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The forteresses

Historic site and monument, Historic patrimony at Marseille

  • Saint-Jean Forteress.
    The area around the forts is believed to have been inhabited since antiquity but it was not until the 13th Century that the Hospitallers of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem (later to become the Knights of Malta) settled...
    Saint-Jean Forteress.
    The area around the forts is believed to have been inhabited since antiquity but it was not until the 13th Century that the Hospitallers of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem (later to become the Knights of Malta) settled here and gave its name to the quarter. Some remains of their presence may still be seen. King René had the huge square tower erected following the attack by the armies of Aragon in 1423. It was built where the Maubert tower had stood and was used to protect the entrance to the port. The navigation light-tower was built in 1644 and the Chevalier de Clerville built the fort as part of Louis XIV's instructions that formed the large-scale plans for Marseille. He had a flood-proof pit dug to isolate the fort from the city. The fort was used as a garrison and later as a prison during the Revolution. During the Second World War the German army used the fort as an ammunition store. In 1944 the store exploded causing major damage to the fort itself and to the Pont Transbordeur. The fort became a National Heritage Site in 1964.
    Saint Nicolas Forteress.
    From the middle of the 17th century, favoured by the Fronde insurrection, Marseille defies and and holds up to ridicule royal authority. As soon as peace with Spain leaves the king with his hands free, the city is occupied by the army. To enter the city, Louis XIV, in March 1660, does not hesitate to open a breach in the medieval walls. Some of its stones are used again – as a symbol – in the construction of the Saint Nicolas citadel. Louis XIV orders the building of a fort as well as the extension of the town and the creation of a new Arsenal. Several sites are considered for the building of the citadel and finally a hill « at the entrance of the port, behind the Saint Victor abbey whose area is reasonable enough to build a strong enough fort to maintain the King of authority forever ». The work progresses at a frenzied rhythm by Chevalier de Clerville. In 1663, the high fort (Entrecasteaux) is finished, and in 1664 the low fort (Ganteaume). Vauban, during a visit to Marseille, criticizes the construction which he judges to be « the worst of the universe » !
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