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 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 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.
History of La Défense
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.
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.
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.
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).
A statue that gave the district its name!
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, amidst high-rise buildings.
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
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 of the Arc de Triomphe in the distance.
The “Grande Arche de la Fraternité”
The gigantic and stunning Grande Arche is 110 metres tall by 112 metres deep and could 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.
Find out more about the Grande Arche.
Interesting facts about La Défense
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 2015:
- First tower: 231 metres (2011)
- 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)
- D2 tower: 171 metres (2014)
- Société Générale twin towers: 167 metres (1995)
- Carpe Diem tower: 166 metres (2013)
- EDF tower: 165 metres (2001)
- Cœur Défense tower: 161 metres (2001)
- Trinity tower: 151 metres (2018)
The tallest towers to be built by 2024:
- The Link: 244 metres (2022)
- Sisters Towers: 229 metres (2022)
- Jardins de l’Arche Tower: 221 metres (2023)
- Hekla Tower: 220 metres (2020)
- Air2 Tower: 202 metres (?)
- St. Gobain Tower: 179 metres (2019)
- Alto Tower: 160 metres (2020)
How to get there?
The business district is really 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 coming from Gare du Nord will be calling at La Défense.)
Every day, more than 500,000 people travel to the business district, making it France’s busiest multimodal transportation hub.
Find out more!
- Get your online tickets to the Observatory Deck of La Grande Arche!
- The official website of La Défense [in English].
- Read about Paris’ CBD on our French blog!