The Palais des Arts or Carli Palace

The Palais des Arts is often not mentioned in tourist guides, as it is probably a little too far from the Old Port. It is a building that is well known to the people of Marseille, especially the inhabitants of the city center and the popular district of Cours Julien.

Context and construction of the Palace

Located on Place Auguste and François Carli, the Palais des Arts is located in the 1st arrondissement, more precisely in the Thiers district. The construction began in the 19th century, it extended from 1864 to 1874, wich is nearly 10 years!

The building was intended to house the public library and the School of Fine Arts of Marseille. Originally, they used to be housed in the former Couvent des Bernardines. But the Convent also housed the Imperial High School, the Museum of Fine Arts, the municipal library and the Museum of Natural History. And, in view of the number of students increasing year after year, it became urgent to move some entities to other buildings. Thus, the Library and the School of Fine Arts in a new building and the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Natural History at the Palais Longchamp. The plans were made by the architect Henri Espérandieu ( who is notably responsible for the design of Notre Dame de la Garde). He had to manage the steep slope of the land, which required deep underground foundations. Espérandieu was involved in this project but unfortunately did not see the finished building during his lifetime. Indeed, because of the war but also because of lack of money, the work was delayed and stopped between 1870 and 1872. Following Espérandieu's death, it was his friends Gaudensi Allar and Joseph Letz who carried on with the construction of the building, while respecting the initial plans.

An architecture in homage to Art

On the façade of the Esperandieu building are represented the main stages of Art, ten busts of monarchs each carrying the most beautiful artistic work of its time. Thus, we can identify Sesostris for Egyptian Art, Pericles for Parthenon, Augustus for Roman Art, Constantine for Byzantine Art, Charlemagne who represents Roman Art, Saint Louis for Ogival Art, Leo X for Italian Art, Francis I for the Renaissance, Louis XIV for French Art, and finally Napoleon I for Modern Art with his Arc de Triomphe in the Place de l'Etoile.

The Palais des Arts has a cubic shape, but the materials used are not the same for the interior and exterior, which gives rise to a certain duality and different impressions depending on where you are located. The main exterior façade is made of Tarascon white stone, while the interior courtyard is made of red bricks and stone ties. This one is a tribute to French architecture of the First Renaissance, and cartouches under the windows evoke the names of famous architects and sculptors such as Brunelleschi or Michelangelo. While the aisle at the back of the courtyard is named after painters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael or Poussin. Inside, there are also monuments in homage to Henri Espérandieu but also to André-Joseph Allar and his works (Palais Longchamp, Notre Dame de la Garde...).


Today, the Conservatoire National de Région "Pierre Barbizet" and the Fondation Regards de Provence are located on the property. Thus, the profoundly artistic vocation of this monument of Marseille's history is preserved and many exhibitions and concerts are regularly organized. It is commonly known as Palazzo Carli, after the name of the square on which it is located.

The Palais des Arts was classified as a Historic Monument on November 18, 1997. To miss this monument would be a pity, as it is so worth a look.

To visit Marseille, have you thought about renting a bike or Le Petit Train travelling around the city? Or, for the more adventurous, why not opt for segway rental?

And to visit the monuments without queuing, remember to go to the ticket office to buy your tickets.