Palais du Pharo
The Pharo promontory was once called Tête de More, meaning Moorish Head. It was a rocky plateau on which only rushes and wild grasses grew, with a few "guinguettes" (small restaurants with music and dancing). Pharo was the name of the cove just to the west of the Tête de More. The “Farot” was a mound separating the cove from the open sea, and providing a look-out point, first mentioned in the 14th century.
It was Prince-President Louis-Napoleon who decided to build an imperial residence in Marseille. During a visit in September 1852, he expressed the desire to have "a house at the water's edge". At the end of that year, he commissioned the architect Vaucher to find a site for his residence and draw up the plans. Then Napoleon III's architect Lefuel was put in charge of the project. For their part, the City authorities decided to donate the selected sites: La Réserve and the Pharo. Napoleon III accepted the donation "wishing in this way to convey to the City of Marseilles another expression of friendship and to further strengthen the bonds linking him to this great patriotic city".
The residence was not much appreciated and the Emperor never actually used it. On the death of Napoleon III, the Empress Eugénie became the sole owner of the Pharo, and generously donated it to the city. In 1904 major changes were made to the Palais du Pharo to convert it into a medical school. The balance of the volumes was disrupted by raising the wings and the interior distribution was ruined.
However, thanks to its exceptional location and the creation of a Conference Centre that receives up to 60,000 people a year, the former Imperial Residence is today a prestigious architectural complex, one of the finest in Europe. Tradition has been respected and the site protected, by integrating the new spaces into the Palais and creating underground conference rooms under the forecourt of the original building. The site comprises ceremonial rooms, a 1200 m2 exhibition hall, a 500 m2 restaurant and a 900-seat auditorium which can be adapted to accommodate conferences or seminars by means of a highly sophisticated system.