La Défense, Paris

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La Défense is Europe’s largest purpose-built business district to the West of the city of Paris. The district is a showcase of 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 rather 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 La Défense

The 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 year, French State involvement played a catalyst role for economic dynamism in the Western suburbs of Paris. In the coming years EPADESA will invest 2 billion euros, generating 30 000 FTE jobs.


  • Our pages on LA DÉFENSE


  • History of La Défense

    The statue of La Défense de Paris © French Moments

    The statue of La Défense de Paris © French Moments

    The area of La Défense was once along the path which 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.

    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 June 1605, the King’s coach fell into the water.

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

    The esplanade of La Défense 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.

    CBD of La Défense from Arc de Triomphe © French Moments

    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).

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    Monument of “La Défense de Paris” © French Moments

    In the 1870s, following the Franco-Prussian war, the local authorities commissioned Louis Ernest Barrias a 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 today, on its plinth right in the middle of the esplanade of La Défense, amidst high-rise buildings.

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    The CNIT in La Défense © French Moments

    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

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    The “Dalle” (esplanade of La Défense) © 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 ingenuously hides all the transport links (motorway A14, the roads, métro and train railway lines) to create a huge pedestrian area offering fine views on the Arc de Triomphe in the distance.

    The Arc de Triomphe seen from the esplanade of La Défense © French Moments


    The “Grande Arche de la Fraternité” of La Défense

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    Grande Arche of La Défense © French Moments

    The gigantic and stunning Grande Arche is 110 metres tall by 112 metres deep and could hold the cathedral Notre-Dame in 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.

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    View of the Grande Arche from the esplanade of La Défense © French Moments

    Find out more about the Grande Arche de la Défense.


    Interesting facts about La Défense

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    The esplanade of La Défense © French Moments

    La Défense includes:

    • 1.6 square kilometres
    • 3,075,000 square metres of offices
    • 245,000 m² of shops, including one of Europe’s largest shopping mall: “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 of La Défense in 2015:

    • Tour First: 231 metres (2011)
    • Tour Majunga: 195 metres (2014)
    • Tour Total: 187 metres (1985)
    • Tour Engie (T1): 185 metres (2008)
    • Tour Areva: 184 metres (1974)
    • Tour Granite: 184 metres (2008)
    • Tour CB21 (ex GAn): 179 metres (1974)
    • Tour D2: 171 metres (2014)
    • Tours Société Générale: 167 metres (1995)
    • Tour Carpe Diem: 166 metres (2013)
    • Tour EDF: 165 metres (2001)
    • Tour Cœur Défense: 161 metres (2001)

    The tallest towers to be built by 2020:

    • Hermitage Plaza Towers A and B: 323 metres (2019)
    • Tour Air2: 202 metres (2017)
    First Tower in La Défense © French Moments

    The First Tower in La Défense © French Moments

    Total Tower, La Défense © French Moments

    Carpe Diem Tower, La Défense © French Moments


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    About 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. In 2014 he moved back to Europe from Sydney with his wife and daughter to be closer to their families and to France. He has a background teaching French 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.

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