The Belle-de-mai : A Cultural And Arty Place In Marseille

In the four corners of France, industrial wastelands are getting a new lease on life by hosting exhibitions, shows and other cultural events. In Marseille, the Belle-de-Mai wasteland proves that factories of the past can be reconverted into places of creation turned towards the future.

A place full of history

When Colbert decreed a monopoly on the production and sale of Tobacco in the 17th century, several royal factories opened in France, including one in Marseille.

The sunny climate of the Phocaean city is favorable to the curing of Tobacco leaves and, in 1868, a giant factory is set up in the popular district of Belle-de-Mai, in the 3rd arrondissement.

This Tobacco factory located near the Old Port of Marseille was then the city's largest employer. It first specialized in the production of cigars and then Gauloises and Gitanes cigarettes.

It will remain in activity until 1990, date of its final closure. After the destruction of some buildings, the site becomes an enormous industrial wasteland of 12,000 m².

A site designed by Jean Nouvel

Starting in 1992, the artists of Système Friche Théâtre set up shop on the site of the former Tobacco factory in Belle de Mai. The SFT association then established a precarious occupation agreement with the SEITA, which owned the premises, free of charge.

Over the months, other cultural and artistic initiatives joined the Friche project. In 1995, the City of Marseille became the owner of the site and collaborated with the architect Jean Nouvel to rehabilitate the site.

The existing premises were preserved and fitted out according to the architect's plans, with workshops, offices and a cardboard factory. Other buildings are coming out of the ground, in particular a roof terrace of 8500 m2 that offers an incredible view over the Phocaean city all the way to the sea.

Starting in the 2000s, the Belle de Mai was organized into three poles: a heritage and institutional pole that works to preserve and restore heritage, a multimedia pole dedicated to the audiovisual and multimedia industries, and a pole dedicated to authors and living culture.

A vast artistic and cultural playground

Over the years and the development work, a skatepark and a restaurant came to enrich the Belle de Mai wasteland. An urban sports area called the Playground was then created in the extension of the skate park.

In 2013, the Marseille-Provence European Capital of Culture event gave new impetus to La Friche's projects. New spaces were developed, such as the Panorama Tower, a historic building of the SEITA tobacco factory converted into an exhibition space.

The same year, two magnificent wooden performance halls, named Les Plateaux, were built in just six months. A playground for children and shared gardens for the neighborhood's residents also see the light of day.

Today, this former industrial wasteland has become a must-see cultural and artistic venue in Marseille. Restaurant, open-air cinema, music aperitif, exhibitions, concerts and shared gardens, there is always something to do or see at La Friche!

More broadly, the site of the former factory has become a field of urban experimentation, a societal project and a citizen adventure that continues to be written.

Practical information

Admission to the Friche de la Belle de Mai in Marseille is free, except for exhibitions and shows.

For more information and to see the agenda of events planned on site, we invite you to visit the official website below.

Author: Audrey
Copyright image: Charlotte Noblet
Tags: Marseille, MAI, BELLE, tobacco factory, Instagram, Phocaean, playground, multimedia, heritage, Jean Nouvel, architect, urban, France, tobacco, restaurant, apéritif, industrial wasteland, roof terrace, light, neighborhood, audiovisual, culture, Panorama Tower, skate park, sports, skatepark, cardboard, cigars, lease, Colbert, monopoly, sunny, climate, Arty, curing, leaves, arrondissement, Old port, Gauloises, Gitanes, cigarettes, industrial wasteland, industrial,
More informations:
In French: La friche la Belle-de-Mai : un lieu culturel et arty à Marseille
En español: El páramo de la Belle-de-Mai: un lugar cultural y artístico en Marsella
In italiano: La Belle-de-Mai desolata: un luogo culturale e artistico a Marsiglia
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