Massive sculpture at the Fort.

 

Fort Saint-Jean was built on a site earlier occupied by the Military Order of the Knights Hospitaller of Saint John, from which the new building deprived its name. Fort Saint-Nicholas was constructed at the same time on the opposite side of the harbour. Commenting on their construction, Louis XIV said, “We noticed that the inhabitants of Marseille were extremely fond of nice fortresses. We wanted to have our own at the entrance to this great port.” In fact, the two new forts were built in response to a local uprising against the governor, rather than for the defence of the city: their cannons pointed inwards towards the town, not outwards towards the sea.

Two earlier buildings were incorporated into the structure of the fort: the twelfth century Commandry of the Knights Hospitalery of Saint John Jerusalem, which served as a monastic hospice during the crusades; and the fifteenth century tower of Rene 1, King of Provence.

In April 1790 Fort Saint-Jean was seized by a revolutionary mob who decapitated the chevalier de 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 many famous French kings and aristocrats.

Inside the walls of the Fort, a tiny Chapel now used for exhibitions

 

View of Marseille Old Port from the Fort

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries Fort Saint-Jean was in the possession of the French Army, who utilised 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.

Another Church with a view from the Fort, encircled by Marseille’s busy traffic

 

Inside the Fort

 

A particular favourite – the cloisters

 

Superb renovation, stone cleaning and repairs

During World War II Fort Saint-Jean 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 much of its historic battlements and buildings. Although returned to the French Army, Fort Saint-Jean remained in a neglected and disused state until it was passed 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.

To-day it is a masterpiece of renovation, history and culture.

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