A BIT OF HISTORY
CIRM: a private property till the 20th Century
The history of the Luminy estate dates from around 1005 A.D., when it became one of several parcels of land between Marseille and Toulon which was exchanged as dowry for the marriage of Fulco Viscount of Marseille and Lady Odile. In the 11th century, the buildings at Luminy, which included a chapel, were owned by the monks of the Abbey of St Victor. At an unknown date, the Luminy estate became the property of a Cistercian order, the "Mont de Sion" and in 1242, the constructions on the site were enlarged by an abbey. Luminy became known as the "Mont Sion Abbey" and took on the responsability of educating young wealthy women from Provence.
The property was acquired by the d’Ollières family in the middle of the 16th century and was planted for the first time with wheat, oats and grapes. A chronicle of the time reports that at Luminy, "there were excellent-tasting muscat grapes and vineyards which provided wine to the monks of St. Victor abbey. And there were many orchards: olive trees provided oil, mulberry trees formed a long alley behind the estate, and there were figs, almonds and cherries." A 1754 map from the General Government of Provence mentions the domain of "Luminie".
In 1819, Madame Baudoin, d’Ollières’ widow, sold the domain to Augustin Félix Fabre for 107,000 francs. Thus Luminy became the property of shipowners, its destiny linked to the Marseille business expansion, and eventually to French colonial expansion. At that time, the property consisted of 1200 hectares. Two hundred of these hectares by the sea were plantable and were used for vineyards, alfalfa and grains. The pine forests and hills were used to raise goats and sheep. When Augustin Félix died in 1850, the estate was divided between his heirs and its history would thereafter become inseparable from that of the Fabre family. A large reservoir (5000 m3) was built to irrigate the fields, and the surrounding areas were carefully maintained and planted with cedar, chestnut, and lime trees (fragrant trees whose leaves are used for tea). Extensions were added to the main house to host different members of the family, but it kept its original simplicity in spite of its designation as a "château". Letters written between 1853 and 1864 by the wife of shipowner César Fabre to her children, Cyprien and Augustin, portray daily life in one of the biggest country estates in the Marseille region during the "belle saison". Historian Roland Caty reports that the family would move to the "château" for the summer at the beginning of July. At that time the trip was more like an expedition and was only undertaken for longer holiday periods. The women and children would arrive long before the men, who stayed working in the city until the end of August or later. The men would arrive on horseback or with horse and carriage. For the children, these holiday times were paradise.
For the Fabres, Luminy meant holiday. In the summer heat, the children would bathe in the pool or go on hikes with their aunt Léonie. They would take a mule on day trips to the inlets by the sea to pick-nick and fish for wrasse and porgies. For the men, this was a place where they could relax and hunt. There were rifles lying about everywhere. Rabbits, hares, thrush, partridges, and quails were abundant targets. Another passion of the Fabre men was horses. In the evening, the men enjoyed playing pool. Sometimes they would break the monotony with outings, such as visits to Borelli or Pastré, or organised dinners on nearby islands. On the 15th of August, everyone would climb the hills to watch the fireworks over Marseille. For the women of the house, it was not easy to organise the activities of so many people, especially without the help of more servants. This, among other inevitable problems due to cohabitation, made the women happy when the autumn arrived and the end of the exile, when they could return home to the city.
Cultural life was linked to professional activity. Many shipowners were members of the "Société de géographie de Marseille". Started in 1877, this society organised conferences about the adventures of the sailors and explorers of those days. At Luminy, professional singers would be invited and concerts organised. Shipowners and their families would take holidays in "villes d’eau" (towns possessing springs of mineralised water, known for health benefits). Such trips encouraged the practice of foreign languages for their children. Roland Caty also states that every self-respecting bourgeois had a piano which was played by the girls of the house. But while material confort was plenty, small pleasures and distractions remained scarce.
Between 1918 and 1923, subdivision of the property became too difficult and Cyprien Fabre regained sole ownership. He was responsable for some renovations in the park, including reforestation with Atlas cedars, oaks and pines, as well as the construction of an access road to the Sugiton Calanque.
In 1945, Luminy became a public estate and a hospital was planned but not built. In the 1950’s, the estate was used as a summer camp and nature center. Finally, in 1966, the "Domaine Universitaire de Luminy" was created with a Science Department and student accommodation.
CIRM: a centre for mathematics
Well before the 1970’s, the SMF (’Société Mathématique de France’) and several French mathematicians were involved in discussions to find a site which would be dedicated to international seminars and research in mathematics. In fact, since 1954, a report from the CNRS had recommended such a meeting place, similar to the Mathematisches Forschunginstitut Oberwolfach (MFO) in Germany. The choice of Luminy as a place to develop this centre was made in 1976 and, in 1979, SMF was given part of the Luminy estate including the ’Bastide’ building together with two more buildings. Intensive buiding works were carried out for 20 years to develop seminar rooms, board and lodging.
Since 2010, there have been many new developments
More building work is planned for a brand new CIRM from 2019!
(*) A building left in poor condition for many years was the Maison du jardinier (Gardener’s house) where the gardener of the Fabre family lived. However, since 2013 a new lease of life has been given to this beautiful house, thanks to the support of several donators. Demolished in part and then completely renovated in its original style, the house has now become the official Maison de chercheurs Jean-Morlet. It can accommodate the recipients of the Jean-Morlet Chair during their six-month stay.
In 2013, a state-of-the-art film studio was linked to the main lecture hall.
Work is also due to be carried out on the surrounding vegetation. The forested areas have yet to be replanted with their original dry-habitat trees. Still, the flora at CIRM remains rich and contrasts beautifully with the dry rocky slopes of Mount Puget just above.
Directors of Cirm
André ARAGNOL - June 1981 - August 1986
Gilles LACHAUD - September 1986 - August 1991
Jean-Paul BRASSELET - September 1991 - August 1995
Jean-Pierre LABESSE - September 1995 - August 2000
Robert COQUEREAUX - September 2000 - August 2005
Pascal CHOSSAT - September 2005 - August 2010
Patrick FOULON - since september 2010
Cirm: at the heart of the Luminy Campus
CIRM is surrounded by the Campus de Luminy, part of Aix-Marseille University, and hosts 2 Faculties, 6 ’Grandes Ecoles’ and Institutes (over 8000 students), 32 research labs administered by AMU, CNRS, INSERM, INRA, IRD, CEA (over 1500 researchers, foreign post docs, engineers etc.), a high technology nursery, various private companies, student accommodation and cafeterias, walking trails and, last but not least, perfect areas for hiking, jogging etc.
The Luminy campus is currently benefiting from the French government ’Plan Campus’ scheme in order to raise its standards to international levels.
Photos: copyright Grand Luminy Technopôle