Known as the heart of the Mediterranean, Marseille is the oldest city in France. This bustling metropolis with more than a million inhabitants, is France’s second-largest and its premier port. Marseille is a place of unique sounds, smells, and sights. It is a dynamic city, as cosmopolitan now as when ancient Phocaeans first founded it as an international shipping port 2,600 years ago.

The topography of the area has changed over the centuries: originally the port extended to what is now the Centre Bourse. Until the middle of the nineteenth century, all of the town’s marine activities took place here.

Today, pleasure boats are moored beside fishing boats, and every morning the fishermen sell their catch at the renowned local fish market. The town hall, situated on the right bank, looks onto the Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica which dominates the south bank and provides a panoramic view of Marseilles.

The attractions of the city are largely concentrated around the port, including the opera house, museums, galleries, theatres, monuments (such as Pharos Palace, various forts, St Victors Abbey) as well as the Panier district where the ancient Phocaeans first settled. Beside the Hôtel-Dieu, which dates back to the 18th Century, and the Accoules bell tower constructed between the 17th and 19th Centuries, is a stairway typical of old Marseilles that leads directly into the Panier district.

Place de Lenche is where the Greek agora (meaning marketplace) of the ancient city once stood. The area still bustles with life in the market, restaurants and theatre. At the summit of the old town is Place des Moulins which in the 16th Century was home to fifteen windmills making flour. Both the windmills and the warehouses were demolished three centuries later. It retains the tranquility of a village square, with its fountain and local school.

The Vieux Port, the old harbor, is especially colorful, in contrast to the somewhat dreary industrial dockland nearby. It is also the destination of many North and sub-Saharan Africans, who, along with the Italians, French, Lebanese and Armenians, create a lively mix of races and creeds, that have always harmonized.

Marseille is the most important port in the Mediterranean. The major imports include petroleum, wine, fruits, and olive oil. New industry has recently come in: Eurocopter, the world’s largest helicopter maker and Comex, a marine and nuclear engineering group are recent additions to the economic life of Marseilles.

Marseille today actually occupies twice the amount of land space as Paris. In spite of the difficulties inevitably associated with life in a large city, it is bustling, always fascinating, and unlike any other in France. The arts are coming alive in Marseille! An abandoned, former cigar factory has been named La Friche la Belle de Mai, and has opened recently as a 164,000 square foot space entirely dedicated to dance, theater, music, film, visual arts, and literature. There are rooms for rehearsals, performances, workshops, a radio station, and lounges for conversation.

The city is a showpiece: a medley of brilliant white stone rising above a picture perfect seaport framed by enormous neo-Byzantine churches. The winding alleyways of the old town reveal ancient buildings painted in broad strokes of saffron and robin’s-egg blue. It provides the perfect setting for its film industry, because there is nothing artificial about Marseilles. The town is filled with real beauty and raw energy. In 1998 the World Cup was held in Marseille with four players on the winning French team being natives of the city.

Marseilles will always be known for its beaches, for its 35 miles of gorgeous coastline, and for its superb bouillabaisse. It is emerging now as a dynamic creative center for musicians, filmmakers, theater directors, and fashion and furniture designers. The exciting story of this new Marseilles is now unfolding. What a perfect time to visit!

Things to do

Sightseeing Tour

Histobus (L’)
Espace info RTM 6-8, rue des Fabres
Rue des Fabres
Marseille, 13001
Neighborhood: 1st arrondissement
+33 4 91 91 92 10
Métro: Vieux-Port
Take a sight-seeing tour of Marseilles through the old port and the old town Panier district. The bus tour takes in 28 of the cities monuments, accompanied by a running commentary from your driver, who knows the city and its history. Buses depart from the Vieux-Port (the old port). If you are arriving by métro, come out of the station on the same side as the sea, opposite the town hall. Disabled access is available.

Abbaye St-Victor

Place St.-Victor
04 96 11 22 60
Metro: Vieux-Port
Daily 8:30-7:15
Founded in the 4th century, this abbey grew in influence in the ancient world. It was built above a crypt from the 5th century foundation of the church. The basilica, an example of Romanesque architecture, looks out from its vantage point on a ledge above the sea. The Saracens destroyed the first structure, so the abbey was rebuilt in the 11th century and fortified against further onslaught in the 14th. Its crudely peaked windows indicate the transition from Romanesque arches to Gothic points.

Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde

Rue Fort du Sanctaire
04 91 13 40 80
7am-8 pm
Free admission
Metro: Vieux-Port; Bus: 60
This Romanesque-Byzantine style church stands on a limestone rock perch overlooking the southern side of the Vieux-Port. It was built in the 19th century and topped by a 30 foot statue of the Virgin.

Musée D’histoire De Marseille

(Marseille History Museum)
Centre Bourse, entrance on rue de Bir-Hakeim
04-91-90-42-22
Admission charged.
Mon.-Sat. noon-7.
This modern, open-spaced exhibition presents Marseille’s history through its treasure trove of archeological finds. Highlights include ancient metallurgy, Gallo-Roman pottery making, and shipbuilding. There is a section dedicated to medieval Marseille, and some background on the influence of Louis XIV and Vauban on the city. There is a recovered wreck of a Roman cargo boat, its 3rd-century wood amazingly preserved, and the hull of a Greek boat dating from the 4th century BC.

