Once the nerve centre of commercial traffic on the canals, the Bassin de la Villette is now a lively hub of cultural and leisure activities.
Opened by Napoleon I in 1808, the Bassin de la Villette was formerly a fashionable place where people enjoyed walking, fishing and boating… In the 1820s, with the digging of the Canal Saint-Martin and the Canal Saint-Denis and improvements to the canal system in Paris, the Bassin quickly became a major transit centre on the network. The warehousing activities of the Compagnie des Entrepôts and the Magasins Généraux, and the establishment of the abattoirs and the cattle market, all contributed to the massive industrialisation of the Bassin. It was not until the 1950s and the decline of industry in Paris that numerous warehouses were abandoned or demolished. The closure of the cattle market in 1973, followed by that of the abattoirs, was to change once more the face of the district.
The Bassin de la Villette, a remarkable stretch of water 700 metres long by 70 metres wide, is now experiencing a very real revival: the quaysides are thronged with people enjoying a stroll, the barges have become cultural venues, the warehouses have been converted into cinemas, hotels and restaurants.
The Bassin is a place full of life, an ideal place to stroll, have a picnic or stop over at one of the many bars or restaurants.
The Bassin de la Villette also offers delightful opportunities for those who want to get away from it all, whether on foot, on a bike or on roller blades. With the various improvements to towpaths, access is now easy to the various canals adjoining the Bassin (the Canal de l’Ourcq, the Canal de Saint-Denis and the Canal Saint-Martin) and to special attractions such as the Stade de France, the Parc de la Villette and the Bastille quarter…
For film-lovers, there is a large cinema complex showing quality films. The MK2, housed in former warehouses, brings the Stalingrad district to life all year round: exhibitions, festivals, shorts, theatres and the many scheduled performances confirm the role of the Bassin de la Villette as a new centre of cultural life.
The Bassin de la Villette is now a centre for boating and sailing: discovery cruises organised by Canauxrama and Paris Canal run all year round; the La Villette water sports centre offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy activities such as kayaking, pedal boats and rowing; a new marina opened in 2008, capable of accommodating boats of up to 15 metres in length.
Along with all the cultural and sporting events taking place throughout the year, the Bassin de la Villette is also well suited to the planning of events and festivals. Since 2007, it has every summer accommodated the Paris Plage event, in which, for a whole month, it becomes in effect a seaside resort with a host of amenities provided free of charge: deckchairs, a kindergarten, climbing frames, water-based leisure activities, as well as a floating pavement café, a boules pitch, a picnic area and dance floors are all there for you to enjoy a fantastic summer.
At the same time the Eté du Canal l’Ourcq en fêtes summer festival is taking place. At weekends, boats provide a shuttle service on the Canal de l'Ourcq from Paris Plage at the Bassin de la Villette to Bondy and Aulnay-sous-Bois. A host of boating and sporting activities can be enjoyed on the canal and out-of-the-ordinary attractions are there to be visited, such as the Parc de la Villette, the Grands Moulins in Pantin and the Centre National de la Danse… A wonderful opportunity to see from a different angle the continuation of the Bassin de la Villette into the urban and semi-urban areas of Seine-Saint-Denis.
Finally, 2009 is the year for celebrating 200 years of the Bassin de la Villette. From May to July, a series of cultural, sporting and festive activities will give pride of place to the largest stretch of water in Paris, with a rich and varied programme of events showing different aspects of La Villette now and in the future.
Along the canal banks, the former warehouses and Magasins Généraux de Paris (which in the XIXth century were used for storing agricultural produce and various primary commodities) are today home to the Saint Christopher’s youth hostel (275 beds, some of them in private rooms, an internet café and two small auditoria), and the La Criée seafood restaurant with unrestricted views of the canal.