La Rotonde de la Villette was built in 1784 by the architect Claude Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806) for use as a toll house. Anyone entering the city had to stop here and pay a tax on any merchandise they were bringing with them.
If you have ever seen the opera La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini, you may recall that the third act takes place on a cold winter morning in front of one of these toll houses — not this one, however, but a different one at what is now Place Denfert-Rochereau, at the other end of Paris.
After this particular tax was abolished, most of the toll houses were torn down, but the Rotonde de la Villette, being the largest and most impressive, was preserved and used for various purposes in the 19th and 20th centuries. For instance, it was used for several decades as a depository for items that were found during archeological excavations in Paris.
All you loyal readers of my Besançon posts might recall that the architect of the Rotonde, Claude Nicolas Ledoux, also designed Besançon’s municipal theater.
In the 21st century the Rotonde de la Villette was renovated as part of a program to upgrade this part of Paris, which had become a slum area with a bad reputation for crime and drug dealing. I don’t know how successful they have been in upgrading the neighborhood (and I can’t go back and look because of the coronavirus pandemic), but when I took these photos in 2012 the area looked clean, attractive and peaceful.
There is a respectable-looking restaurant in the building, La Rotonde Stalingrad, so called because of its address on Place de Bataille de Stalingrad.
In earlier years I used to wonder why this square and its Métro station had the name Stalingrad, since the city in Russia that used to have that name is now called Volgograd. But I later realized that the square and the station were named after the battle, not the city.
In front of the Rotonde de la Villette there is now an open square with a fountain and a body of water called the Bassin de La Villette, which is the departure and arrival point for the Canauxrama tours on the Canal Saint-Martin.
Location and aerial view of the Rotonde de la Villette on monumentum.fr.
My photos in this post are from 2012. I revised the text in 2020.