La Friche de la Belle de Mai

La Friche, a witness of Marseille’s history

In the 19th century, the tobacco factory at la Belle de Mai was the HQ of one of the biggest manufacturers in France. In 1860, the factory was situated on rue Sainte, near the Old Port in the town centre and was the biggest employer in the city and the second largest tobacco manufacturer in France, just behind Paris.
Every year, around 100 million cigars were produced by hand on the site. Due to the squalor of the premises, the tobacco factory left the south side of the Old Port in 1868 and moved next to the Saint Charles sugar refinery in la Belle de Mai.
The factory, which ran along the railway, would go through several changes, growing ever larger in line with the ever-increasing consumption of cigarettes and developments in production methods (the gradual modernisation and electrification of the manufacturing machinery).
In the 1950s, after years producing cigars and rolling tobacco, the tobacco factory at la Belle de Mai, owned by the SEITA, specialised solely in the manufacture of Gauloises and Gitanes cigarette brands, following orders from Paris for a new industrial strategy that reflected new trends.
In the early 60s, the factory was producing about a fifth of all Gauloises smoked in France. However, lighter tobacco came into fashion and the staff went from 1000 in 1960, to 250 in 1968. The factory was finally closed in 1970.

The beginning…

In April 1992, the project Friche la Belle de mai was born, and the old Tobacco Factory became a place for artistic production and residencies. An agreement with la SEITA, who owned the site, was signed offering an informal lease to occupy the site for free. This imposing, exceptional array of buildings is one of the last bastions of the industrial age in the Phoenician city, which the economic downturn has all but removed from the city’s landscape.
Over the months that followed, other producers, cultural and artistic groups and operators joined the Friche project.

The current Friche…

La Friche la Belle de Mai is now a huge ‘playground’ covering 45 000 m2 which allows for an experimental approach to site management and atypical transformation initiatives.
Marseille-Provence 2013 European Capital of Culture gave our region the opportunity to highlight the richness of our heritage and the abundance of art and culture which brings it to life. La Friche was actively involved in this major event with a varied, rich programme of events throughout 2013.

This event was a catalyst which allowed us to raise the necessary funds to undertake a major transformation of the site led by Matthieu Poitevin’s architectural agency ARM (now called Caractère Spécial). In the run up to 2013, la Friche constructed new work areas and roads as well as the world class exhibition space, the Tour-Panorama This construction work provided access to the roof terrace covering 85000 m2 with exceptional views of the city as far as the sea.

ARM also oversaw the design and construction of la Friche’s crèche, which opened its doors in 2012. Providing this facility for the local area marked the beginning of a new chapter of the whole project – in line with the original guiding principles of the initiative –la Friche was now truly committed to social cohesion and training. This new crèche, under the direction of the child psychiatrist Patrick Bensoussan, welcomes 60 children from the local area, as well as the staff team.  â€¨â€¨In 2013, the Agency Construire built the Plateaux, two magnificent wooden venues with seating for 370 and 150 respectively, in barely six months!

Making the most of the ‘Creative Neighbourhoods’ initiative [Quartiers Créatifs] in the framework of the European City of Culture, a children’s playground was designed and built by the architects Encore Heureux [Still Happy] and, alongside this, the landscape gardeners Jean-Luc Brisson and David Onatzki designed and planted the shared gardens for local residents.

Numbers of visitors to La Friche saw a sharp increase in 2013, with 500 000 people coming to the site to use the facilities and go to events.

Now recognised as a major player on the arts and cultural landscape and a beacon in the region la Friche is continuing to grow with the support and collaboration of its public partners.

In October 2014, La Friche ‘went beyond its walls’ by creating the Gyptis cinema in the heart of the Belle de Mai neighbourhood (project managed by Olivier Moreux).

In 2015, The Mediterranean Institute of Performance Arts [l’Institut Méditerranéen des Métiers du Spectacle] was built (Project managed by Duchier – Pietra). These new facilities brought together students in their third year of study at the Cannes Regional Actors’ School  [l’Ecole Régionale d’Acteurs de Cannes] and students from the technical department at the Apprentice Training Centre [Centre de Formation des Apprentis] piloted by the Avignon ISTS.

A bookshop/ café « La salle des Machines  has opened its doors. It sits alongside the Playground, an urban sports park has been added alongside the skate park.

La place des quais [Platform Square] – an area for rest and relaxation – a youth area and new offices and rehearsal space have been built to accommodate new facilities.

A collaborative social housing project in association with the social landlord Sud Habitat, this innovative project has involved future residents in making decisions from the word go throughout the planning process and beyond. They will take part in the whole process which should be completed in 2018 when 30 housing units will see the day.

The story of the Friche – artistic and urban experimentation zone, societal project and unique community adventure –  is far from over !

With over 300 000 visitors a year, la Friche la Belle de Mai is a multi-faceted public space comprising a sports area, restaurant, 5 concert venues, shared gardens, a bookshop, a crèche, 2400 m2 of exhibition space, a 8000 m2 roof terrace, and a training centre.
On this new cultural, urban site, we imagine, create and work to ensure that every idea can find an outlet. You can find every form of artistic expression here – every trend and people of all ages. Discovery, debate and the unexpected are on each corner of every street of this patch of town.
Visit la Friche, open 365 days a year, for an exhibition, a lunch, a walk or a basket ball session on the new Playground, for a concert or a movie on the roof top of the building !

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