Borély castle: 18th century art of living... and a mummified love

The castleThe castle | ©Antoniah / CC-BY-SA

Ruins, stuccos and pinewood

Our story began with Joseph Borély. Joseph was born in a rich ship owner’s family, living in Marseille but coming from Queyras, in the Dauphiné. They were rich, so they wanted to show their social success to everyone!

So, in 1684 he owned lands of Bonneveine, in Marseille. Oh, he already had several city houses… but a castle, not yet! Hey, that would be the peak of luxury. Joseph raised a small house, on his estate. Hardly anything!

Italy in Marseille

The current castle was raised at the end of the 18th century by Joseph’s heirs. The Borély family became richer and richer thanks to business: so, in 1770, they extended and rebuilt their house.

Louis Borély asked Parisian architect Marie-Joseph Peyre to raise him a luxurious dwelling, with a main building flanked by a carved pediment and Doric columns.

He also put the painter Clérisseau in charge of the decoration. So, we had apartments with an antic decoration, stuccos, statues in trompe-l’oeil… Italy in Marseille!

Japanese vases and Indian birds

Louis-Joseph-Denis, worthy of his daddy Louis Borély, completed the castle and put the painter Louis Chaix in charge of the decoration of the house and the landscaper Embry of the landscaping of the park.

Hey, Louis pleased himself: a pinewood and a copse were created, but also two lovely alleys of plane trees near river Huveaune banks…

But Louis-Joseph was above all a great art collector. He added gorgeous furniture in his brand new 4-stars house: just close your eyes and imagine…

Here, the huge living room with massive Japanese vases, vast golden mirrors, the painted ceilings with frescos everywhere… Here, the bedroom covered with a unique material, at that time: a fabric coming from India, white with coloured birds…

A mummified love!

But Louis-Joseph seemed worried: in fact, he was… in love! Completely crazy about Henriette Pezé, a singer of Marseille Opera…

She loved him, but… This lady suddenly died at the age of 22, one sad day of 1780, of tuberculosis… Louis was inconsolable and had one idea: to get his love back!

The legend says he stole the lady’s corpse from her grave and embalmed her. Then he hid her in a secret place behind his library, in the castle… Whoa, just imagine the face of his heirs, when they discovered the “mummy”, decades after! They finally buried her: she’s somewhere in the park…