|The Cours Estienne d'Orves
And The Opera House
The Cours Estienne d’Orves: where it all started for Marseille, the Phocaean city
The Cours Estienne d’Orves is one of the oldest areas of Marseille. Delimited by the Quai de Rive Neuve and the Place aux Huiles, it is located at the very heart of what used to be the Arsenaux district, a former warehouse for galleys back in the 15th century. Indeed in 1488, Charles VII decided to turn this area into a warehouse for royal galleys. At the height of its use, up to 12,000 slaves worked in the arsenal, devoted to the restoration of royal ships.
Louis XIV then decided to expand the arsenal in 1660, once he had tamed the rebel Massilia. Back then the arsenal was at its peak, spreading over 18 hectares and employing 18,000 full-time workers. A real enclave at the heart of the Phocaean city, Marseille’s arsenal was the largest in France at that time, one of the largest in Europe and possibly even in the world. Back then, the arsenal had up to 40 galleys in service.
However, in 1781, the French state combined Marseille arsenal with that of Toulon, as galleys started to be less used. The site was given to the city and to rich merchants. Later on, this rich bourgeoisie gave way to working classes and craftsmen.
Nowadays, the Cours Estienne d’Orves is one of the most popular neighbourhood in Marseille : located right in the city centre, near the Old Harbour (Vieux-Port), it has many bars and restaurants, as well as art galleries, and its architecture evokes both Italy and ancient Rome. It pays tribute to the memory of Honoré d’Estienne d’Orves, first martyr of the French resistance and a WW II hero, and symbolises Marseille’s Dolce Vita.
Marseille Opera House
The local opera house is one of the main players on Marseille’s cultural scene. It has acquired international recognition thanks to the quality and diversity of its programming. It has a prime location at the very heart of ancient Massilia. It has been operated by the city itself since 1945, and has always aimed at attracting more and more the general public.
The building is a gem from an architectural point of view, combining beautifully 18th century colonnades and 20s Art Deco style. This opera house was created shortly after the French revolution, and was a mix of baroque and rebellion spirit. At the time it was created, only one other city in France, the bourgeoise Bordeaux, had an opera house.
Unfortunately, in 1920 a fire almost completely destroyed the building, leaving only the imposing columns and the main walls. It reopened in 1924, after 4 years of restoration works.
Many original artistic pieces ornate this beautiful building, such as the allegorical frieze by sculptor Eichaker which evokes Greek theatre and dancing, in the entrance hall ; the magnificent decorations on the grand staircase à la française ; or the amazing panels by Henri Degroux, « Couronnement de dédales », inspired by Petronius’s Satyricon. A show in itself…