La Canebière opened in 1666 following Louis XIV’s order to extend the city. Its name comes from the Provencal word “canebe”, or hemp, to keep the memory of the ropemakers based here until the Middle Ages alive. It wasn’t until the Grand Arsenal was removed at the end of the 18th century that La Canebière was extended up to the port and beautiful buildings were built here.
La Canebière’s moment of glory came under the Third Republic following intense intellectual and business activities in the cafés, major hotels and department stores. La Canebière earned an international reputation and soon became a symbol of Marseille and its port. It was only in 1928 that La Canebière officially covered the Old Port up to the Eglise des Réformés thus surrounding Rue Noailles and Allées de Meilhan.
One of the first major cafés on La Canebière, Café Turc became a must-visit for people travelling to the Middle East from 1850. In the middle of the main room there was a huge fountain topped by a clock which told the time in Turkey, China, Saudi Arabia and Europe. Café Turc disappeared after World War I.
The Beauvau street, opened in 1785 on the Arsenal des Galères’ land. It is one of the first streets in Marseille to have pavements. Hôtel Beauvau at number 4 lodged Lamartine in 1832 and George Sand and Frédéric Chopin in 1835.
The Opera House
The people of Marseille have always loved theatre and opera. Building work on the Grand Théâtre didn’t begin until the Arsenal des Galères’ land was sold in 1781. The entire area was then based around this vast plot whose streets were devoted to theatre and music (Corneille, Molière, Lully etc.) and the greatest representatives of Royalty in Provence.
The neo-classical Grand Théâtre designed by architect Benard opened in 1787. A fire in 1919 destroyed the monument; the main walls, ionic column and main stone façade alone were saved. The architect Gaston Castel in association with Raymond Ebrard was commissioned to rebuild the opera in an Art Déco style.
On the upper cornice of the façade you can read: “L’Art reçoit la Beauté d’Aphrodite, le rythme d’Apollon, l’équilibre de Pallas, et doit à Dionysos le mouvement et la vie” (Art gathers the Beauty of Aphrodite, the rhythm of Apollo, the balance of Pallas and owes movement and life to Dionysus).
What sets the building apart is the expert blend of 18th century neo-classicism and 20th century Art Déco.
One of the most impressive hotels is undoubtedly the former Hôtel du Louvre et de la Paix, 63 La Canebière, by the architect Pot. The vast entrance is framed by four caryatids depicting the four continents. The hotel was ranked as a first class establishment and had 250 rooms until 1941 when it was requisitioned and bought by the French Navy then occupied by the Kriegsmarine. The French Navy returned to the premises after the war and stayed until 1977. The interior had not changed since the Second Empire. The building was sold in 1980; the architects only retained the façades, staircase and two halls listed as Monuments Historiques. The C&A shop opened here in 1984. The Lumière brothers’ first film, "Entrée en gare de La Ciotat", was screened at this hotel in Marseille in 1896.
L’hôtel de Noailles
62 La Canebière, was built by the architect Bérengier in 1865. The central protrusion of the building is topped by a sculpted triangular pediment. The façade features alternating triangular and curvilinear pediments. It was a highly luxurious hotel until 1979. It is now a police station.
Les allées de Meilhan
The 1666 expansion called for the creation of a public promenade beyond the ramparts. Work was only completed in 1775 thanks to the Intendant of Provence, Sénac de Meilhan. The streets were famous for their dance halls. The style of the buildings is very different to La Canebière and Rue Noailles and most of them date back to the end of the 18th century.
The metal bandstand replaced the old wooden structure in 1911. A Wallace fountain, which you’ll find in Longchamp Park, was built here in the 1930s.
The monument aux Mobilisés
was built here in 1894 in memory of the Marseille soldiers who died during the 1870 war.
Saint Augustinian hermits moved to Eglise Saint-Ferréol les Augustins on the Old Port in the 14th century. The cult was reformed in the 16th century; Discalced Augustinians built another monastery beyond La Canebière. The monks fled during the Revolution. In 1803, a new parish was founded and the new Neo-Gothic church was built using the architect Reybaud’s plans. The church was consecrated in 1888.