The recent identification of large deposits of sulphates by remote sensing and in situ observations has been considered evidence of the past presence of liquid water on Mars. Here we report the unambiguous detection of diverse phyllosilicates, a family of aqueous alteration products, on the basis of observations by the OMEGA imaging spectrometer on board the Mars Express spacecraft. These minerals are mainly associated with Noachian outcrops, which is consistent with an early active hydrological system, sustaining the long-term contact of igneous minerals with liquid water. We infer that the two main families of hydrated alteration products detected-phyllosilicates and sulphates-result from different formation processes. These occurred during two distinct climatic episodes: an early Noachian Mars, resulting in the formation of hydrated silicates, followed by a more acidic environment, in which sulphates formed.