Napoleon III appointed Senator Charlemagne-Emile de Maupas as head of the département in October 1861 with the order to modernise Marseille. The Préfecture, based at the Hotel Roux de Corse since the First Empire (now Lycée Montgrand), was too cramped for such a major city. Maupas decided to build a new 7500m² building with views down Rue Saint-Ferréol. The quadrilateral building is based around two courtyards: a semi-circular one and a rectangular one for the stables.
The architect Auguste Martin did the bulk of the work and François-Joseph Nolau, Second Prix de Rome, took over and completed the inside of the monument in 1869. With Maupas’ agreement, Nolau commissioned Marseille artist Antoine Dominique Magaud, famous for his portraits and religious paintings, to decorate the ceiling in the reception rooms and private lounges.