Fort Saint-Jean – imposing city fortifications at the harbour

Fort Saint-Jean – imposing city fortifications at the harbour

After the somewhat disappointing attempt to visit the Marseille Cathedral due to the high number of tourist visitors, we turned to the harbour, or rather the imposing fortress at the harbour.

A huge building with extremely high walls and walkways, which of course are no longer used for defense purposes, but are decorated with magnificently blooming flora. We were thrilled.

Fort Saint-Jean at the harbour

festung saint jean 05Fort Saint-Jean is a fortress in Marseille that was built in 1660 under Louis XIV at the entrance to the Old Port. Since 2013, the fort has been connected by two pedestrian bridges to the historic district of Le Panier and the Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean, which we will discuss later. But step by step.
Coming from the cathedral, we walked along the panoramic road with a wonderful view of the harbour and Fort Saint-Nicolas opposite to the footbridge to the fortress, which we then entered through a narrow corridor in the walls. Here, as in some publicly accessible areas, luggage checks took place, which is probably appropriate given by the numerous Islamist attacks. The bag inspection was extremely friendly but firm. After the check, we arrived at the massive fortress.

Declaration of Louis XIV to the citizens of Marseilles

festung saint jean 03Fort Saint-Jean was built on a site previously occupied by the military branch of the Order of St. John, from which the new building takes its name. At the same time, Fort Saint-Nicolas was built on the opposite side of the harbour. Louis XIV announced: "We wanted to have one of our own at the entrance to this great port." In fact, the two new forts were built in response to a local rebellion against the local governor rather than in defense of the city. Their cannons pointed inward toward the city, not outward toward the sea. Two earlier buildings were incorporated into the fort's structure: the 12th-century Commende of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, which served as a monastic hospital during the Crusades, and the 15th-century Tower of René I, Count of Provence.

 About the further history of Fort Saint-Jean

festung saint jean 04During the French Revolution, in April 1790, Fort Saint-Jean was captured by a revolutionary mob who beheaded the Chevalier de Beausse, commander of the royal garrison, after he refused to surrender the fort. The fort was then used as a prison, housing Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, and two of his sons. After the fall of Maximilien de Robespierre in 1794, around a hundred Jacobin prisoners were massacred in the fortress.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Fort Saint-Jean was owned by the French army, which used it as a barracks and hospital for troops deployed in the African colonies. During the years when the French Foreign Legion was stationed primarily in North Africa (1830 to 1962), the fortress was a final stop for recruits of the legion destined for basic training in Algeria.
festung saint jean 02During World War II, Fort Saint-Jean was occupied by the German Wehrmacht in November 1942. During the liberation of Marseille in August 1944, the explosion of an ammunition depot in the fort destroyed much of its historic battlements and buildings. Afterwards, Fort Saint-Jean was again in the possession of the French army, but was neglected and disused.
In 1960 it was handed over to the Ministry of Culture and in 1964 it was classified as a historical monument. The damaged parts were reconstructed between 1967 and 1971.
In 2013, Fort Saint-Jean became part of the Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean (Mucem).
As usual during our explorations, we had a small snack package with us, which we enjoyed on a bench in the Saint-Jean fortress with a wonderful view of the harbor, the Mucem museum and wonderful sunshine, of course with real croissants and pastries. Life can be so beautiful!

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Life | Outdoors