The Old Charity

The old charity is a form almshouse , now functioning as a museum and cultural center, Situated in the heart of the old quarter of Shopping Marseille in the south of France . Constructed between 1671 and 1749 in the Baroque style to the designs of the architect Pierre Puget , it includes four ranges of arcaded galleries in three storeys surrounding a space with a central chapel surmounted by an ovoid dome.


The idea of an almshouse for the poor, dedicated to Our Lady, Mother of Charity (Our Lady, Mother of Charity), Was Originally Conceived in 1622; but it was not until 1640 that a suitable plot of land was acquired, with the first boarders admitted in the following year. [1] Although the foundation stone was laid in that year, construction began only in 1671, following a grand plan of the architect Pierre Puget . It was not completed until 1749, construction being prolonged as the result of the reductions imposed by the aldermen of Marseille. The central chapel was erected between 1679 and 1704, though Puget died before its completion.


The main body of the structure is a rectangle, 112 m by 96 m, consisting of four walls in pink and yellow-tinted molasse stone from the ancient quarries at Cape Couronne , with no outward facing windows. On the inside are three arcaded galleries overlaid on each other, opening onto an inner courtyard measuring 82 m by 45 m. In the center of the courtyard is a harmonious chapel, a round church , crowned by an ellipsoidal dome and fronted by a portico in the classical style with Corinthian columns . This Baroque chapel ranks as one of Puget’s most original designs.

Historic use

In the seventeenth century the repression of beggars was conducted with great brutality in France. Guards called Expired Hunting-beggars ( “beggar-hunters”) Had the task of rounding up beggars: Non-Resident Among Them Were Expelled from Marseille, and native of Marseille Were shut up in prison. Often the crowd would take the place of the beggars during such arrests.

The almshouses served as workhouses for the beggars. Children were found as domestic servants , cabin boys or apprentices with seamstresses or bakers . As time passed the work of the Old Charity grew, the number of inmates increasing from 850 in 1736 to 1059 in 1760. As the imprisonment of the poor became less acceptable, the numbers decreased to 250 in 1781.

Spared during the French Revolution , the building was used as an asylum for “vagabonds and people without confession” (vagrants and dispossessed) in the nineteenth century. It was transformed into a barracks for the French Foreign Legion until 1922, when it was used by the demolition of the district behind the Bourse and later those made by the dynamiting of the Old Port during the Second World War . Plagued by squatters, pillagers and vandals, it eventually housed 146 families living in squalid and unsafe conditions, a group of around 30 Little Sisters of Jesusliving in other countries, and other small businesses, and others. In 1962 all the residents were rehoused and the building shut down. It was only in 1968, thanks to the intervention of the Minister of Culture André Malraux , that funds became available to the buildings, by then in a state of total dereliction. The Old Charity was painstakingly restored to its former glory between 1970 and 1986, with the restoration of the chapel being completed in 1981. [2]

Current use

The Old Charity houses a number of different cultural and educational resources:

  • The Museum of Mediterranean Archeology, on the first floor, oriental and classical antiquities, and Celto-Ligurian archeology.
  • The Museum of Art of Africa, Oceania and Amerindia, on the second floor, containing an unusually collection of artifacts, including masks from Mexico and West Africa and a unique collection of engraved human skulls and trophies from South America.
  • A research library specializing in archaeological documents.
  • A school of advanced studies in the social sciences (EHESS).
  • Offices of the National Center for Scientific Research .
  • On the ground level there are special temporary exhibitions and a number of museum shops.


  1. Jump up^ Duchêne & Contrucci (1998), page 371.
  2. Jump up^ Duchêne & Contrucci (1998), pages 735-736.


  • Roger Duchêne and Jean Contrucci, Marseille – 2600 years of history , Éditions Fayard (1998) ISBN  2-213-60197-6
  • André Bouyala d’Arnaud, Evocation of the old Marseille , editions of midnight, Paris, 1961, pages 193-195.
  • André Bouyala of Arnaud, André Hardy, Jean-Jacques Gloton, Jean Sonnier, Felix-L. Tavernier, The old Charity of Marseille , Arts and books of Provence, 75 (1970), 202 pages.
  • Provence , Green Guide, Michelin (1998), ISBN  2-06-137503-0

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