Fort Saint-Jean (Marseille)

Fort Saint-Jean is a fortification in Marseille , built in 1660 by Louis XIV at the entrance to the Old Port . Since 2013 it is linked by two thin bridges to the historical district The Basket , and to the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations , the first French national museum to be located outside Paris.


Fort Saint John was built on a site earlier occupied by the Military Order of the Knights Hospitaller of Saint John, from which the new building derived its name. Fort St. Nicholaswas constructed at the same time on the opposite side of the harbor. Commenting on their construction, Louis XIV said, “We noticed that the inhabitants of Marseilles were extremely fond of nice fortresses. [1] In fact, the two are in favor of a local uprising against the governor, rather than for the defense of the city: their canons pointed inwards towards the town, not outwards towards the sea.

Two earlier buildings were incorporated into the structure of the fort: the twelfth century Commandant of the Knights Hospitaller of St John of Jerusalem , which served as a monastic hospice during the crusades ; and the fifteenth century tower of René I , King of Provence . [2]

In April 1790 Fort St. John was seized by a revolutionary mob who decapitated the knight of Beausse , commander of the royal garrison, when he was captured after refusing to surrender the fortress. During the subsequent French Revolution the fort Was used as a prison, holding Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orleans , and two de son sounds, Louis Charles, Count of Beaujolais , and Antoine Philippe, Duke of Montpensier . Following the overthrow of Robespierre in 1794 about hundred Jacobin prisoners held in the fort were massacred.

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries Fort St. John was in possession of the French Army, who used it as a barracks and clearing station for the Army of Africa . During the years when the French Foreign Legion was based mainly in North Africa (1830 to 1962), the fort was a final stop-off point for recruits for the Legion destined for basic training in Algeria.

During World War II Fort St. John was occupied by the German military in November 1942. In August 1944 during the liberation of Marseilles, the explosion of a munitions depot within the fort destroyed of its historic battlements and buildings. Returned to the French Army, Fort Saint-Jean remained in a neglected and disused state until it was passed over to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs in 1960. Classified as a historical monument in 1964, the damaged portions of the fort were reconstructed between 1967 and 1971.

From 2013 the Fort Saint-Jean is to be part of the MuCEM. Of the major buildings comprising the complex:

  • the tower of King René will be dedicated to the history of the site;
  • the building DRASSM will host a documentation center; and
  • the building Georges Henri Rivière will be reserved for temporary exhibitions.


  1. Jump up^ “We noticed that the people of Marseilles were very fond of the pretty bastides, we wanted to have ours at the entrance of this great port.”
  2. Jump up^ Duchêne & Contrucci


  • Duchene, Roger; Contrucci, Jean (2004), Marseille, 2600 years of history , Editions Fayard, ISBN  2-213-60197-6
  • Jacoby, David (2007), “Hospitaller Ships and Transportation Across the Mediterranean”, The Hospitallers, the Mediterranean and Europe, ed. Karl Borchardt, Nikolas Jaspert and Helen J. Nicholson , Ashgate: 57-72, ISBN  0-7546-6275-6 , a chapter on the role of Marseille in Hospitaller shipping

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