Fort Saint Jean was one of two fortresses built by King Louis XIV in Marseille in the seventeenth century. Construction began in the 1660’s under the guise of wanting to protect Marseille from outside attack. In fact, the purpose of Fort Saint Jean was to subdue a rebellion by the citizens against royal rule, a role also fulfilled be Fort Saint Nicholas on the other end of the harbour.
The site on which Fort Saint Jean was erected was previously home to a fourteenth century complex of buildings built by the Knights Hospitallers of Jerusalem during the crusades. It included a palace, chapel and a hospital. A later addition to the site was the René I Tower, built in the mid-fifteenth century and dedicated to the then king of Provence. Some of these buildings were incorporated into Fort Saint Jean.
Fort Saint Jean was garrisoned until the French Revolution when it became a prison housing, amongst others, the Duke of Orléans, Louis Philippe II and his two sons. Louis Philippe II had originally been a proponent of the revolution, even taking to being called “Philippe Égalité”, but was not spared in the Reign of Terror, eventually being executed by guillotine.
World War II
In World War II, Fort Saint Jean served as a munitions storage facility during the Nazi occupation of Marseille. This would spell the destruction of much of Fort Saint Jean as, in 1944, some of the ammunition stored within it exploded. It is home to the Museum of Civilizations in Europe and the Mediterranean, although at the time of writing, this may be undergoing renovation.