In the mid-19th Century, Napoleon III charged George-Eugene Haussman, Prefect of the Seine, with recreating the center of Paris. What followed was decades of massive construction that included demolishing almost 20,000 buildings and constructing 34,000 structures in their place. Included in this immense undertaking was the remaking of Les Halles or what French novelist Emile Zola called “The Belly of Paris.”
The reality of carts carrying loads of produce, meat, fish and artisan goods to the center of Paris for sale had existed since 1135 when King Louis le Gros established the first public market or “halle.” In 1269, the piece of land on the northern bank of the Seine River in the shadow of the Church of St. Eustache saw the construction of the first food stalls for the market. Later, King Louis IX ordered the assembly of the first actual buildings for the market’s use.
The crowded exchange experienced its greatest advancement under the restructuring hand of Haussman when he and Napoleon III tasked the City Architect, Victor Baltard, with designing all new market halls. Like so many other notable structures of the 1800s, Baltard chose to remake Les Halles with iron and glass. It was these buildings that drew masses of humanity throughout the night and into the early hours of the morning to sell their wholesale commodities, which would feed the population of Paris during the coming day.
Baltard’s Les Halles stood for over a century. The crowded market, for all of its success, was drawing too many people to the city’s center. It was decided that a new market should be constructed in Rungis, outside of Paris. The majority of the original glass and iron buildings were demolished in 1971, but a small portion was saved. One building was dismantled and reassembled in Nogent-sur-Marne and still stands as an historic monument. Another was taken apart, and the pieces were used to create an artistic memorial in Yokohama, Japan.
Outside of these two physical relics, the spirit of Baltard’s Les Halles persists in the France Pavilion at Epcot in Walt Disney World. Guests visiting the France Pavilion can choose one of three paths: the right toward Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, the center toward Impressions de France, or the left which terminates at Les Halles Boulangerie and Patisserie. Originally known as Galerie des Halles, this location saw the addition of the patisserie in 2013, but the overall style of the iron supports and glass panels inspired by Baltard’s design has remained the same.
While guests can purchase a number of pastries in the rear of this building, there are retail offerings and tables for dining in the forefront. It is there where the left wall denotes this structure as “Pavillon 12.” The twelve “pavillons” or buildings of Paris’ Les Halles each had their own specialty. For example, buildings 6, 7, and 8 sold fruits and vegetables. It is believed that 12 sold butter, cheese, and bread (however this is not confirmed). That same wall also displays the phrase “Le Ventre de Paris” which translated is “The Belly of Paris.” Both inscriptions and the location itself serve as a fitting tribute by the Disney Imagineers to the history and importance of the original Les Halles market to the city of Paris.
All photos courtesy of Melanie Whitfield.
Kendall has been a member of the WDW Radio Team since 2013. You can read her work on the WDW Radio Blog or hear her join Lou on several WDW Radio podcast episodes. Kendall’s affection for Walt Disney World began with her very first family visit in the 1990s and has continued with each magical vacation since. Follow her on Twitter @kl_foreman.