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©Quartier Baumettes View Pano Croixhkotlcm 21

Les Baumettes district

Located in the very south side of the city, find the Baumettes district in the heart of the 9th arrondissement of Marseille. This area is mainly known for hosting the Marseille prison center, which bears the same name. For the record, ‘Les Baumettes’comes from the Occitan word ‘bauméas’ which means ‘small caves’. In addition to its penitentiary centre, the Marseille district is also known for its proximity to the creeks of the Parc national des Calanques.

The history of the Baumettes district

The district is located in a valley, bordered on both sides by the Escampons crest, the Lun hill and it is dominated by a series of passes: the Lun pass, the Baumettes pass and the Morgiou pass. For many years, a mule trail which passed through the Baumettes district provided a link between the village of Mazargues and the Morgiou cove.

Even today, if you want to go to the Calanques of Sormiou or  Morgiou, you will have to go through the Beauvallon district and les Baumettes, which are the starting point to get to these creeks.

The area, which is mainly wooded and suited to market gardening, wine-growing, hunting and fishing, has never been densely populated. Its location away from the city and the wide open spaces made it easy to work the land. But there were also polluted factories. In 1817, the Lun valley was the site of a soda factory, a substance used in the soap industry to make detergents using caustic soda. A petroleumoil refinery was added in 1863. It was not until the very end of the 19th century that the refinery ceased its activities, moving to the town of Port-de-Bouc, where all the petrochemical-related industries are still located.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Calanque of Morgiou benefited from developments and a modern jetty and a dike were built there to protect the bottom of the creek from the waves pushed by the east wind. The first groups of walkers arrived, notably those from the société des Excursionnistes Marseillais who frequented the site and launched the hiking trend. It is one of the three historic activities practiced in the Calanques of Morgiou and Sormiou with climbing and diving.

It was also at this time that agricultural land was sold and transformed to accomodate populations described as ‘undesirable’, always away from the city.

The Baumettes district is marked by the construction of the prison on the former Constanti countryside, a Greek Orthodox family established in Marseille.  The Baumettesprison succeeds the penal colony and is the result of the grouping of three prisonswhich were located in the citycenter:  des Présentines, Chave and  Saint-Pierre.  The prison was built by the architect Gaston Castel, with the most advanced facilities of its time. That was in 1937! The perimeter wall is partially decorated with the stones of Rognes’s town and  seven bas-reliefs of Art Déco type by Antoine Sartorio represent the seven deadly sins.

The neighbouring the Cayolle district, hosted the  Grand Arénas, a camp that temporarily housed the colonial regiments that were to be sent to the front during the First World War. Then came the Indochinese who came to work for the war effort, the Jewish emigrants who left for Palestine between 1947 and 1965, the gypsies, the self-managed Vietnamese independence workers and the Harkis. Hundreds of thousands of people passed through this shanty town, whose rudimentary barracks were designed by the architect Fernand Pouillon.

Today, the increase in the prison population requires its the expansion,  while ensuring dignity and personalized detention programme to help their reintegration.  Since summer 2023,  the site has hosted a bistronomic table, a restaurant called  les Beaux Mets, which contributes to the social and professional inclusion of prisoners.

The large arena was demolished in the 1970s, and the remaining farmland was replaced by housing estates.

Since 2013, the hamlet of Baumettes is located in the area of adhesion of the Calanques National Park while the natural spaces are classified heart of park and thus benefit from strong protection. Fires are the major threat that could ravage the pines, bushes, arbutus and other trees  that stand majestically beyond the Baumettes valley and Morgiou road.

Top 5 things to do in Les Baumettes

1/ Hiking to the Calanque de Sormiou from Les Baumettes.

2/ After your hike, enjoy a pizza with ink and supions at chez Zé, in the shade of a plane tree.

3/Lunch at the les Beaux Mets restaurant in the heart of the Baumettes prison, the first restaurant in detention open to the public in France to contribute to the social and professional inclusion of prisoners.

4/ Discover the la Jarre landscaped park with its fine example of an animal-drawn noria, and the Centaure theatre.

The best addresses in the area

If you want to venture into the Calanques National Park via the Baumettes district, discover some good addresses of restaurants in the area.

‘Chez Zé ‘ is a small charming pizzeria run by the same family since 1960. On the menu, find high quality pizzas, but also all kinds of traditional dishes from Provencal cuisine, made by a team of enthusiasts. The place is very appreciated by hikers and locals. The establishment allows you to realize birthdays and other events, and even offers a pizza service to take away for those who wish to have lunch near the creeks.

This charming restaurant welcomes you for moments of relaxation between its all-you-can-eat buffet and its swimming pool. Find all kinds of delicious dishes, including fruity deserts for gourmet breaks. Enjoy its large open terrace when the weather is fine. The restaurant is located in the heart of the Baumettes district, close to the Parc national des Calanques.

If you want to eat on the go before starting a hike, find several small snacks and food shops in the Baumettes district.

Where to sleep in the Baumettes district?