• An art deco era courthouse with swastikas…

  • A town hall with walled windows…

  • An entire building moved...

  • Here are three stories (and a bonus) of architecture in Marseille.

We know Marseille singular in many respects, but less often for some of its architectural curiosities.

Relics of history that we asked art historians to explain.

Swastikas on the facade of the courthouse, really?

The pattern surrounding the former commercial court of Marseille (currently dedicated to correctional hearings, including the 7th chamber which regularly judges the actors of drug trafficking networks), can leave you at first glance stunned.

Is this string of swastikas a warning announcing the ruthlessness of the judgments?

The artistic and historical reality is, fortunately, quite different.

Although inaugurated in 1933, the year Adolf Hitler took power in Germany, the motifs adorning the facade of the courthouse are not an ode to Nazism.

"It's a coincidence", introduces Laurent Noet, art historian, specialist of Gaston Castel, the architect of the building.

“We are in the middle of the art deco period, which succeeds art nouveau.

We then like the geometric figures and abandon the curves and counter curves characteristic of the previous period.

Gaston Castel simply took up the Hindu motif of the swastika, although he did not travel to India,” he continues.

It is also difficult to imagine Gaston Castel having Nazi acquaintances.

“It was a broken mouth.

He had his jaw deformed by shrapnel during the First World War,” he concludes.

Bonus: Among the creations of Gaston Castel, let us mention the building of the Opera or the prison of Baumettes, currently in the process of demolition - reconstruction, but whose surrounding wall contains seven astonishing statues evoking the seven deadly sins which risk to get you there – at least that was the vision at the time.

A town hall with bricked up windows

We knew the Soviet legend that the lights of the Kremlin never go out, thus proving the hard work of its leaders.

It is clear, at the sight of the fully walled windows of the east facade of the Marseilles town hall, that its successive tenants do not like the morning light or are afraid of squatters.

More seriously, these “were walled up following the law of 4 Frimaire year VII (24 November 1798).

This law established a direct contribution, the base of which was established on the number and size of doors and windows”, informs Nathalie Bertrand, lecturer in art history at the University of Aix-Marseille.

The opportunity to remember Jacques Brel who, in his brilliant song

Chez ces gens-là

, evokes this tax: “That we will have a house with lots of windows/with almost no walls and we will live in it” .

Reluctant to poetry and taxes, the corporations of Marseille merchants and shipowners, who then occupied the Pavillon Puget, (whose construction began in 1653), had the whole façade walled up to reduce their taxation.

Although this law had been "removed in 1926 under the pressure of the hygienist movement for which it encouraged the unsanitary housing", specifies the historian, the town hall remained in the state.

The whole building that we moved

The Marseillais observing the work of reconstruction and redevelopment of the Old Port in 1954 had reason to celebrate the prowess of modernity.

Because in this year, the engineers actually managed to move an entire building instead of demolishing it.

"This is the house of Alderman Cabre, built in 1535. It is the oldest house in Marseille that survived the destruction of the Old Port", explains Nathalie Bertrand.

“To keep it, it had to be moved 15 meters and turned 90 degrees to align it with the Grand-Rue”.

Roughly, the building was cut from below, and placed on rails.

After five days of effort, here is this building well aligned with the Grand-Rue, but curiously separated from the neighboring building, from which it is separated by a handful of centimeters.

"The movement of monuments is not uncommon: the most spectacular was of course that of the rescue of Abu Simbel in Egypt piloted by Unesco and more modestly the movement of the door of the Arsenal of Toulon in 1976 to be plated on the façade of the Musée de la Marine", recalls the academic.


Marseille: "We are obliged to judge very serious cases in two hours", regrets an examining magistrate


Architecture: Briton Richard Rogers, co-creator of the Pompidou Center in Paris, died at 88

  • Nazi

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