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.
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.
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!
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.
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.