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Last Updated: 26 August 2023

La Défense is Europe’s largest purpose-built business district to the West of Paris. The district showcases France’s great leap into the 21st century. For many visitors to France who come to Paris with a preset image in their mind, the Business District is somewhat unexpected, and its true value lies in its position at the far end of the Historical Axis. La Défense is indeed the height of the Historical Axis, which starts at the Louvre and continues through the Place de la Concorde, the Champs-Elysées and the Arc de Triomphe.


About the business district of La Défense

The Central Business District [CBD] of La Défense is not a French commune, and its territory is shared by three municipalities: Courbevoie, Nanterre and Puteaux.

All three communes are part of the département of Hauts-de-Seine (92). The CBD is managed by a public development authority, the EPADESA (Établissement public d’aménagement de la Défense Seine Arche). For 50 years, French State involvement catalysed economic dynamism in the Western suburbs of Paris. In the coming years, EPADESA will invest 2 billion euros, generating 30,000 FTE jobs.

La Défense Map


History of La Défense

The area of La Défense was once along the path that led to the castle of Saint-Germain en Laye, the country residence of the Kings of France, ideally located on the edge of a vast forest where they could hunt.


Linking the Louvre to Saint-Germain-en-Laye

The idea to link the Louvre to Saint-Germain en Laye with a straight road over the little hill of Chantecoq emerged during the 15th century. The crossing of the River Seine at Neuilly was eased by the installation of a ferry, later replaced by a stone bridge when, on the 9th of June 1605, the King’s coach fell into the water.

The esplanade and the Arc de Triomphe in the distance © French Moments
The esplanade and the Arc de Triomphe in the distance © French Moments

During the reign of Louis XIV, the axis became the obligatory route to reach the forest of Saint-Germain and was strictly aligned on the Historical Axis that architect Le Nôtre had worked on from the Tuileries.

The business district seen from the Arc de Triomphe © French Moments
The business district from the Arc de Triomphe © French Moments


To the Chantecoq Hill and beyond!

However, it was urban architect Perronet who laid out the road in a direct line from the Champs-Elysées in 1766 to the top of the Chantecoq hill, which is now the location of the Grande Arche. At that point, the architect shaped a round intersection similar to that on Place de l’Etoile and called it “Etoile de Chantecoq” or “Place de la Demi-Lune” (Half-moon square).

In 1863, Napoleon III erected a statue of Napoleon Bonaparte in the centre of the square and renamed it “Rond-Point de l’Empereur” (Emperor Roundabout).

La Défense February 2015 30 copyright French Moments
The statue of La Défense de Paris © French Moments


A statue that gave the district its name!

In the 1870s, following the Franco-Prussian War, the local authorities commissioned Louis Ernest Barrias to make a new statue to replace that of Napoleon, which was to pay homage to the defenders of Paris: “La Défense de Paris”. Since then, the new name given to the square was, by extension, applied to the whole area: La Défense. The historic statue is still visible on its plinth right in the middle of the esplanade amidst high-rise buildings.

CNIT © French Moments
CNIT © French Moments


A high-rise district from the 1950s

In the 1950s, the authorities decided to create a significant business centre outside Paris in the residential and industrial district of La Défense. First, the CNIT (National Centre for Industries and Technologies) was built with its unique shape of a triangular vault resting on three supports, and then a plethora of skyscrapers whose highest reach 200 metres.


The “dalle” of La Défense

The esplanade of the business district, Paris © French Moments
The “Dalle” (esplanade) © French Moments

In order to not block the fantastic vista of the Historical Axis but still allow traffic to flow without constraints, it was decided to construct the “Dalle”, a concrete slab that slopes gently from the Pont de Neuilly up to the Grande Arche.

This artificial platform ingeniously hides all the transport links (motorway A14, the roads, métro and train railway lines) to create a vast pedestrian area offering fine views of the Arc de Triomphe in the distance.


The “Grande Arche de la Fraternité”

Grande Arche de la Fraternité © French Moments
Grande Arche © French Moments

The gigantic and stunning Grande Arche is 110 metres tall by 112 metres deep and can hold Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral within its arch. The magisterial modern triumphal arch is undeniably a successful project, blending perfectly with the surroundings thanks to its contemporary outline of white marble. Alongside the Eiffel Tower, it is probably Paris’ most imposing monument.

Grande Arche copyright French Moments
Grande Arche de la Défense © French Moments

Find out more about the Grande Arche.


