Vieille Charité, Marseille, France, January 2017 174
La vieille charité is a former almshouse, now functioning as a museum and cultural centre, situated in the heart of the old Panier quarter of Marseille in the south of France. Constructed between 1671 and 1749 in the Baroque style to the designs of the architect Pierre Puget, it comprises four ranges of arcaded galleries in three storeys surrounding a space with a central chapel surmounted by an ovoid dome.
In the seventeenth century the repression of beggars was conducted with great brutality in France. Guards called Chasse-gueux ("beggar-hunters") had the task of rounding up beggars: non-residents among them were expelled from Marseille, and natives of Marseille were shut up in prison. Often the crowd would take the side of the beggars during such arrests.
The almshouses served as workhouses for the beggars. Children were found jobs as domestic servants, cabin boys or apprentices with seamstresses or bakers. As time passed the work of la Vielle Charité grew, the number of inmates increasing from 850 in 1736 to 1059 in 1760. As the imprisonment of the poor became less acceptable, the numbers decreased to 250 in 1781.