The old Marseille
BOOK a guided tour of Marseille’s old town
Behind the Town Hall lies the city’s old town, "Le Panier". It is named after a hotel called “Le Logis du Panier” which was based here in the 17th century.
The City of Marseille has been restoring the area to its former glory since 1983 with support from the European Commission.
The Maison Diamantée was built by wealthy Spanish and Italian commissioners then inhabited by Marseille’s wealthy families until it was divided up during the French Revolution. It is the perfect example of Mannerism in Provence with exceptional diamond embossing on its façade and an elaborate panelled staircase, unique in Marseille. It was listed as a Monument Historique in 1925, saved from destruction in 1943 and housed the Musée du Vieux Marseille from 1967 to 2009.
Marseille’s Palais de Justice (law courts) was built in the mid-18th century by Marseille architects, the Gérard brothers, on the foundations of a 16th century Maison de Justice. The building is made of pink stone from the Couronne quarries and has a relatively narrow yet appealing façade typical of Provencal houses of the period. The avant-corps is topped by an allegorical pediment whilst the piano nobile features a superb wrought iron balcony typical of 18th century Marseille craftsmanship. Revolutionary sentences were pronounced from this balcony and the guillotine stood on the square below. The Town Hall annex is currently housed in this building.
The Grand'Rue bears the outline of the first ancient road which is still visible in the Ancient Port and which you can follow up Place de Lenche, formerly Agora. The Greek road was 3 metres beneath the current road. It was already a busy road in 6BC as it was home to the main government buildings and hosted markets, business and trade.
The Hôtel de Cabre
This townhouse, one of the oldest in Marseille, was built in 1535 for trader and consul Louis Cabre with a unique blend of Gothic and Renaissance styles. It was saved for urban planning reasons when old districts were being destroyed in 1943. It was moved as a single unit on jacks and rotated 90° to align with contemporary streets. The façades were listed as Monuments Historiques in 1941.
The Hôtel Dieu
The 12th century Hôpital du Saint-Esprit expanded over the centuries and attached to the Hôpital Saint-Jacques de Galice in the 16th century. It became the Hôtel Dieu one century later. Its reconstruction was undertaken by a nephew of the famous architect Hardouin-Mansart but the major project was left incomplete and the Hôtel Dieu took on its current design under the Second Empire. As in all 18th century hospital buildings, the building was enclosed on 4 sides and divided into two main wings, one for women and one for men. The architect Blanchet decided to open the south hospital and completed the two wings with pavilions. The three floors were opened up by corridors which were also typical of hospital architecture. Joseph-Esprit Brun designed the staircases.
It has been home to the 5* Intercontinental hotel since 2013.
The bronze bust is of Jacques Daviel who carried out the first crystalline cataract extraction at the Hôtel Dieu in 1745. He was then appointed King Louis XV’s eye doctor.
A little parish church was built here devoted to Notre-Dame des Accoules in the 6th century. The church was rebuilt in the 13th century as was the Tour Sauveterre bell tower which sounded the alarm and summoned the City Council. It was all partly demolished in 1794 and the church was rebuilt on the central foundations a little before the July Monarchy. There’s a stone golgotha on the site of the early church which reads “en expiation de tous les crimes commis pendant la Révolution” (in atonement for all the crimes committed during the Revolution). The spire was also reworked in the 19th century.
Le preau des accoules
At the beginning of the 17th century, the Jesuits founded the Eglise de Sainte-Croix and a large school where Marseille’s future business people were taught Oriental languages: the Collège des quatre langues. Following Louis XIV’s decision and in accordance with his goal to boost trade in Marseille, the school became the Observatoire Royal in 1701.
The observatory had become too small and was moved to the Plateau de Longchamp in 1863. A school has since been established in the former observatory whilst the Académie des Belles Lettres, Sciences et Arts, designed by Joseph-Esprit Brun, now houses the Préau des Accoules a museum entirely devoted to children.
The Place de Lenche
Place de Lenche is on the ancient Greek agora from which locals could watch the port’s comings and goings. The square was originally closed on all four sides and in the 5th century Saint-Cassien founded a convent for Saint-Sauveur nuns on the south side opposite the Saint-Victor monastery on the other side of the port.
Saint-Saveur cellars lie beneath the square. They were the Greek city’s cisterns from 3BC, listed as a Monument Historique in 1840 and now seen as an unreachable but intact ancient monument. The name Lenche comes from a Corsican family, Lincio, who made their mark on the square by founding a coral workshop, shops and building a fabulous mansion here in the 16th century.
The south side of the square was demolished in accordance with plans by the German authorities in the winter of 1943 and the buildings were rebuilt further down in the 50s.