Paris’s Parc de la Villette: Bovine Phoenix

By Paul Prescott

Gone are the ghosts and banished the phantoms of the beasts that lowed their last at Paris’s northern borders. Sired in 1867 by a proclamation of Emperor Napoleon III, the “Abattoir Général de la Villette” (Villette Slaughterhouse) fed the boucheries of the capital and witnessed the slaughter of countless cattle for 100 years before the abattoir went the way of the herd and found itself eviscerated in 1970.

From the twisted remains of beasts and buildings, the Parc de la Villette rose to the top of Paris’s 19th arrondissement in 1987 like a sparkling tiara whose glitter welcomes traveler, local, and their offspring alike. Enjoy, then, the walk up the Canal de l’Ourcq to its crowning glory: the Parc de la Villette.

From bongo jam sessions to submarines, from carnival rides to outdoor sculptures, the park is rich for exploring and its fields offer a bumper crop of options.

For the Children

On the southern edge of the park you can’t help but see one of the last survivors of the killing fields: the Grande Halle de la Villette. Once a shelter for cows being led to slaughter, it now houses a cultural center and book store. Steer the kids away from this, however, and corral them into the Jardin des Vents et des Dunes (Wind and Dunes Playground). The enclosed area contains three separate playgrounds for children of different ages and activities appropriate for each group. Oh yeah, and it’s free.

If the children are hunting for stimulation of a more intellectual nature, just across the canal sits the Museum of Science and Industry. The permanent exhibit contains a plethora of hands-on exhibits that will daze and amaze les enfants of all ages. Behind the museum and not to be missed, but you wouldn’t be able to even if you tried, is the Géode. This huge silver sphere contains an Omnimax movie theater with a unique sound system that has to be experienced to be believed. Just be sure to book your tickets before going.

For the Child Inside of You

Directly behind the Museum of Science & Industry is The Argonaute. The French Navy took this submarine out of commission in 1982 and shipped it here to the Villette. Descend into its depths and take the tour with an audio guide that leads you along the length of the beast, from tail to torpedo room.

To shake off the sense of claustrophobia as you surface from the sub, enjoy a resource the City of Light is light on: running room. The Parc de la Villette is 55 hectares with a full 35 hectares of green space, making it the largest landscaped park inside the city. Visit the park on a nice day, pack a picnic lunch and bring the ball of your choosing for a friendly pickup game.

For the Children at Heart

At the other end of the age scale, the Parc de la Villette has a more lyrical selection. The southeastern edge of the park boasts the Cité de la Musique, a musical resource center that, in addition to offering 200 concerts a year, contains the Musée de la Musique, the Museum of Music. While the collection perhaps falls flat concerning contemporary music (there’s only one small display each for jazz, blues and rock while entire wings are dedicated to opera, classical and world music), the multilingual audio guides included in the price of admission will be music to the visitors’ ears.

The Zénith is one way to get an earful of modern music. One of Paris’s premier venues, The Zénith rocks the Parc de la Villette with a variety of live concerts from every origin and for every taste, in addition to hosting spectacles of every sort.

Paris’s Parc de la Villette, then, truly is a bovine phoenix for from the ashes of slaughtered cattle has risen a brilliant symbol of the district’s rejuvenation. With something for the whole family, anyone can come to chew the fat or ruminate about change for the better.

By Paul Prescott (Paris Inspired Website)

All photos ©Paul Prescott

Parc de la Villette (French Site): http://www.villette.com/fr/

A Map (pdf) of the Parc de la Villette


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