At the beginning of the 20th century, the Pagnol family went every weekend to a village house in La Treille in the Marseille region. To get there, young Marcel and his parents walked through several properties, including the Château Saint-Antoine.
Its owner, Captain Guy de Robien, was a warm and welcoming man. Every Saturday, he waited for the Pagnol family and offered a bouquet of roses to Augustine, Marcel’s mother. Guy de Robien was the owner of “Tourelles” as Marcel Pagnol called it in the second volume of his childhood memoir: Le Château de ma Mère.
When I first arrived on site, the building was in a very advanced state of disrepair. Everything inside was destroyed to such an extent that it was dangerous to enter the building. Time, vandalism, looting and squatters had contributed to the ruin of the building. For a time, it had even been used to train the National Gendarmerie Intervention Group (GIGN). The roof eventually collapsed during the winter of 2009. An application for protection by the association Le Château Saint-Antoine was refused on the grounds that the building was in an advanced state of ruin.
However, in 2016, the association, the Grande Loge de France, offered to buy the Château Saint-Antoine to save it. The new owner wanted to restore this icon of Marseille’s heritage and transform it into both a place to welcome its members and a cultural hotspot.
Many people thought that restoring this building was a crazy idea. On the day of my first visit, I knew that the technical challenge was immense, but I was convinced we could do it. Then began an incredible journey for everyone involved in the project.
The symbolic culmination of this adventure was when we placed the coat of arms of Captain de Robien’s family on the main tower of the castle, with the inscription: “Without Weakness or Vanity”. Through the project, this silent witness was reborn to continue writing history by inspiring future generations.