Exploring Le Panier, Marseille’s Hidden Gem

Independent artists exhibition

Marseille, France’s vibrant port city, is a melting pot of cultures and histories. And despite its bad reputation, its bustling waterfront and diverse neighbourhoods offer a mix of experiences and diversity.

But one area stands out for its unique blend of history, art, and vibe: Le Panier.

What makes Le Panier unique?

Streert Art in Le Panier

Le Panier, meaning “The Basket,” is one of Marseille’s oldest districts, dating back to 600 years BC. It was chosen for its location privileged location on top of a hill and near the sea by the Greeks.

As you walk through its narrow, winding and hilly streets, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a time machine. Cobblestone lanes, pastel-hued buildings, colourful murals and graffiti, tiny cute shops, restaurants, independent shops, and historic buildings make this district a museum in itself.

Undoubtedly the best area to visit in Marseille.

Top attractions in Le Panier

And it is not only another area with a bohemian vibe, it has also many attractions worth visiting, as follows.

La Vieille Charité

La Vieille Charité

La Vieille Charité is a former almshouse (a charitable housing provided to people in a particular community -especially during the Middle Ages-), now functioning as a museum, cultural and exhibition centre. It is located in the heart of the Panier and it is one of the most impressive buildings in the area.

It was constructed between 1671 and 1749 in the Baroque style to the designs of the architect Pierre Puget, it comprises four ranges of arcaded galleries in three storeys surrounding a space with a central chapel surmounted by an ovoid dome. The chapel and the hospice were classified as a historic monument by order of January 29, 1951.

La Vieille Charité houses a number of different cultural and educational resources [*Wikipedia]:

  • The Museum of Mediterranean Archaeology, on the first floor, covers oriental and classical antiquities, as well as local Celto-Ligurian archaeology.
  • The Museum of Art of Africa, Oceania and Amerindia, on the second floor, contains an unusual collection of artefacts, including masks from Mexico and West Africa and a unique collection of engraved human skulls and trophy heads from South America.
  • A regional hub of the École des Hautes Études en sciences sociales (EHESS), provides academic training.
  • The Centre Norbert Elias, is a research centre in anthropology, sociology and history of social dynamics.
  • The Fabrique des écritures, is an innovative project offering production facilities to researchers, as well as an environment to develop critical thinking on creative and emerging forms of narrative.
  • A research library specialised in social sciences and anthropology, in particular visual anthropology.
  • The Centre international de la poésie de Marseille, is dedicated to the creation and dissemination of contemporary poetry.

Cathédrale La Major

Cathédrale La Major

Cathédrale La Major is a Roman Catholic cathedral and a national monument of France. It has been a basilica minor since 1896 and is the seat of the Archdiocese of Marseille.

The present cathedral (“Nouvelle Major”) was built on an enormous scale in the Byzantine and Roman Revival styles. The foundation stone was laid by Emperor Napoleon III in 1852 and the first service was held in 1893. It was completed in 1896, given the title of minor basilica, and consecrated in 1897.

It was built on the site used for the cathedrals of Marseille since the fifth century, principally by the architects Léon Vaudoyer and Henri-Jacques Espérandieu (1829-1874).

It is 142 meters (469 ft) long, and the main cupola is 70 meters (231 ft) high. With a capacity of 3,000 seats, it is one of the largest cathedrals in France, covering a total of 7,680 square meters. It is a listed monument since 1906.

Hôtel de Cabre

Hôtel de Cabre

Hôtel de Cabre may not be the most impressive building in the area; however, it is considered one of the oldest surviving houses in the city and is a significant architectural and historical landmark.

The construction of this private mansion in 1535 was ordered by Louis Cabre, a consul and merchant. It was spared from being demolished when the old suburbs were destroyed in 1943 during the war, but it was later moved from its original location with the use of hydraulic cylinders and rotated by 90° to be aligned with the actual streets. Later in its history, it functioned as a post office, a customs house, and a private residence again.

It features a distinctive architectural style characterized by its ornate stonework, arched windows, and wooden shutters. The building’s design is a testament to the craftsmanship of the period and reflects the architectural influences of the Renaissance era.

Hôtel Dieu

InterContinental Marseille (source: booking.com)

Hôtel Dieu, formerly ‘Hôpital Saint-Esprit’ (the Holy Spirit Hospital) is one of the oldest hospitals in Marseille and is deeply rooted in the city’s history and has provided healthcare services to the people of Marseille for centuries.

It was founded in the 12th century and merged with the hospital ‘Saint-Jacques de Galice’ in the 16th century. It was then rebuilt by the nephew of the famous architect Hardouin-Mansart, who only partially completed his ambitious project. It was only during the Second Empire that the ‘Hotel Dieu’ became the building it is today.

Hôtel-Dieu is a term used in France to refer to historic hospitals, often housed in impressive buildings with architectural significance.

It currently houses the InterContinental Marseille Hotel, an impressive 5-star hotel.

Maison Diamantée

Maison Diamantée (source: marseille-tourisme.com)

Maison Diamantée (The Diamond House) is one of the oldest residences in Marseille just like Hôtel de Cabre. There are no records about its construction date, but it is estimated between the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 18th century.

It was built by rich Spanish and Italian traders on the land of the former garden of the ‘Palais de Provence’, and its architectural style was inspired by the Medicis in Italy.

Over the years, it was occupied by prominent families from Marseille. It was classified as a French historical monument on November 10, 1925.

Best restaurants and bars in Le Panier

Bar des 13 Coins

One of our favourite bars and restaurants was Bar des 13 Coins. It’s the heart of the district, in the junction of two of the main streets in Le Panier, Rue du Panier and Rue du Petit Puits, which are both worth walking by. They offer a modest but decent and good value-for-money menu, plus 3 beers on tap, wine and other drinks.

Besides the two streets above, which also comprise many other places, there are two squares with outside seating areas and a bunch of options to eat and drink, which are The ‘Place de Lenche’ (Lenche square) and The ‘Place des Moulins’ (Mills square).

Some other good recommendations are the following:

  • Au Coeur du Panier. A small and simple restaurant serving both fish and meat dishes.
  • Chez Etienne. A family-run restaurant offering pizza, pasta and meat dishes.
  • Le Refuge. A small restaurant with a beautiful terrace serving Mediterranean cuisine.
  • Entre Terre & Mer. A Rustic decorated shop serving seafood and charcuterie plates.
  • Le comptoir aux huiles. Another good bistro with Mediterranean cuisine and a few tables outside.
  • Chez Lucas. If you are looking for a sandwich with fresh ingredients this could be your place.
  • Le Bistro du Panier. Why not a tasty burger and international beer?

More Pictures

Cathédrale La Major
Cathédrale La Major (inside)
La Vieille Charité
Streert Art in Le Panier

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.