Out and About in Marseille

Published: June 13th 2015
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Marseille can claim to have existed for 2,600 years and therefore qualifies as France's oldest city. In 600 B.C., Greeks from Phocaea (in present-day Turkey) arrived in the Lacydon creek which was then inhabited by people belonging to the Ligurian branch of the Celts. According to legend, Massalia (as the Greeks named Marseille) was the result of a love story between Protis the Greek and Gyptis, daughter of the Ligurian chieftain. She rejected princes and fortune-hunters and chose the handsome adventurer. In 1666, however, Louis XIV gave instructions for the city to be extended southwards. Entrance to the port was protected by two forts: Fort Saint-Nicolas to the south and Fort Saint-Jean to the north.

The last few days the weather has been hot and sunny, near 30c every day, while we've been walking around 10K daily around Marseille. We walked down to the MUCEM museum and along the outside walkways up to the top. From here, the MUCEM, Cathedrale de la Major and St. Laurent church are connected by metal walkways high over the street to Fort St. Jean. Fort Saint-Jean is a military complex integral to the history of Marseille. While its foundations date back to the late
Tunnel of 1,000 SignsTunnel of 1,000 SignsTunnel of 1,000 Signs

The Benedit Jobin-tunnel area of the Belle de Mai, renamed "tunnel of 1000 signs".
twelfth century, the fort itself dates back to the 17th century, when it was built on the site of the former Commandry of Saint John of Jerusalem, when Louis XIV decided to strengthen the city's defences. The fort maintained a strong military role for over three centuries. Serving as a German ammunition depot during the war, it was severely damaged by an accidental explosion in 1944. It was made a historical monument in 1964 and placed under the surveillance of the French Ministry of Culture. The DRASSM (Department of underwater archaeological research) was housed there from 1970 to 2005.The views from here are spectacular for photos. You can also see Vieux Port marina and Notre-Dame de la Garde cathedral on the top of the hill in the distance.

From the main entrance to the MUCEM, you can see the Cathedrale de la Major underneath the cantilevered exhibition floor of the Villa Mediterranee. This archive and research centre, designed by the Italian office Boeri Studio, includes an underwater conference suite. The architect used a combination of reinforced concrete and steel to create the angular structure of the building, then added glazing across the front and rear elevations to allow views right through.

Moored between the MUCEM and the Villa Mediterranee, was the MS Türanor SolarPlanet catamaran which went around the world last year powered only by the sun and energy stored in the huge battery packs in each pontoon. Now the 102-ft craft has embarked on a new life as a research vessel for a team of scientists from the University of Geneva studying the Gulf Stream under climate change.

About a half hour walk north of Vieux Port, the Natural History Museum is surrounded by a large, beautiful park. We joined many other locals taking a break on the benches here to eat the lunch we had packed, followed by an ice cream cone from a little vendor in the park. Leaving here, we walked through the Benedit Jobin-tunnel area of the Belle de Mai, renamed "tunnel of 1000 signs". A creative project of Marseille-Provence 2013, led by the artist Frederic Clavère, it brightened up this dark tunnel under the railway tracks.

Back downtown near Vieux Port, Rue Republic runs for several blocks which we walked nearly every day going from our apartment to the harbour or to stores for supplies. The tram runs down the middle of the street and heavy traffic clogs the road much of the day as it connects other major streets as well as being in the center of the tourist district.

We love checking out the markets and Marseille has several of them. We took the metro to Fontaine Castellane, located at the crossroads of Rue de Rome, Boulevard Baille and Avenues Jules Cantini and du Prado. This monumental fountain, crafted by Marseillaise sculptor Allar in 1911 and presented to the city by mason Jules Cantini, lies right at the centre of the Castellane square. The journey of the River Rhone from its source to the Mediterranean is depicted on the Pedestal of Fontaine Castellane. In addition to that, on top of the pedestal is a statue to symbolize Marseille itself. Fontaine Castellane is one of the city’s most famous landmarks, and a must-visit place in Marseille for hundreds of tourists. I love the architecture around here. The domed roofs are common throughout France and the ornate balconies on these 5 storey buildings surround us throughout the older districts. Most of them contain various stores at street level with apartments above. We noticed several of them gutted and undergoing extensive renovations to modernize them and make them more habitable. The avenue du Prado hosts a whole range of markets on different days of the week. Strung out along this long, leafy boulevard starting at the place Castellane, dozens of stalls offer the usual array of flowers, fish, cheese, fruit, vegetables, meat, bread, clothes and so on.

On yet another very hot day, we started walking along the coast road in Marseille, east towards the beaches. Very visible offshore as we started our walk was Marseille's answer to Alcatraz. This brooding island-fortress-prison has hosted victims of religious persecution, roués, anti-royalists, revolutionaries and (and fictionally) Alexandre Dumas' romantic hero, the Count of Monte Cristo. We soon realized that it was much further than we realized so we jumped on the next bus going by and travelled a few minutes to the Parc Balneaire du Prado area. This coastal area is one small to medium sized beach after another for a few miles. Some of the beaches are mainly rocky bluffs but almost any spot is good to suntan on a beautiful sunny day. We chose to spend some time at Plage (beach) de David (so named because of a giant replica statue of David there) which was a bit of sand at one end, but mostly kind of a pea-sized gravel. The waters of the Mediterranean felt cool when we first walked in but within a minute it was warm enough to swim (Chris) or stand around (me) and cool off. Although a few of the younger girls wore only g-strings, it was mostly the 30 to 60 year-old women that were topless as it is gradually going out of fashion. That darned skin cancer!

Additional photos below
Photos: 30, Displayed: 26


Plage de CatalansPlage de Catalans
Plage de Catalans

The first beach walking east from Vieux Port.
Rue RepublicRue Republic
Rue Republic

NE end of Rue Republic
Villa MediterraneeVilla Mediterranee
Villa Mediterranee

You can see the Cathedrale de la Major underneath

The outside walkways of the MUCEM can make you dizzy, underneath their lace-like steel covering.
Vieux Port entranceVieux Port entrance
Vieux Port entrance

View from the MUCEM across the Vieux Port entrance into the Mediterranean
MS Tûranor PlanetSolarMS Tûranor PlanetSolar
MS Tûranor PlanetSolar

Moored in the Vieux Port (Old Port) of Marseille next to the MUCEM.
Fort Saint-Jean, MarseilleFort Saint-Jean, Marseille
Fort Saint-Jean, Marseille

Courtyard shadows under tangled steel tubing

Boys jumping off the walkway around the MUCEM to cool off, swimming in the harbour waters of the Mediterranean
Notre-Dame de la GardeNotre-Dame de la Garde
Notre-Dame de la Garde

Catholic basilica in Marseille, France.
Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure de MarseilleCathédrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure de Marseille
Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure de Marseille

Marseille Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral, and a national monument of France.

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