If there’s a lot of famous places I like in Paris, there’s one I love more than the others. This is a place where I always make a stroll, when I go to Paris for a meeting (which occurs once every two months) : les Halles. Les Halles Centrales were the central markets of Paris, and are memorably described by Zola as Le Ventre de Paris (the belly of Paris). They are no more, now likely to be referred to as le trou or ‘the hole’. Markets were held here from the early 12th century; in 1969 they were moved out of central Paris to extensive modern markets at Rungis (about 11km south, near Orly airport). The ten huge pavilions constructed by Victor Baltard in the 1850s, plus two more completed in 1936, were demolished by 1974; number 8 was re-erected at Nogent-sur-Marne. The redevelopment of the whole area of Les Halles encountered technical problems, such as the Metro-RER intersection at the bottom of the hole, as well as underground parking. A number of architects took part in the project, including for a time the postmodernist Ricardo Bofill. What I prefer in this place are the Jardins des Halles. These gardens, covering nearly five hectares, were laid out in place of the market, with 850 trees, plants trailing over metal structures, 11 fountains, alleys named after poets lined with limes and chestnuts, green sculptures and stepped flower beds around the large tropical greenhouse identified by four small glass pyramids. One alley leads to a hollow, beside the church of St-Eustache, with a large sandstone sculpture of a head, l’Ecoute (1986) by Henri de Miller, with its ear to the ground. Most fun is the children’s play garden which contains six fantasy worlds designed by the sculptor, Claude Lalanne. The Forum des Halles, its ribbed and glazed courtyard forming the sunken lid to the trou, and embellished by curious pink marble statuary entitled Pyègemalion, by the Argentinian sculptor Julio Silva, has had a very mixed reception since it was inaugurated in September 1979 and the underground shopping malls are now somewhat run down. However, beyond the works of the garden, this is for the atmosphere that I like the place. This is where Parisians arrange to meet, and you can lunch on the grass among other Parisians enjoying their lunch time. At the end of the afternoon, you even can see groups improvising pre-dinner drinks between friends on red and white tableclothes put directly on the grass. These gardens are in the heart of the capital, but are light years away from the bustle of the city !

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