Images – Marseille vieux port, Copyright Atout France/Robert Palomba and Cedric Helsly.


France’s second largest city and most important seaport is Marseille.  It was established over 2600 years ago and has prospered chiefly as a trading port through the ages.

In the past it has suffered a rough reputation linked with racial tensions and organised crime but now this image is becoming outdated.   Thanks to the rapid TGV rail-link, many Parisians come to treat this cosmopolitan city as a weekend retreat.  It is generally now regarded as “branché” (i.e. trendy) and a far cry from “The French Connection”.

The spirit of Marseille has always been one of independence and a rejection of authority. It is not a coincidence then that the city embraced the Revolution in 1792. In that year a group of Marseillais marched north to support the revolutionaries in Paris , singing as they went. The song they sung was a popular army hymn which soon became the national anthem and since known as “La Marseillaise”.
The initial settlement of Massilia was founded by the Greeks in what is now the Vieux Port (old port). This has been the heart of the city ever since.These days mostly pleasure yachts are moored here and cafés line the sides enticing you to sample the local speciality, bouillabaisse. This is a highly seasoned fish stew made with several kinds of fish and shellfish.


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The Romano-Byzantine Basilica

On the southern side of the old port is a pedestrian zone with a lively mix of bars, cafés and restaurants.   Also in this area is the Opéra, Marseilles’ oldest cultural institution built in 1924, and the national theatre, La Criée.
Further south is a hill, the top of which is the highest point in the city. It offers fantastic panoramic views all around and can be easily reached from the old port by taking the No.60 bus.   Also at this point is the 19th century Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde, an enormous Romano-Byzantine basilica, on top of which a large gilded statue of the Virgin Mary looks over the city.  On the northern side of the cathedral, bullet marks can be seen from the Battle of Liberation which took place on 15th-25th August 1944.

Rue Saint Ferréol

Eastwards from the old port extends the city’s main thoroughfare known as La Canebiere, a name linked with its roots in rope-making.   In it’s heyday it had a lively café culture but these days it is not very satisfying to walk along.   Just off this street, however, the area towards the Prefecture building, which includes Rue Saint Ferréol, a pedestrianised shopping street, is worth a stroll.

The Chateau D'If

A short boat ride from the old port can take you to a couple of small
offshore islands southwest about a mile away.  On one of them stands the Château d’If, a 16th century fortress used as a prison.
This is the where Alexander Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo was
imprisoned although in reality there is no record of anyone escaping.
Many of the inmates either died there or went mad or both, lending
this place a rather sinister reputation.

What to see

Musée d’Histoire de Marseille
Square Belsunce, Centre Bourse Marseille 13001
Ideal for Roman history buffs, includes the wreck of a 3rd century merchant vessel
Admission charge | Opening Times: 12h-19h | Tel: +33 (0) 491 90 42 22

Musée des Docks Romains
Place Vivaux, Marseille 13002
Showing an in-situ stretch of 1st century Roman docks
Admission charge | Opening Times: Oct-May:10h-17h; Jun-Sep:11h-18h | Tel: +33 (0) 491 91 24 62

Musée du Vieux Marseille
Rue de la Prison, Marseille 13002
Contains mementos of old Marseille
Admission charge | Opening Times: 10h-12h, 14h-18h, closed Tue and Wed am | Tel: +33 (0) 491 55 28 68

Musée de la Mode
11 La Canebière, Marseille 13001
A museum of fashion showing glitz and glamour through the ages
Admission charge | Opening Times: 12h-19h, closed Mon | Tel: +33 (0) 491 56 59 57

Musée d’Archéologie Méditerranéen
Centre de la Vieille Charité 2 Rue de la Charité, Marseille 13002
Featuring a collection of ancient Mediterranean artifacts
Admission charge | Opening Times: Oct-May:10h-17h; Jun-Sep:11h-18h | Tel: +33 (0) 491 14 58 80

Abbaye St-Victor
Place St-Victor, Marseille
Possibly the oldest church in Marseille
Tel: +33 (0) 496 11 22 60

Anse des Catalans
Corniche Kennedy, Marseille
Marseille’s most popular beach

Les Corniches
Beautiful coastline east of Marseille

Musée des Arts Africains, Océaniens & Amérindiens
Centre de la Vieille Charité 2 Rue de la Charité, Marseille 13002
housing a fascinating collection of ritual artifacts
Admission charge | Opening Times: Oct-May:10h-17h; Jun-Sep:11h-18h | Tel: +33 (0) 491 14 58 38

Musée des Beaux-Arts
Palais Longchamp, Marseille 13004
Marseille’s oldest museum, showing 15th to 19th century paintings
Admission charge | Opening Times: Oct-May:10h-17h; Jun-Sep:11h-18h | Tel: +33 (0) 491 14 59 30

Notre-Dame de la Garde
Rue Fort-du-Sanctuaire, Marseille
A Neo-Byzantine – Romanesque basilica overlooking the city
| Tel: +33 (0) 491 13 40 80

Cathédrale de la Major
Place de la Major, Marseille
One of the largest cathedrals built in Europe during the 19th century
| Tel: +33 (0) 491 90 53 57

Château d’If
Île d’If, Marseille 13001
A 16th century fortress that became a feared prison for political and religious detainees
Admission charge | Opening Times: 9h30h-18h30 | Tel: +33 (0) 491 59 02 30

Unité d’Habitation
280 Boulevard Michelet, Marseille 13008
Swiss architect, Le Corbusier’s, vision of modern living in the 50’s, a tower block
Opening Times: by appointment | Tel: +33 (0) 491 77 81 74

Cassis Services Plongee
3 rue Michel Arnaud, Cassis 13714
Scuba dive your way to heaven in the azure blue waters around Cassis
Admission charge | Opening Times: Daily | Tel: +33 (0)4 42 01 89 16

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