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For practiced Parisians and new tourists alike, being in Châtelet-Les Halles station is a singular experience. And considering it’s the biggest underground station in the world – yes, the world! – that makes sense. Châtelet-Les Halles, with its links to three regional city lines (RER) and five metro lines, is one of the city’s most iconic locations.
First, there’s the math: every day, over 1,500 trains pick up and drop off 750,000 travelers on average inside this interchange station, including 520,000 inside the RER station alone (Lines A, B and D, run by the national railway company, the SNCF). At rush hour, up to 120 trains move through this lively, underground megacity every minute – one train every two seconds!
With stats like these, Châtelet has earned its rep as a nexus of the vast rail network covering nearly all of inner city Paris and certain outside areas [See notices on extensions]. Châtelet-Les Halles is connected to 302 other stations, 54 of which offer transfer points to other lines, making the Paris system one of the densest worldwide. See for yourself: wherever you are, a station is no more than 1,600 feet (500 meters) away. No other station in Paris illustrates the grandeur of this impressive underground (and in certain spots, aboveground) network than Châtelet-Les Halles. One which, like Rome, wasn’t built in a day…
The construction of Châtelet-Les Halles was one of the biggest since the metro opened. Until 1970, the site was occupied by the Halles Centrales, a gigantic wholesale and fresh food market which gave the neighborhood its name. Emile Zola used it as the setting for his aptly titled novel, “Le ventre de Paris”, the “Belly of Paris”. A surge in the city’s population in the post-baby boom 50s and 60s made the old Halles a tight squeeze in historical downtown Paris. Soon after, the market was transferred south of Paris to the now famous Rungis site, where it has become the largest wholesale food market in the world.
Following that, work on the new Châtelet-Les Halles station began with the digging of the railway station and, later, construction of the shopping mall above it. Every day, tens of thousands of visitors shop in its many stores and swim in the indoor pool. Movie fans can watch new releases on the 26 screens of the station’s two theatres – the 19-screen UGC Ciné Cité-Les Halles location is the biggest multiplex cinema in the Paris region.
And more is in the works: station renovations launched in 2011 will breathe new life into an emblematic area of Paris, transformed from a ‘belly’ to a ‘breath of fresh air’ in just a few decades. The project is also a technical feat: neither traffic nor transfers will be interrupted while work is carried out. Châtelet-Les Halles is a big-scale affair that wows whether seen for the first – or five hundredth – time