La 'Friche de la Belle de Mai' museum

Over the years, la Friche Belle de Mai has become a true multipurpose and cultural place. It is a timeless and defiant area in the city of Marseille, where the cohabitation of sport, art and different trades is in perfect symbiosis with the cultural mix of its inhabitants.

Where does the name ‘La Belle de Mai’ come from?

The etymology of the name of La Belle de Mai (Beauty of May) district is controversial.

A legend tells that on May 1st, little girls elected a queen among themselves, whom they crowned with white flowers. The lucky girl was then nicknamed the ‘Belle de Mai’.

Another version says that in the 17th century, a vine growing in the area of Plombières was called Bèla de Mai (‘even more beautiful’, in Provençal) because it was a late vine, that is to say, it gave grapes until December. A path of la Belle de Mai went from Plombières to the Porte d’Aix, passing through the Saint-Charles cemetery and the current Belle de Mai street.

The history of La Belle de Mai district

Located near the Saint-Charles train station, La Belle de Mai is a district of the 3rd arrondissement of Marseille.

Around the 20th century, La Belle de Mai was a working-class neighbourhood, and was home to the Seita tobacco factory, which closed in 1990. Once the factory was disused, the industrial wasteland was renovated and transformed in the 1990s into a cultural and heritage site.

This very popular district is now home to the Marseille Municipal Archives, a Media Centre and the Friche. The Media Centre includes company offices and a film studio.

Did you know?

More than three quarters of the scenes in the television series ‘Plus Belle La Vie’ are shot in the studios of the Media Centre at La Friche Belle de Mai.

La Friche de La Belle de Mai

The creation of la Friche allowed the district to be reconverted and to offer the inhabitants of the district and the people of Marseille a real cultural and economic centre.

To better understand the birth of la Friche, we must go back to the second half of the 1980s. Gaston Deferre, then mayor of Marseille, had decided to restructure Marseille’s cultural life and give it a new impetus. Apart from two exceptions – the Théâtre de la Criée, directed at the time by Marcel Maréchal, and the Ballet National de Marseille, directed by Roland Petit – Marseille had one of the smallest cultural budgets in France and no large-scale projects.

Today, culture is at the heart of la Friche. It is home to the Mucem Resource Conservation Centre, which provides access to the Mucem archives, library and documentation.

The Goethe Institute Marseille is also present at la Friche. It is the cultural institute of the Federal Republic of Germany, active worldwide. The Institute promotes the knowledge of the German language abroad and the maintenance of international cultural collaborations.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Marseille, as a port city, a commercial city and a working-class city, and its councillors were not very concerned with culture, as this function was traditionally assigned to its rival, Aix-en-Provence. The construction of la Friche helped to change the image of a culturally neglected city.

‘La Friche is a political experiment, a place of thought and action renewing the relationship of art to the territory and to society.’

Manifesto of la Friche – 2020 

A true place of creation and innovation

It is both a working space for its 70 resident structures (350 artists, producers and employees who work there every day) and a place for dissemination (600 public artistic proposals every year, workshops dedicated to young audiences, major festivals).

With 450,000 visitors per year, 2,500m2 of exhibition space, 6 concert halls, 2 performance halls, shared gardens, a restaurant, a nursery, a bookshop, an 8,000m2 roof terrace and more than 600 events per year, la Friche is a cosmopolitan place where people can meet and share, just like the Phocaean city of Marseille.

All year round, La Friche de la Belle de Mai offers a complete cultural program. Open to all, you can stroll along the ‘friche verte’ (the green space of the place), pass by the playground of the street art artists, or stop for a drink at the ‘Café de La Salle’, open every day.

For skateboarders of all ages and levels, the Skatepark de la friche is a must. It is a unique facility, designed by the Constructo agency, which specialises in skatepark engineering. It offers numerous modules dedicated to street skateboarding. Very popular with the city’s riders, the Skatepark de la friche is definitely worth a visit.

If you are feeling peckish, ‘Les Grandes Tables’ de la Friche invites you to taste seasonal products full of flavour. More than a restaurant, ‘Les Grandes Tables’ is a place to meet, to share culinary and cultural experiences and to reflect on food and cooking. Several projects have been set up: the Monday night farmers’ market, Les grandes Carrioles, and street cooking in a ‘chef/artist duo’.

For years, la Friche has become a cultural reference for the city of Marseille, where everyone can create their own bubble, and experience a unique moment. The project has highlighted the importance of cultural spaces in the city, and has brought to the forefront the creativity and innovative ideas of Marseille’s minds.

‘What la Friche showed, along with others, was that another way was opening up and that people who were not involved in the making of the city, artists, intellectuals, inhabitants, were getting involved and proposing new ways of shaping the urban world, which anticipates without programming, without freezing.’

 

Patrick Bouchain, architect

Practical information

Parking for cars

La Friche has a restricted car park accessible via the Simon entrance
12 rue François Simon – 13003 Marseille

Access to la Friche by public transport

La Friche is open 7 days a week from 7 am to 11 pm (and later on event nights)

Bus – stop Belle de Mai la Friche :
Line 49 – Réformés Canebière / Vauban
Line 56 – Belle de Mai La Friche / Gare Saint Charles
Service 7/7 : from 6.40am to 7.10pm

Night bus n°582

Metro
Lines M1 and M2 stop Gare Saint-Charles or M1 stop Cinq Avenues – Longchamp / then 15 min. on foot

Tram
Line T2 stop Longchamp / then 10 min. on foot

Nos suggestions
Place Bargemon à Marseille, vue sur le Vieux-Port et Notre Dame de la Garde
Finding accommodations in Marseille
Friche Belle de Mai Marseille, salle de restaurant
Restaurants in Marseille