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February 25, 2016


The Marché de Saint-Denis and its Sounds

by soundlandscapes

MARKETS HAVE BEEN a feature of Saint-Denis since the seventh century. Then the markets were held at Place Panetière, in front of the Basilique de Saint-Denis, the Royal Necropolis of France; final resting place of 42 kings, 32 queens, 63 princes and princesses and 10 great men of the realm. In the 12th century, Abbot Suger, abbot of Saint-Denis, spoke of Place Panetière as a place where “everything to buy or sell may be found”.

Today, Place Victor Hugo and Place Jean-Jaures occupy the former Place Panetière but the markets have survived and nothing much has changed – everything to buy or sell may be found.


Every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday an indoor market, housed in the 19th century Grande Halle, opens for business and an outdoor market appears on Place Jean-Jaures and in the surrounding streets.

Marché de Saint-Denis

The outdoor market is rather like an African souk selling everything from clothes and fabrics to a range of footwear, cosmetics, bags, clay cooking pots and other assorted household goods, tools and plants, as well as some high-end, branded goods at suspiciously low prices.

But for me, the indoor market inside the Grande Halle is the main attraction. With its sights, sounds and exotic smells, visiting the Grande Halle is a multi-sensory experience not to be missed.

Marché de Saint-Denis

Sounds inside the Grande Halle, Marché de Saint-Denis:

To get to the Grande Halle I passed a man on the street selling boxes of what he claimed were top-of-the-range perfumes, Givenchy, Dior etc., for knock down prices and a fascinating lady selling couscoussières. I stopped to listen to their sales patter, which you can hear in my sound piece.

Although tempted, I did though decline an invitation from another stallholder to buy a ‘genuine’ Longines watch for the bargain price of six Euros!

Marché de Saint-Denis

The Grande Halle is a food market but it’s also a microcosm of French history, gastronomy and successive waves of immigration and the sounds inside the Grande Halle reflect this cultural kaleidoscope.

Produce from France, Italy, Portugal, Spain and North Africa sits beside Caribbean cooks, spice sellers from Morocco, magnificent displays of fruit and vegetables from around the world and even more exotic fish. The butchers, including Halal butchers and a horse butcher, sell conventional cuts of meat as well as tripe and meat you won’t find in the swanky shops in the centre of Paris including pig’s heads, feet and everything in between. Nothing goes to waste.

Marché de Saint-Denis

Sunday is the busiest day at the market when whole families turn out to hunt for bargains and they seldom leave disappointed.

Just as in Abbot Suger’s day, everything to buy or sell may be found.


4 Comments Post a comment
  1. hmunro
    Feb 25 2016

    Your recording perfectly captures what I imagined when I first read your description of “clothes, footwear, cosmetics, bags, clay cooking pots and other assorted household goods, tools and plants, as well as some high-end … goods at suspiciously low prices” being sold alongside unusual cuts of meat. Thank you for continuing to show me the *real* Paris, in all her glorious complexity.

    • Feb 29 2016

      Thank you, Heather.
      I think you commented that the Chinese New Year parade seemed raucous … well ‘raucous’ takes on a whole new meaning in the Marché de Saint-Denis!
      I know Saint-Denis is not the most fashionable part of Paris and it’s often shunned by tourists because of its ‘reputation’ – but I like it. It’s colourful, exciting, full of character and sound rich so what’s not to like?

  2. Mar 2 2016

    Hey Des, love your binaural recordings. Just discovered it yesterday and have signed up via your RSS feed. I’ve covered your site on my blog at . Keep up the great work and swing by my site and take a gander!


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