'La Vieille Charité'A core institution of Marseille

The 'Vieille Charité' Museum

 ‘La Vieille Charité‘ -an emblematic site of Marseille- is nestled in the heart of the ‘Panier’ suburb, the historic core of the city. A marvel of 17th century architecture, the ‘Vieille Charité’ museum, both symbolises the wealth of Marseille’s heritage and provides the city with a cultural centre. Since 1986, the ‘Vieille Charité’ has been restored and has become a multidisciplinary centre with a scientific and cultural vocation for the city of Marseille. It is classified as a Historical Monument.

Origins

The ‘Vieille Charité’ in a few dates

In 1640 the City Council decided following the royal policy of “great confinement of the poor”, to gather the poor natives of Marseille in a clean place.
It was not until 1654 that the directors considered constructing a set of buildings more appropriate to the needs, as there were already more than 300 poor people at the Charity at that time.
In 1670, a charitable association within the Council of Aldermen( Conseil des Echevins) gave Pierre Puget, the king’s architect and a child of the neighbourhood,  the construction of a General Hospital to welcome beggars and the poor. 
It was only in 1671 that the first stone of what was to be one of Pierre Puget’s most beautiful architectural achievements was laid.
The construction of ” la Vieille Charité” of Marseille was completed in 1749. They serve vast collective spaces for work and living, separating  women and men.
In the centre of the courtyard, the chapel built between 1679 and 1707 is a remarkable architectural work with an ovoid dome, a perfect example of pure Italian Baroque. The present facade, which was left unfinished, dates from 1863 and takes up the theme of Charity.
After the revolution and until the end of the 19th century, the “Charity” became a hospice for the elderly and children. In 1905, the building was occupied by the army and was subsequently used as a shelter for the most destitute.

Left abandoned after the Second World War, and destined for demolition, the Old Charity is occupied only by poor inhabitants living in miserable conditions.
The Old Charity was finally classified as a Historical Monument in 1951 under the impetus of the architect of the ‘Cité Radieuse’, Le Corbusier.
In 1961, restoration work began and lasted almost 25 years.

In 1962, all residents were relocated and the building was closed.

Since 1986, it has been a multidisciplinary centre with a scientific and cultural vocation for the City of Marseille.

A building of great beauty

The ‘Vieille Charité’ is composed of four wings of buildings closed on the outside and opened on a rectangular courtyard by galleries which give rhythm to life inside the building.

The body of these buildings is made up of three floors of superimposed galleries with arcades in the centre opening onto an inner courtyard where there is a chapel.

In the centre of this quadrangle, towards the entrance door, is a chapel with an elliptical dome in Baroque style. The porch with Corinthian columns, in Second Empire architecture, takes up the theme of Charity welcoming needy children. It was built between 1861 and 1863.

Did you know?

Built of pink and white stones from the quarry of ‘la Couronne’ (the crown) area, the ‘Vieille Charité’ complex is a vast building with four wings arranged in a rectangle with windowless exterior walls.

From Hospice to multidisciplinary centre

Nowadays, in addition to representing the direction of the museums of Marseille, the Centre of “La Vieille Charité” houses several cultural structures as well as research institutes.

The Museum of African, Oceanian and Amerindian Arts (M.A.A.O.A): it is located on the second floor and presents works from these three continents :
-Africa with masks and reliquaries donated by Masters Wars and the Marseille of Commerce and Industry.
– Oceania with Dr Gastaut’s collection of skulls and dance masks.
-America with a collection of Mexican masks donated by the filmmaker  François Reichenbach and various statuettes, dolls and masks, including a trophy head from Brazil from the collection of Dr Gastaut.

The Museum of Mediterranean Archaeology: it is located on the 1st floor and includes three departments :
– Egyptian Antiquities
– Classical Antiquities ( Greek civilization, Near and Middle East Civilizations).
-Regional archaeology ( local Celto-Ligurian Civilization).

Research Institutes
– The EHESS Marseilles Campus develops a series of Master and Doctorate education and research activities in the humanities and social sciences ( history, anthropology, sociology, economics, etc;).
-The Norbert Elias Centre brings together researchers from different disciplines: anthropology, history, sociology, museology and information sciences. The laboratory is located on the EHESS Marseille campus at the “Vieille Charité”.
– The Social Science Documentation Centre ( CDSS) is being set up in connection with research and teaching activities at the “Vieille Charité”. It brings together the disciplines of the different fields of research that make up the Marseille branch of EHESS.

An enclosure dedicated to Poetry
The International Poetry Centre of Marseille ( CIPM), a place for the transmission of contemporary poetry, organises weekly public readings, meetings and exhibitions around contemporary poets from all nations, as well as publishers sharing their creations. Thematic colloquiums, awareness-raising activities, writers’ residencies, interventions abroad and translation workshops are also organised regularly throughout the year.

A unique location

Today, it has become a multi-purpose centre that hosts many cultural structures. What makes it a unique place in Marseille in many ways is first of all the Olympian calm that reigns there, and then the dazzling beauty of the site. The architectural style is representative of the 17th century with the magnificent baroque chapel and its ovoid bowl. The unity is perfect.

The ‘Vieille Charité’ is a real invitation to relax and escape. A journey through time with many small relaxing or cultural stops. The Charité café welcomes you in a unique setting with its alcoves or on the terrace in the courtyard of the establishment and the cinema ‘le Miroir’ invites you to watch art house films and attend meetings.

As you can see, this is an absolute must-see place in Marseille. After a short visit to the ‘Panier’ suburb, come and enjoy the unique atmosphere of the ‘Vieille Charité’, a vestige of Marseille’s history.

Practical information

Opening hours

Winter schedule (from mid-September to mid-May): 10 am to 6 pm.
Weekly closing on Mondays, except Easter and Whitsun Mondays.
Closed on the following holidays: January 1st, May 1st, November 1st and 11th, December 25th and 26th.

Rates

Permanent collections: 6 euros / reduced rate 3 euros
Access to the museums is free on the first Sunday of the month.

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