'Place aux Huiles' square

Perpendicular to Cours Estienne d’Orves, Place aux Huiles is one of Marseille’s most emblematic squares, in the heart of the 1st arrondissement. Every year, this pedestrian zone attracts many visitors for its restaurants, bars, bookshops and traditional stores. Let yourself be carried away by its Italian charm as you stroll through the streets of Marseille.

A historic place

Located on the south bank of the Vieux-Port de Marseille, Place aux Huiles has the appearance of a large esplanade built on an ancient canal – the Canal de la Douane – which was used by galleys, a type of ship with oars and sails, to access the arsenals. Its course followed the Cours Jean-Ballard and Honoré-d’Estienne-d’Orves. Reserved for commercial use until the early 20th century, the square takes its name from the oil barrels disembarked and embarked on the said canal. These barrels were mainly used by the soap factories located in Marseille’s Rue Sainte. Between 1927 and 1929, the canal was completely filled in. In the early 1960s, on the initiative of Gaston Deferre, the mayor of the time, a 375-space overhead parking lot was built on the Cours d’Estienne d’Orves. Dissatisfied, the people of Marseilles demanded that a solution be found to remove it. In 1987, the plan to remove the overhead parking lot was accepted. It was then replaced by the current underground parking lot.

The Place aux Huiles, perpendicular to the Cours Estienne d’Orves, now resembles a piazza, an Italian public square. It was inaugurated by urban architect Charles Bové in 1989, inspired by Rome’s famous Piazza Navona. Today, the Place aux Huiles is one of the most popular spots for locals and tourists alike. Various spaces have been developed to transform the square into a delightful place to stroll and live. As they pass through the square, visitors can find restaurants, boutiques and even art galleries.

A site built on the Galleys Arsenal

A former military shipyard, the Galleys Arsenal was located on the southern and eastern shores of Marseille’s Vieux-Port. Built by Colbert in the 17th century, it was used to accommodate and arm King Louis XIV’s galleys. From the 13th century onwards, the site was also successively occupied by the ships of the kings of Naples and France during the Italian wars. As galleys lost their role to ships, the Arsenal was only truly operational for less than a hundred years. Until 1748, it housed galerians, those sentenced to forced labor.

The Place aux Huiles as we know it today was built on the site of the Galleys Arsenal. Today, virtually no trace remains of this strategic location, but it still marks the urbanism of the city.

What to do near Place aux Huiles?

With its Italian allure, Place aux Huiles is lined with restaurants, boutiques and bars. During your stay in Marseille, you can sit down on the terrace of one of the many restaurants serving Mediterranean cuisine. Why not savor the unavoidable bouillabaisse, a specialty made with local fish?

For lunch or dinner, we suggest dining at the following addresses, located on Cours d’Estienne D’Orves, very close to Place aux Huiles: