What to See in La Villette

June 7 Blogathon

Early in the nineteenth century in an effort to emphasize Parisian prosperity, Napoléon I developed Bassin de la Villette and the Canal de l’Ourcq diverting water to the Seine to fill his city fountains—water being the visual symbol of a city’s wealth. The plain of La Villette—incorporated into Paris in 1860–fueled the Industrial Revolution. Factories, tanneries, refineries and smokestacks regularly polluted the air and water. In the late 1800s, La Villette was also the site of the city’s main abattoir. Needless to say, it was not a pleasant area to live. But one hundred years plus later, the transformation of La Villette into parkland and museums makes this neighborhood in the 19th arrondissement an appealing (somewhat affordable) corner of Paris.

It now abounds with cultural activities and museums of science, industry and music. The most recent addition arrived via the imaginative drawing table of architect Jean Novel: a new cultural center and symphonic hall, the Philharmonie de Paris (http://philharmoniedeparis.fr/fr. Looking a bit like the head of Darth Vadar, the structure has drawn its share of detractors. What new Paris building hasn’t? Critiquing new structures is in Parisian genetics—a national pastime, if you will.

But I can attest that this building—meant as a cultural space for exhibitions (most recently an ingenious, multi-media David Bowie show), and a concert hall—is a grand addition to La Villette and has reenergized the area yet again. Check out the latest exhibit or take in a concert at the symphonic hall, a theater-in-the-round with hanging, undulating balconies. Seats are generously spaced—no one’s head is in your way—and the acoustics are excellent.

The new café on the grounds (Café de la Musique) is a convenient stop for an early dinner—tasty food and reasonable prices—before the concert. There are also numerous bars and brasseries within walking distance.

Other venues at La Villette will make your day there worthwhile:  A geodesic dome has an engrossing planetarium show and the City of Music Museum is a fascinating stroll through musical instruments of the ages. Simply don the headphones as you approach the cases, and old instruments play in your ears. Or take in a movie on the park grounds at Cinéma en Plein Air (open-air cinema).

For more info:

La Villette: http://lavillette.com/

Cité des sciences et de l’industrie (City of Science and
Industry): http://www.cite-sciences.fr/fr/accueil/

La Géode (https://www.lageode.fr)

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Art & Culture, Paris

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