It’s not in the news, barely even in French news, but there is an Occupy encampment here in Paris. It’s just not at Hôtel de Ville. It’s at La Défense, Paris’ main financial district on the Western edge of the city that emerged in the 70s and 80s and is now the largest purpose-built business district in Europe. The district completes the Westernmost end of the Axe historique, which is a straight line leading from the Louvre through the Champs-Elysées, the Arc de Triomphe and ending at La Grande Arche, the iconic modern monument of La Défense. Originally, the axe historique allowed the King a grand vista from the Louvre (his palace) straight to the Western end of the city.
It was there that I went last weekend to attend the general assembly of Occupons La Défense. I had never been to La Défense before, always being vaguely curious about its famous architecture, so as I first stepped off the metro I was immediately struck by the enormity of La Grande Arche, and the glitz of the surrounding financial buildings. Considering Paris is one of the most well-preserved European cities, with countless buildings and cathedrals hundreds of years old and only one skyscraper, this modern outpost could be Paris’ polar opposite. According to Wikipedia, construction of La Grande Arche began in 1985 after Danish architect Johann Otto von Spreckelsen and Danish engineer Erik Reitzel won a design competition initiated by then-French president François Mitterand. Apparently, they intended the monument to serve as a 20th-century version of the Arc de Triomphe, honoring humanity and humanitarian ideals rather than military victories. Of course, the building was inaugurated with grand military parades at the bicentennial of the French Revolution. And looking at it today, the stark grey and silver angles of the structure remind me of anything but “humanitarian ideals.”