place royale

Place Royale

  • Pierre Puget’s abandoned dream


Town planning in Marseille has always involved giant schemes. One of the best known dates back to 1687 – and never saw the light of day.


Louis XIV had revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685 and was asserting the monarchy’s absolute power more firmly than ever. Towns, like individuals, competed to offer him the highest praise: medallions, reliefs, busts and statues of the king sprang up all over the country. Paris built Place des Victoires. Marseille too wanted to put up a statue of the triumphant king but had no prestigious royal square to put it in. Two years later the statue commission was granted to the brilliant Baroque sculptor Pierre Puget, a native of the Panier district. He saw it as a chance to smarten up the town and persuaded the aldermen to build a square to go with the statue. The king approved Puget’s design and agreed to have the galley yards demolished for it, but suggested that a design for the square by Jules Hardouin-Mansart would do. Puget was furious and refused point blank to allow his statue to be separated from his design for the square. Just then the town council changed hands and the new aldermen decided to grant the commission to another sculptor, from Trets, who was known at Versailles. Pujet, vexed at this mediocre “competition”, tried and failed to change the king’s mind. But then, in 1689, France declared war on Holland and Marseille contributed some 400,000 pounds to the war effort – so the aldermen no longer felt obliged to put up a statue or build a square to the glory of the king.


@ Pierre Psaltis