La Défense in Paris, Europe’s largest business district

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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 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 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.


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.

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 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

The business district seen from the 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).

La Défense February 2015 30 copyright French Moments

The statue 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, amidst high-rise buildings.

La Defense Septembre 2015 18 copyright French Moments

CNIT © 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

La Défense, 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 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 “Grande Arche de la Fraternité”

Grande Arche de La Défense © French Moments

Grande Arche © French Moments

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

Grande Arche de La Défense © French Moments

Grande Arche lit up at night time © French Moments

Find out more about the Grande Arche.


Interesting facts about La Défense

La Défense Esplanade by Night 02 © French Moments

Christmas market in 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 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)
  • Trinity Tower: 151 metres (2018)

The tallest towers to be built by 2024:

  • Hermitage Plaza Towers A and B: 324 metres (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)
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


More pages…

  • Our pages on LA DÉFENSE


  • 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 La Défense, making it France’s busiest multimodal transportation hub.

    For more practical info about the business district, visit the official website! [in English]

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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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