Ancient city in the Bouches-du-Rhone ‘departement’ of Provence, Marseille is the largest French seaport. It was functioning as a port even before Julius Caesar conquered the Gauls.
Marseille in History, Marseille Today
Settled by the Ligurians the town was taken by the Phoenicians around 600BC, the Greeks in 540BC and the Romans two thousand years ago. As a result of such long settlement, Marseille is rich in history. The bustling atmosphere of Marseilles also reflects its great port, fishing fleets and specialism in seafood. The city’s one-time reputation for gangsters and crime was depicted in French and American films, the best-known of which to English-speakers is ‘The French Connection’ starring Gene Hackman.
But time has moved on and Marseille is now better known for its museums and galleries, as a port of call for Mediterranean cruise ships, for its football team, Olympic Marseille – and for its seafood.
Bouillabaisse – Traditional Fish Dish of Marseille
Marseille is heaven for seafood fans. As well as the many fresh fish dishes you can choose between various versions of the traditional fish soup, bouillabaisse. Bouillabaisse du Ravi and Bouillabaisse du Pecheur are variations commonly served in the city’s restaurants. Ravi (‘delighted’) features six different fish while the Bouillabaisse du Pecher (‘fisherman’) has three.
‘Moules marinier’, another staple seafood dish of Provence, combines mussels with Provencal herbs and finely diced onion. Eat in the Vieux Port (the old port) looking out over the Mediterranean and you’ll see the bustling harbour at work. Alternatively, go into the quieter streets of the Quai de Rive Neuve. The dry local white wines suit fish and seafood very well but many people choose a rose wine – ‘pink’ somehow seems right in the heat of the Provencal summer.
Near to French Riviera Towns and Beaches
Many holiday makers combine a visit to Marseille with visits to other towns on the Mediterranean coast. St-Tropez, Cannes, Cassis, Sainte-Maxime, Frejus, Antibes, Nice, Cap Ferrat and Monte Carlo all have distinct characters and charm. With their beaches and glamour they will definitely appeal to the committed hedonist.
Near to Provencal Towns Aix, Avignon and Arles
Inland, the towns of Aix-en-Provence, Arles and Avignon will appeal to culture vultures. In particular you may want to visit the summer theatre festival in Avignon and the exhibition in Arles of Roman antiquities. The latter is on until mid-September 2010 and features a bust of Caesar and many artefacts excavated from the river bed of the Rhone.
Heritage and Culture in Marseille – Major Sights to See
In Marseille, some major sights to see are the 5th century Abbaye de St-Victor, the Old Port, the Romanesque Basilique Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde, the former prison of the Chateau d’If, the famous street known as La Canebiere, the historical ruins in the Jardin des Vestiges, the old town square Estienne d’Orves and the 17th century building La Vieille Charite, now an exhibition centre. Museums not to miss are the Musee d’Histoire de Marseille, Musee de la Marine, Musee des Docks Romains (a Roman warehouse), the art Museum (Musee Grobet-Labadie) and the Musee d’Histoire Naturelle.
Travelling to Marseille
High-speed trains (TGVs) run frequently between Paris and Marseille and take just three hours. The local airport, Marignane, serves destinations around Europe and in Africa.