In accordance with the royal policy of “the great confinement of the poor”, in 1640 the City Council decided to “confine Marseille’s native poor to a clean and specific place.” In 1670, a charity within the Magistrate Council commissioned Pierre Puget, the Marseille-born king’s architect, to build a General Hospital to accommodate beggars and the poor. The first stone was laid in 1671 of what would be one of Pierre Puget’s most beautiful architectural designs.
The hospital was completed in 1749 with four wings of buildings enclosed on the outside and opened by a 3 floor corridor on an internal rectangular courtyard to access the vast communal work and residential spaces separating men and women. The chapel built in the centre of the courtyard between 1679 and 1707 is a stunning architectural piece with an ovoid dome, the epitome of Italian baroque. The current façade wasn’t built until 1863 and echoes the Charité’s mission.
After the Revolution, the Charité became a hospice for the elderly and children until the end of the 19th century. In 1905, the building was occupied by the army and was then used to shelter the most destitute. Abandoned after the Second World War and destined to be demolished, the architect Le Corbusier persevered until it was listed as a Monument Historique in 1951. The renovated Vieille Charité has been a science and culture centre since 1986. It houses the Musée d’Archéologie Méditerranéenne, the Musée des Arts Africains, Océaniens, Amérindiens (M.A.A.O.A), the Centre International de la Poésie de Marseille (C.I.P.M), Le Miroir cinema and temporary exhibition halls.
The Place des Moulins
The highest part of the city (42m) played a defensive role and there were cannons to combat attacks from land and sea. There were windmills on the square for a long time and there were fifteen of them in 1596. Only three windmills remained in the 19th century, the foundations of which we can still see today. The city demolished the existing buildings to create a square. Cisterns beneath the square were founded in 1851 to supply water to this part of the city.
Eglise Saint-Laurent is a modest-sized Roman Provencal-style building with three naves separated by square columns. A parish for fishermen and sea people, it is the only parish church from the Middle Ages to still stand in Marseille. When the Fort Saint-Jean was built in the 17th century, the church lost a bay and its eastern façade. The 14th century bell tower was modified in the 17th century. During the Revolution the church was plundered and very badly damaged but saved from demolition by being used as a warehouse until the Concordat. It was a hub for spirituality in Marseille until 1943, the year which saw the destruction of old districts. It has been listed as a Monument Historique since 1950.
Sainte-Catherine Chapel is annexed to the church and built by the White Penitents at the start of the 17th century. Its late-Gothic vault adorned with liernes and tiercerons is unique in Marseille.