Explore La Défense by night

Exploring La Défense during sunset and into the night unveils an entirely different and captivating dimension of this bustling business district. As the sun dips below the horizon, the iconic skyline undergoes a remarkable transformation, with the glass façades of the skyscrapers reflecting the warm hues of twilight. The shimmering lights gradually illuminate, casting a magical ambience contrasting with the daytime hustle. The Grande Arche, standing as a modern marvel, becomes a beacon of light against the darkening backdrop, evoking a sense of grandeur.

La Défense Esplanade by Night 02 © French Moments
Christmas market in La Défense © French Moments

During these hours, the district takes on a quieter yet enchanting atmosphere, providing an opportunity for more introspective exploration. The meticulously designed architectural features and artistic installations are subtly accentuated by strategically placed lighting, giving a sense of discovery with each step. The pedestrian pathways, often busy during the day, reveal a more intimate side, allowing visitors to appreciate the modernity and urban aesthetics without the distractions of crowds.

Grande Arche de La Défense © French Moments
Grande-Arche lit up at night time © French Moments

Furthermore, as the night deepens, the reflections in the surrounding ponds and fountains create an almost surreal scene, enhancing the allure of this urban oasis. The towering skyscrapers, illuminated and stretching into the night sky, offer a glimpse into the beating heart of Paris’s business endeavours. It’s a moment to savour the symbiosis between the sleek modernity of La Défense and the timeless beauty of the City of Lights.

In essence, experiencing La Défense from sunset into the night is akin to witnessing a symphony of architecture, light, and tranquillity. It’s a chance to appreciate the district’s multifaceted personality, inviting visitors to connect more intimately with its contemporary charm while cocooning in the evocative ambience that only the night can bestow.

The Quatre Temps shopping mall in La Défense © French Moments
The Quatre Temps shopping mall in La Défense © French Moments


Interesting facts about La Défense

La Défense February 2015 13 copyright French Moments
La Défense in February © French Moments


The business district includes:

  • 1.6 square kilometres
  • 3,075,000 square metres of offices
  • 245,000 m² of shops, including one of Europe’s largest shopping malls: “Les Quatre Temps”.
  • 2,500 businesses
  • 1,500 headquarters of companies, including 15 of the 50 first in the world.
  • 180,000 employees
  • 20,000 residents
  • 450,000 people travel to, from or through La Défense every day.
  • More than 8.4 million tourists visited La Défense in 2014.
  • 45,000 university students.
  • 13 hotels in 2014.


The tallest towers in 2023:

  • First Tower: 231 metres (2011)
  • Hekla Tower: 220 metres (2022)
  • Majunga Tower: 195 metres (2014)
  • Total Tower: 187 metres (1985)
  • Engie Tower (T1): 185 metres (2008)
  • Areva Tower: 184 metres (1974)
  • Granite Tower: 184 metres (2008)
  • CB21 Tower (ex GAn): 179 metres (1974)
  • St. Gobain Tower: 178 metres (2019)
  • D2 Tower: 171 metres (2014)
  • Société Générale twin Towers: 167 metres (1995)
  • Trinity Tower: 167 metres (2020)
  • Carpe Diem Tower: 166 metres (2013)
  • EDF Tower: 165 metres (2001)
  • Cœur Défense Tower: 161 metres (2001)
  • Alto Tower: 160 metres (2020)


The tallest towers to be built by 2027:

  • The Link: 242 metres (2025)
  • Sisters Towers: 229 metres (2027)
  • Jardins de l’Arche Tower: 206 metres (2027)
  • C/ (Odyssee) Tower: 189 metres (2026)
First Tower in La Défense © French Moments
The First Tower © French Moments
Total Tower, La Défense © French Moments
Total Tower © French Moments
La Défense February 2015 15 copyright French Moments
Carpe Diem Tower © French Moments


How to get there?

The business district is easily accessible by public transport.

  • RER A: La Défense Grande Arche
  • métro line 1: 2 stations – La Défense Grande Arche and Esplanade de la Défense
  • tramway line T2: La Défense Grande Arche
  • Transilien Suburban Train: lines U (La Défense-Verrière) and L (Paris Saint-Lazare-Versailles/Saint Nom La Bretèche)

(By 2024, the RER E from Gare du Nord will be calling at La Défense.)

More than 500,000 people travel daily to the business district, making it France’s busiest multimodal transportation hub.


Find out more!

Gems of Paris by French Moments
About the author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations, and a degree of Economics and Management. Pierre is the author of Discovery Courses and books about France.

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