Les Halles (pronounced [le al]) (48°51′46″N 2°20′40″E / 48.86278°N 2.34444°E) is an area of Paris, France, located in the 1er arrondissement, just south of the fashionable rue Montorgueil. It is named for the large central wholesale marketplace, which was demolished in 1971, to be replaced with an underground modern shopping precinct, the Forum des Halles. It is notable in that the open air center area is below street level, like a pit, and contains sculptures, fountains, and mosaics, as well as museums including the Musée Grévin - Forum des Halles (a wax museum).
Beneath this lies the underground station Châtelet-Les-Halles, a central hub of Paris's express commuter rail system, the RER.
Les Halles was the traditional central market of Paris. In 1183, King Philippe II Auguste enlarged the marketplace in Paris and built a shelter for the merchants, who came from all over to sell their wares. In the 1850s, the massive glass and iron buildings (Victor Baltard Architect) Les Halles became known for were constructed. Les Halles was known as the "belly of Paris".
Unable to compete in the new market economy and in need of massive repairs, the colorful ambience once associated with the bustling area of merchant stalls disappeared in 1971, when Les Halles was dismantled; the wholesale market was relocated to the suburb of Rungis.
The site was to become the point of convergence of the RER, a network of new express underground lines which was completed in the 1960s. Three lines leading out of the city to the south, east and west were to be extended and connected in a new underground station. For several years, the site of the markets was an enormous open pit, nicknamed "le trou des Halles" (trou = hole), regarded as an eyesore at the foot of the historic church of Saint-Eustache.
Construction was completed in 1977 on Châtelet-Les-Halles, Paris's new urban railway hub. The Forum des Halles, a partially underground multiple storey commercial and shopping center, opened in 1979. The building was criticized for its design and in recent years the city of Paris has undertaken consultations regarding the remodeling of the area.
Part of the actual demolition of the site is featured in the film, Touche Pas de la Femme Blanche (Don't Touch the White Woman) which iconaclastically restages General Custer's 'last stand' in a distinctly French context in and around the area.
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