Visite guidée Belsunce ©joOTLCM (8)Visite-guidee-Belsunce-joOTLCM-3.mp4

Guided tour of Belsunce district

Discover Belsunce, a multi-faceted district in the centre of Marseille. Often disparaged by Marseillais for its bad reputation, this guided tour, devised in collaboration with ACAM (Association des Commerçants et Artisans de Belsunce), aims to restore its image through the testimonies of craftsmen and shopkeepers who are fully committed to their district.

Published on 23 May 2023
Jade Orengo
  • Marseille in 3 words

    Wonderful, diverse, native.

  • My favourite neighbourhood

    Les Goudes, and its quiet side (in the off-season) for sipping a drink and having an aperitif facing the sunset.

A district little known to the people of Marseille

Belsunce and the bourgeoisie

We meet at 2.30pm in front of the Alcazar library, with its marquee listed as a Bâtiments de France building. Marie-Pierre, our guide, introduces the tour by going back over the history of Marseille and the different eras that have made the Belsunce district what it is today.

Until the end of the 18th century, Belsunce was a middle-class district of Marseille, where the aristocracy and the middle classes enjoyed strolling under the shade of the trees and the fountains. The beautiful facades of the 17th-century buildings overlooking us bear witness to this.

A district of many cultures

In the 20th century, Belsunce became a focal point for immigration to Marseille. Thousands of war refugees, particularly Armenians fleeing the genocide in 1915, fled to the district.

Since the 19th century, Marseille has been the economic and commercial heart of the region, particularly with its ironmongery and tile-making industries and, of course, its soap factories, which helped to develop the district… Today, you can find anything you want here! The wholesale industry, set up mainly by Asian populations, is still very much in evidence, particularly in the Rue Longue des Capucins, which runs from the Gare Saint-Charles to the Rue d’Aubagne in the Noailles district.

Did you know?

The “Cours Belsunce” was not renamed until 1852, in honour of Monseigneur Henri François-Xavier de Belsunce-Castelmoron, the bishop of Marseille who was famous for his dedication during the Marseille plague. It was previously known as “Le Grand Cours“, or “Cours Saint-Hommebon“.

Committed craftsmen and traders

The key words: conviviality and solidarity

Our first stop is Solidaire BTP, where Ramzi explains the aim of this association, which works to give a second life to materials and objects destined for landfill sites, while promoting mutual aid and solidarity between local residents.

We saw that many of the alleyways had been beautifully planted, and the guide explained that this helps to maintain social links between the residents.

Our second stop was at a shop selling Berber dresses, all hand-embroidered by Aza. I’m overwhelmed by the finesse of the details: it’s a real labour of love!

We pass the Place Louise Michel, which was officially inaugurated in 2018. After a long ‘fight’ by the residents to rehabilitate this area and turn it into a convivial space, the decision was finally accepted and the building project abandoned. Once again, the residents and shopkeepers have demonstrated their commitment to their neighbourhood.

A district steeped in culture

Now we come to the last stop on our tour: the Théâtre de l’œuvre. Thanks to major works completed in 2016, it is now a popular venue for local residents. We take our seats, and Marie-Pierre explains that this superb Italian-style theatre is much more than just a theatre.

It’s a cultural space for sharing and exchange. Numerous language, cookery and, of course, theatre workshops are organised to fund a wide range of social initiatives, but also to bring people together. “Marseille is a human mosaic, and that’s what makes this city so rich, whatever people say”.

Before leaving, we stopped in front of the Mémorial de la Marseillaise (now a museum), where the national anthem was sung for the first time on 22 June 1792, 3 years after the French Revolution.

I was really pleasantly surprised by the richness of this district, which I didn’t know at all, and it was really interesting to hear the different accounts from shopkeepers, who are part of the life of Belsunce.

Official website of the Tourist Office of Marseille