This medieval fort is the perfect place for some urban exploration in the heart of Marseille, home to ancient buildings, art and gardens.
Fort Saint Jean is an imposing sight as you approach Marseille by sea or by land, a testimony to the city’s military past. This is where Crusaders left for Jerusalem, and where the Knights Hospitaliers had their home base from the 13th to the 17th century.
Expanded by successive generations of rulers, from the kings of Provence to the King of France, the fort today is a major tourist attraction. Visit the gardens, learn about Provençal history in the museums, or simply climb to the top to appreciate the amazing views of the city.
Bring sunscreen and a hat, because you could spend a whole day exploring the old fort. Notice the cannons which, unusually, face towards the city, installed as they were by Louis XIV, who was worried about rebellion in the city after he expelled the Knights Hospitaliers.
Go down the narrow passageways in search of the modern art installations that dot the fort, including outsized heads. Linger in the “Jardin des Migrations,” a garden of Mediterranean plants that is designed to symbolize the many waves of immigration that have come to Marseille over the years.
Have a coffee or lunch as you sit on the ramparts, looking out towards the ocean. Imagine yourself as a soldier tasked with defending the city, watching the horizon for the tell-tale sails of approaching invaders.
Enjoy the calm of this city oasis and finish your visit by wandering down to the 12th-century Chapel of the Order of Malta. Wander amid the contemporary art installations that adorn the walls, bringing almost 900 years of history together in one place.
The Fort Saint Jean is located on the northern head of Marseille’s port. Reach it by bridge from the Église St-Laurent or via the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilization’s roof deck. Reach the fort on foot in 25 minutes from the Marseille-St-Charles station. Take the bus in 10 minutes from the train station. Drive in 20 minutes from the Marseille Provence Airport. Metered parking is available in nearby underground structures.
Enter Fort Saint Jean for free. It is open to visitors daily except Tuesday, from mid-morning to evening, and closes during lunch hours.