The Hôtel de Cabre

The oldest building in Marseille

What if we told you that the oldest building in Marseille is located in the city’s 2nd arrondissement? Whether you are visiting Marseille for your holidays in the south of France or have been in the city all your life, discover the history of this building which has stood the test of time without a single wrinkle and which is one of the most remarkable monuments in the city.

A building that has stood the test of time

In the 2nd arrondissement, at the corner of the Grand Rue and the rue de la Bonneterie, is the Hôtel de Cabre, the oldest building in Marseille still visible today. It was built in 1535 on the orders of Consul Louis de Cabre, a Marseilles merchant and alderman, from whom it takes its name. It is located on the edge of the Old Port, just a few metres from the City hall and the Hôtel Dieu.

Also known as the house of the Alderman de Cabre, the hotel attracts the attention of passers-by because of its imposing façade and its mullioned windows. With a completely different appearance from the surrounding buildings, the building combines a Gothic and Renaissance style that immediately strikes tourists on holiday in Marseille. The effigy of the consul and that of his wife can be seen on the front of the building, next to a statue of Saint James which pays tribute to Louis’ father, Jacques de Cabre. In 1941, the hotel was classified as a historic monument by decree for its facades.

The Hôtel de Cabre has survived several centuries without suffering too much damage. During the French Revolution, opponents of the monarchy destroyed the coat of arms with the fleur-de-lys adorning the house, considered a royal symbol. In 1943, following the Marseille roundup, the Germans – on Hitler’s orders – destroyed almost all the streets around the north bank of the Old Port. According to the Nazi regime, this area of the Bouches-du-Rhône had to be razed to the ground because it was supposedly dangerous. The demolition operation took place from 3 to 19 January 1943. Only a few buildings of historical value were preserved, including the Hôtel de Cabre and the Maison Diamantée.

A surprising move

In 1954, a few years after the Second World War, the area where the Hôtel de Cabre is located was rebuilt. However, the monument was threatened with destruction due to its position on the route of the Grand Rue, which was to be widened.
In order to preserve the historic building, two solutions were considered. The first was to dismantle the hotel stone by stone in order to rebuild it in another location. The second option, which was the preferred one, envisaged moving the hotel over a distance of 15 metres and rotating it by 90° to align it with the Grand Rue. Work was also carried out to restore the facade damaged by the blasting in 1943.
Using a system of rails and a hydraulic pump, the monument weighing 670 tons was moved on a chassis. Today, holidaymakers and local residents can still admire this vestige of Provence, which bears witness to the history of Marseille.
As a little anecdote, it is still possible to see theinscription “rue Bonneterie” on the façade of the Hôtel de Cabre, despite the fact that it was moved to the Grand Rue.