History chronicle:: Le Ventre of Paris.

The tale of the Halles Centrales of Paris

The Halles Centrales of Paris, the oldest wholesale market in the capital, dates back to the 12th century and to the year 1137. It was at this time that Louis VI, fifth king of the Capetian dynasty, set up a first market at the location of an ancient swamps. This market, then installed in the heart of popular Paris, quickly grew-up and it was Philippe Auguste next king of France who added the first wooden halls a few years later (1183).

The Halles market will continue to expand over the centuries, until it becomes the largest wholesale market in Paris. It was in this context that one decided, in the early hours of the Second Empire, to build huge iron halls, more modern and more practical: these are our famous Baltard pavilions, named after their architect, Victor Baltard.

Une construction ultra-moderne pour l'époque

This huge project – won in a competition launched by the préfet Rambuteau and finalized in 1870 – consists of building twelve pavilions with the most modern materials of the time: glass and cast iron. These pavilions, perfectly organized, must form two homogeneous blocks distributed around a central street. The complex is surrounded, to the north by the Saint-Eustache church, to the west by the old Wheat Hall. The latter, built in 1763 and many times rehabilitated, is one of the rare vestiges of the old market that can still be discovered today: it is simply the old Stock Exchange which is preparing to welcome the Pinault foundation in 2020!

Les Halles de Baltard, personnage principal du Ventre de Paris d’Émile Zola

It is within this ultra-modern set that the atmosphere so characteristic of the “Ventre of Paris” will flourish, as described by Emile Zola in his eponymous novel of 1873. An atmosphere, certainly authentic and full of life, but rarely very pleasant: in this novel formed in the heart of the Halles Centrales, Zola describes the “Ventre of Paris” as a monster that engulfs the poor and feeds the powerful, a modern machine where money and food take precedence over humanity and compassion. In short, a place that has no mood for the less well off!

Les Halles de Baltard, un petit siècle et puis s’en va

As emblematic of Old Paris as they may be, the Baltard pavilions only lasted a little over a hundred years: in 1969, traffic problems in the center of the capital and the new hygiene measures imposed on Wholesale merchants claimed the end of these cast iron pavilions and the well-oiled daily lives of those who work there. Between February 27 and March 1, 1969, the 20,000 employees working each day under the pavilions left the center of Paris to definitively join the Rungis International Market, 13 kilometers away. 834 years after their creation, the Halles Centrales of Paris are no longer there. They were gradually destroyed between 1971 and 1972, under Georges Pompidou, French President.