Cours Estienne d’Orves

Located in the 1st arrondissement of Marseille, the Cours Honoré d’Estienne d’Orves is in the heart of the Arsenaux district and adjoins the Vieux-Port, and owes its name to Honoré d’Estienne d’Orves, a French naval officer, hero of the Second World War and martyr of the Resistance (1901-1941). This square, which has never been called such, looks like an Italian square. It is a very pleasant pedestrian area where you will find many bars, restaurants, bookshops and art galleries. Whether you are looking for a drink, a good meal, a good book or an art gallery, the atmosphere of this historic place will take you away. It is one of the main tourist spots in Marseille.

A place steeped in history

The square has changed enormously over the course of history. King Charles VIII decided to build a first tercenal (dock) in 1488 to make this area an arsenal for galleys, then enlarged it in 1494 with six new tercenals where the royal galleys were stored and armed. In 1512, King Louis XII ordered twelve new terracenals, of which only six were built.

From 1529, the German Emperor Charles V laid siege to Marseille, and François I had thirteen new galleys built there. In 1646, the convicts’ hospital was founded on the initiative of the Brothers of Saint Vincent de Paul.

In 1702, an internal canal was dug. Initially called “la Darse”, it was later called the Customs Canal in 1780. Its course followed the Place aux Huiles and the Cours Jean-Ballard. The Marseille arsenal, or Arsenal des Galères, was completed in 1707. The arsenal housed up to 8,000 convicts as well as the royal garrison and was the largest in France at the time, accommodating up to 40 galleys.

In 1781, the galleys declined and the State merged the Arsenal of Marseille with that of Toulon and sold the site to the City. Rich merchants settled there. However, the construction of the Port Autonome de la Joliette put an end to this well-to-do bourgeoisie, which left in its turn, making way for a more working-class and artisanal district.

The Customs Canal was filled in between 1927 and 1929. It was then that the world of publishing and the local press moved in. Thus, Jean Ballard’s “Cahiers du Sud” took up residence along the old canal, followed by Éditions Lafitte and La Marseillaise, giving a new lease of life to the district.

In 1965, an aerial car park was built, managed by the Shell Company. It was not until 1987, after 20 years of complaints from the inhabitants of the district, that the City Council voted to demolish it and replace it with an underground car park. And it was the town planner Charlie Bové who was commissioned to rethink the whole Cours d’Estienne d’Orves in 1989, to transform it into the space we know today.

What to do in the Cours d’Estienne d’Orves?

Nowadays, this vast pedestrian area is one of the main tourist squares in Marseille. It is equipped with many restaurants, mainly with the flavours of Provence, Mediterranean cuisine and fish (for the famous bouillabaisse of the fish market of the Vieux-Port of Marseille).

You will also find local crafts. It also hosts cultural events, exhibitions and sports broadcasts during major events.

In 1983, the Maison de l’Artisanat et des Métiers d’Art was created by the city of Marseille and built on the site of the arsenal des galères. The Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur region has the largest number of craftsmen in France. This is why Marseille had the honour of being able to host this place of sharing between artists and the public, which also allowed the transmission of know-how to future generations.

However, it had to close its doors following the Covid crisis. It has now been replaced by a farmers’ market, food shops and local restaurants, renamed “Les grandes halles du Vieux-Port“. These are the first large market halls in Marseille. This project was led by Marseilles entrepreneurs.