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Whenever you are next in Paris, try and visit the shiny business sector of La Defense. It is located right at the far western end of the City, way beyond the Champs-Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe. It is a district where new architecture has been blended so elegantly with the old. It should be as the economic creators have presented a sophisticated sense of artistic taste to make everything merge so beautifully.

 

When the Great War ended, the City authorities wanted to construct a new commercial centre for Paris in order to contribute to the rebuild of the old economy. The great depression came along shortly afterwards in the nineteen thirties. Money was suddenly not available for the project and the plans were put on ice. The aspiration lived on however. Ideas and planning for such an area restarted in the nineteen fifties and it was decided to develop the Defense area. This quarter was so named to commemorate the ending of the Franco- Prussian War of 1870. A very imposing street sculpture, La Defense de Paris, is retained right at the centre of this commercial district. The statue was erected in 1883 as a memorial to the loyalty of the resistance fighters during that war.

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La Defense is complete now and is the largest purpose built business hub in Europe. The Defense sector is today home to the headquarters of 15 of the top 50 companies in the world. It lies just off the left bank of the River Seine flowing northwest bound on its way to the open sea. Travel down the Avenue de la Grande Armee, starting at the Arc de Triomphe, towards the edge of Paris to find it.

 

Over 1500 major company headquarters are located in La Defense and there are 180,000 daily workers. The Esso Tower was the first large building to be constructed. Next, in 1958, came the still very prominent Centre of New Industries and Technologies (CNIT). Many varied corporations have put down their roots in the district during present times. They include Arcelor, Aventis, Societe General and Neuf Cegetel. The tallest skyscraper at 231 metres, Tour First, belongs to the powerful AXA insurance company. It has 50 floors and is the highest building in greater Paris.

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The first buildings were limited to a height of 100 meters. The planners wanted to preserve the visual spectacle towards Napoleon’s Arc de Triomphe and central Paris beyond. The much higher structures, approved during later years, were confined right to the western edge of La Defense to protect the view eastwards. The present cluster of skyscrapers are shiny, futuristic and imposing.

 

The La Defense business creation seems to blend exactly with the much older and elegant Parisian architecture away towards the east. The planners have maintained the most splendid panorama towards the centre. The new, very contemporary and commercially vibrant location stands up for a twenty first century French economy. It is a symbol of the corporate objective of a modern state.

 

LDA3During his time in office the French President, Francois Mitterand, wanted to make a huge contribution to the visual impact and layout of Paris. He wanted to see a modern day version of Napoleon’s Arc de Triomphe constructed to compliment the original. A Danish architect, Otto von Spreckelsen, was contracted to submit an imposing design idea. It was for a modern day version of the Arc that would observe all of Paris from its prominent mountings. The idea was futuristic and a little intimidating but was accepted by the planners. It is complete now, massive and dominates the La Defense district where it was built. It is more of a cube than an arch but somehow retains the profile and pride of its older counterpart. It is home to many corporation headquarters located in spacious office accommodation in its plank like sides. It is called the Grande Arche and seems to fit in exactly with all of the older Paris that it surveys as it looks eastwards.

 

The Grande Arche, Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Elysees, Arc de Carousel and the Pyramid at the Louvre museum lie in a dead straight line almost as far as anyone can see. The design of La Defense permits an uninterrupted view of this straight, architectural spectacle that is 10 kilometres long. It is the present day Paris streamed out for all to see. Climb up the wide steps in front of the Grande Arche and take in the view. It is rather like looking through the telescopic sight of a rifle. The Eiffel Tower seems almost a vulgar intrusion penetrating the symmetry of this pristine panorama.

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Traditional Parisian culture as well as its elegance is preserved at La Defense. At the foot of the Grande Arche there is an open air museum. The sculptures and presentations exhibited are contemporary art forms blending exactly with the glistening skyscrapers. Trees compliment the features and fit in perfectly with child play parks along with an ancient, traditionally decorated and working carousel.

 

La Defense is not exclusively a business and commercial centre. It does have a permanent population of roughly 25,000 residents accommodated in the associated modern living space. La Defense is also home to around 45,000 students engaged in commercial activity. The district is admired by more than 8,000,000 visitors each year.

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The quarter is a wide space to wander through covering more than 1.5 square kilometres. 310,000 square meters of flagstones and pathways are provided along with over 2700 hotel rooms. The outdoor museum in front of the Grande Arche is a splendid sight to behold. It contains many modern monuments and over 60 contemporary sculptures. La Defense is not just for work but for recreation too for everyone.

 

On Bastille Day in 1990 the electronic music composer and performer, Jean Michel Jarre, staged the world’s largest concert from La Defense. The 2,000,000 strong audience extended right down as far as the original Arc de Triomphe. Jarre used the vast walls of the Grande Arche to project his inspiring ‘lumiere’ to support his performance. In September 2008 there was a massive firework display to mark the 50th anniversary of the creation of La Defense business quarter.

 

LDA6La Defense today presents a spectacular blend of the new with the Parisian old. The designers have ensured that all styles of the City merge so simply together. La Defense provides an excellent base to visit the more exclusive parts of Paris including the Champs- Elysees. Hotel rates are markedly reduced at the weekends to encourage visitors. It can be easily reached by public transport. The RER line A operates from central Paris as does the Metro line 1.

 

From the top of the wide steps at the base of the contemporary Grande Arch, the view towards the cavernous Arc de Triomphe and beyond is a spectacle to behold. The visual acuity and mind will become focussed on the way original and modern culture depend on each other to make a present day contribution to an exciting modern world.

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About Bob Lyons

Former airline pilot and now enjoying a new career as a writer. I have worked and travelled extensively in Europe and especially France. I love the continent, the people and my new life writing about them.