This charming little square lies in the heart of the former Arsenal quarter, rehabilitated in the 80s. Since then, the area has been reserved for pedestrians and many restaurants, cafés, art galleries and businesses are now here for the enjoyment of the inhabitants of Marseille and tourists who appreciate the Italian charm of the neighbourhood.
The former Arsenals of Marseille occupied an area between Rue Breteuil, Quai des Belges, Quai de Rive-Neuve and Rue Fort Notre-Dame. The history of the Arsenals starts under Charles VIII at the end of the 15th century and ends in the middle of the 18th century when the last galley slaves were dispersed between the prisons of Brest, La Rochelle and Toulon.
In 1494, Charles VIII leaves for the Italian wars and equips six galleys at Marseille. Then, in 1512, Louis XII has six new « terceneaux » (shipbuilding and repair sheds) built. Through the centuries, their number increases. But only in 1660, when Loius XIV comes to Marseille, a Grand Arsenal des Galères is built and a new city plan for Marseille is made. Less than six years later, Nicolas Arnoul, the right-hand man of Colbert, started the modernization of the Arsenal which was to become one of the elements of the reshaping of the city. It grew from 65 to 195 hectares and new city walls were built.
The extension of 1666 is the largest city planning project realized in Provence in modern times. For the first time in its history, the port is in the heart of the city. In fact, the Greek city was founded on the north shore of the port and the residential districts south of the port were only built in the 17th century. The Grand Arsenal now goes from Rue Paradis to the bottom of La Canebière where administration buildings are organized around the Pavillon de l’Horloge. Other existing buildings, like the galley slave hospital, are taken over and included in the perimeter of the new arsenal.
About 10 000 galley slaves lived here in disgraceful detention conditions. They were kept in chains day and night, died of cold in winter (especially in 1710 when the port froze over !), and suffocated in the heat in summer & Nevertheless, some had shops on the port or worked in the soap factories of Rue Sainte and Place aux Huiles, which gave them a meager income. The prison was created by Charles IX in 1564. At first, it held Turks, « Negroes » and common law criminals, then in the 17th century, Protestants. The galley arsenal is a city in the city, where galley slaves, non-commissioned officers and officers lived together in a terrible stench, sometimes masked by the grand parties given by the gentlemen of the officer corps.
On the eve of the 19th century, as we have seen, the land of the Arsenal is sold and from then on the port activities are concentrated on that side. The merchants occupy the warehouses left by the former arsenal and export traditional Marseille products like soap, olive oil, sugar, printed calico, coral, playing cards, etc.
A fish market is opened in 1909, which remains open until 1975 when it is transferred to the north of the city to the industrial port of Saumaty. The building is completely transformed inside, but its front has kept its original appearance.
The National Theater of Marseille is opened in 1981 by the Mayor of Marseille, Gaston Deferre. For 10 years, "la Criée" was directed by Marcel Maréchal with an excellent programme every season. Vincent Scotto was born at no. 32, Quai du Rive Neuve, on 21 April 1874.