The Vieille Charité
In 1640 the Town Council decided to "lock up the poor inhabitants of Marseille in a selected clean place", in compliance with the Royal policy of "enclosing the poor".
In 1670 a charity organisation within the Council of Aldermen commissioned Pierre Puget, the King's architect whose childhood was spent in the quarter, to design a Public Hospital intended to accommodate beggars and the poor. The plan was slow in taking shape and the first stone was not laid until 1671. It was to be one of Pierre Puget's most successful architectural achievements but was not, however, completed until 1749.
The building has four wings that are closed to the exterior but comprise a 3 floored-gallery on the inside that overlooks an inner rectangular courtyard. The 3 levels, forming passages between the large work and living areas, correspond to 3 floors inside the building that separated men and women.
The chapel in the centre of the courtyard was built between 1679 and 1707 and it proved to be the most remarkable piece of architecture that Pierre Puget was ever to create for his home town. This chapel with its egg-shaped dome is a perfect example of pure Italian baroque.
The present façade was not built in the 18th Century but dates from 1863. It depicts Charity taking in pauper children; this group is flanked by two pelicans feeding their young.
After the Revolution, and until the end of the 19th Century, the Vieille Charité was used as a hospice for old people and children. In 1905 the building was occupied by the army and later became a shelter for the destitute. After the Second World War the architect Le Corbusier was struck by the building and called attention to its abandoned state. It had been scheduled for demolition but finally became a National Heritage building in 1951. The Malraux laws resulted in the beginning of remarkable restoration work on the Vieille Charité in 1968. Since 1986 the building has fulfilled a variety of scientific and cultural functions, housing museums and hosting temporary exhibitions. The Vieille Charité is in the heart of the Panier and is a must for every tourist visiting Marseille.
The Place des Moulins
The location of the Place des Moulins has been known since Antiquity and lies at the highest point in the Panier overlooking the surrounding old town. This upper part of the town was used to defend Marseille against sea and land attacks and it was from here that the canons were fired.
For many years the square was also occupied by windmills whose sails were easily rotated by the wind in this exposed spot. In 1596, fifteen windmills could be seen, giving Marseille its characteristic appearance. However, the use of water to drive machinery gradually took over from the windmills and eventually caused them to close down. In the 19th Century only three windmills were still operating and their stone bases can still be seen today. In the middle of the 19th Century the city authorities ordered the buildings to be demolished in order to create a new square with all the buildings constructed in a more or less identical architectural style. The new Place des Moulins included trees, benches, an area for playing French bowls and, later, a school that gave it a more village-like atmosphere. In 1840 water tanks were built under the square to supply the city with water. A local organisation set up to promote the interests of the Panier is presently studying the possibility of opening a museum based around "The History of Water in Marseille".
Since 1983 the City of Marseille has been working towards rehabilitating the Panier and one of the initial phases of the plan is centred around restoring the friendly atmosphere of the Place des Moulins. The project is already well under way and the results can be seen in the buildings that have been restored, the apartments that have been rebuilt and the streets and squares that have been redesigned.