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The Réformés district of Marseille

The Réformés district is located in the 1st arrondissement of Marseille, at the top of La Canebière, one of the city’s main arteries, and not far from the Saint Charles train station. Very popular with locals and visitors alike, this area is home to a church of the same name as well as pleasant cafés and restaurants. Lively and historic, it holds a special place in the hearts of the people of Marseille who pass through it on their way to the Vieux-Port or stop off to enjoy its various institutions, which have now become essential in the city.

The Saint Vincent de Paul church, also known as the Réformés church

The church of Saint Vincent de Paul is nicknamed by the locals as the Réformés church because of its history and its location on the site of a former chapel of the Reformed Augustinians, the first stone of which was laid by the Duke of Guise in the 17th century. Destroyed, it was replaced by a beautiful and large Gothic style church: the Saint Vincent de Paul church, inaugurated in 1886. Listed as a historical monument, it stands out in the landscape of Marseille and the Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur region thanks to its two towers which reach a height of 70 metres, as high as Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. It also has magnificent stained glass windows and a majestic organ to admire, as well as a statue of Joan of Arc. Although it was almost demolished in the 1980s due to low attendance, the Catholic Réformés church is now one of the city’s most popular parishes and one of the must-see monuments when visiting Marseille in the Bouches du Rhône.

The emblematic monuments of the Réformés district

The Réformés district is also home to other monuments and curiosities to discover. The Danaïdes fountain, on the Square Stalingrad, formerly the Cours du Chapitre, is by Jean Hugues. It represents the 50 daughters of King Danaos filling a bottomless barrel to atone for the murder of their husbands during their wedding nights. Stroll along the streets lined with private mansions. On the Place Léon Blum stands a super bandstand dating from 1911 which now hosts various events.

A lively district

This district of Marseille is one of the best known to the inhabitants. Taking its name from the Réformés church, it is home to many establishments that contribute to the activity of the district. On Saturday mornings, the people of Marseille flock to the colourful stalls of the market held on the Cours Joseph Thierry. Fruit, vegetables, fish… you will find everything you need to prepare fresh dishes in the colours of Provence. To continue the day, the various bars and leisure venues take over. Concert bars, rooftop restaurants, theatres, Artplexe cinema, workshop shops… the district is full of establishments. You can linger there for a meal, a shopping session, do your shopping or just relax and share a moment of conviviality.

Where to eat in the Réformés district?

10 things to do in the Réformés district

1/ AdmireGaston Castel’s ‘studio house’, built in 1924, from the outside. Initially Art Deco, it was later raised in a style combining cubist modernism and Mediterranean architecture. Its position on the corner of the street gives it a false air of a ship’s prow facing the city.

2/ Look for the ‘Virgins’ scattered around the street corners of Marseille. Their role is to protect the city from the return of epidemics. Their location is linked to the great plague of 1720, which scattered the city’s inhabitants, and these statues reflect, at least in their architecture, a revival of religious faith in the first half of the 19th century. A cholera epidemic in 1835 led to a second phase of settlement. They represent an important part of the town’s religious heritage.

3/ How about a ‘Picon-bière’? At 28 boulevard National was a large factory founded by Gaëtan Picon, who developed an aperitif drink made from bitter oranges and cinchona from 1837, when he was stationed in Algeria. The bitterness of the beverage prompted consumers to mix it with other drinks, particularly beer. In 1930, Picon became the leading French aperitif, but its eclipse was heralded by the advent of Paul Ricard and his aniseed-flavoured aperitif. Gaëtan’s bust can still be seen on the façade of this beautiful building.

4/ Make the connection between Alexandre Labadié Square and a film that won several César awards in 2018. Who remembers the title? This square was the natural setting for the film ‘Shéhérazade’. Reminder of the pitch: This documented drama tells the story of the amorous encounter between two young misfits on the streets of Marseille.

5/ Discover the oldest Greek Orthodox church in France: the Church of the Dormition of the Mother of God.

6/ Browse for a unique piece at Space Vintage.

7/ Discover the façade of another architectural curiosity dating back to 1860: the ‘Byzantine’ building at 65 Allées Gambetta, built at the request of a shopkeeper born in Odessa and an influential member of Marseille’s Greek community.

8/ In front of the giraffe-shaped free-access bookstall, realise that France’s very first giraffe, Zarafa, arrived in Marseille by boat from Egypt. After a stay in quarantine and several adventures, including an uncontrolled escapade in the sandpits of the King of Spain where she escaped from her keeper, she crossed France on foot to Paris in 1827. She was a royal gift to Charles X. She lived in Paris for a dozen years, before being naturalised. Her body was transferred to the Natural History Museum in La Rochelle, where it can still be admired today.

9/ Climb up to the roof terrace of the Artplexe cinema restaurant, from where you can admire the rooftops of the Canebière.

10/See an operetta or a show at the Odéon, or a play in the beautiful Italian-style auditorium of the Gymnase.

Accessibility

The Réformés district, ideally located in the centre of the city, close to the Old Port, is easily accessible by public transport. Various buses reach the Réformés district from les Goudes in the 8th arrondissement, la Valentine in the 11th arrondissement, Grand Littoral in the 15th arrondissement, les Hameaux des Calanques in the 9th arrondissement and the Calanque de Callelongue in the 8th arrondissement. You can also get there by taking the tramway T2 or metro line 1 and getting off at the Réformés Canebière stop.

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