER). In 1977 the construction was completed, and a partially underground multiple commercial and shopping centre was opened in 1979. Since then the building has been criticised for its design and the town council has undertaken some consultations regarding the remodelling of the area.
Besides numerous shops, cafes and restaurants, Les Halles includes also two cinemas, a swimming pool, a playground, a gymnasium, a billiard room and a music library. Beneath all of these there is also the underground station Châtelet-Les-Halles – a central hub of Paris’s express commuter rail system.