Centre De La Vieille Charité

(Center of the Old Charity)
Designed as a hospice for the homeless, this superb example of 17th- and 18th-century architecture stands at the top of Le Panier (the basket).
Under this complex’s extensive roofs are two excellent museums.

 

Musée d’Archéologie Méditerranéenne

(Museum of Mediterranean Archaeology)
Centre Bourse, square Belsunce
04 91 90 42 22
Metro: Vieux-Port
Admission charged; children under 11 free
An amazing archeological garden where excavations are continuing. The many exhibits span ancient Mediterranean civilizations from ancient Egypt, Cyprus, Greece and Rome. These include a sizable collection of ceramics, bronzes, funeral stelae, amphorae, and sculptures. There are also mummies, hieroglyphics, and gorgeous sarcophagi in an authentic tomb-like setting.

Musée d’Arts Africains, Océaniens et Amérindiens

(Museum of African, Oceanian, and American Indian Art)
2 rue de la Charité
04-91-14-58-80.
Admission charged.
May-Sept., Tues.-Sun. 11-6; Oct.-Apr., Tues.-Sun. 10-5.
Has a very good and quite dramatic collection of masks and sculptures.

Musée des Beaux-Artes

04-91-14-59-30
Admission charged. Children under 12 free.
June 15- Sept. 15: Tues-Sun. 11-7; Sept. 16-June 14: Tues-sun. 10-5
Metro: Cinq av. Longchamp or Réformés
This museum is housed in a northern wing of the Palais Longchamp. Its displays include a splendid array of paintings from the 16th-19th centuries. Among these are works by Corot, Davis, Rubens, and Miller. Sculptures are featured as well. One room is devoted to the works of Honoré Daumier, born in Marseilles in 1808.

Musée Cantini

19 rue Grignan
04 91 54 77 75
Admission charged. Free for seniors and children 10 and under.
June-Sept Tues-Sun 11-6; Oct-May Tues-Sun 10-5.
Metro: Estrangin Préfecture
The museum is devoted to modern art, with notable works by Derain, Balthus, Ernst, Masson, and Marquet. It also displays works by young international artists.

Musée Grobet-Labadîe

140 bd. Longchamp
04 91 62 21 82
Admission charged. Free for children under 11
June-Sept Tues-Sun 11-6; Oct-May Tues-Sun 10-5
Métro: Réformés
This private collection was given to the city in 1919 and includes Louis XV and Louis XVI furniture along with an excellent collection of medieval Burgundian and Provenįal sculpture. Other exhibits are 17th century Gobelin tapestries; 15th-19th century German, Italian, French, and Flemish paintings and 16th and 17th century Italian and French porcelain.

Musée de la Faïence

In the Chateau Pastré
157 av. de Montredon
Admission charged. Children under 11 free.
June-Sept. Tues-Sun 11-6; Oct-May Tues-Sun 10-5
Métro: Réformés
One of the largest collections of porcelain in France. Its pieces date from Neolithic times. Most are representative of the 18th and 19th centuries. The museum is located about 3 miles south of the center of Marseilles in a manor house built in 1864.

Maison Diamantée

(Diamond House)
The name is the result of the museum’s beveled-stone faįade. The collection includes beautifully carved wooden furniture, crčches and santons, and 19th-century clothes. Of particular interest is a display of locally made playing cards; Marseille was one of the medieval ports of entry for playing cards from the East. Check with the tourist office for new hours. rue de la Prison, 04-91-13-89-00 info.

Eglise Orthodoxe Russe Saint-Georges

16, rue Clapier
Marseille, 13001
Neighborhood: 1st arrondissement
métro: Réformés
This church is situated in the centre of Marseille in the Saint-Charles district, near the train station of the same name.
On Saturdays, Vespers takes place at 5.30pm. On Sundays, the Slavonic liturgy starts at 10am and the French at 2pm (apart from on the first Sunday of every month). During the week, the liturgy is at 10am.

Errahmaniya

4, rue du Bon Pasteur
Marseille, 13002
Neighborhood: 2nd arrondissement
+33 4 91 55 57 38
métro: Jules Guesde
This mosque is situated in the Grands-Carmes district, in the north of Marseille.
The Islamic service begins at 10am on Sunday.

 

Arts and Entertainment

Théâtre National de la Criée

30, quai Rive-Neuve
Marseille, 13007
Neighborhood: 7th arrondissement
+33 4 91 54 70 54
+33 4 91 54 27 17
This theatre takes its name from an old fish auction, which was once situated here. Since 1981, this highly respected cultural landmark has been an important cultural center of the city. The programming is of good quality.

Espace Julien

39, cours Julien
Marseille, 13006
Neighborhood: 6th arrondissement
+33 4 91 24 34 15
+33 4 91 42 67 82
All types of music are represented here from rap to rai, jazz to rock. The auditorium has 1000 seats alongside the 150 seater cafe. In the heart of the plain, this up to date area caters for all tastes. There are concerts throughout the year.

Activities for Family and Kids

Théâtre de la Girafe

Parc Longchamp, 43, rue Béranger
43, rue Béranger
Marseille, 13001
Neighborhood: 1st arrondissement
+33 4 91 87 32 22
métro: Cinq-Avenues
On the grounds of the old zoological gardens of the town, in the giraffe house called Suzie, a group of puppeteers from Bulgaria produce shows through different personalities. For children aged between 2-8 years old.
There are 2 shows a week in French. Reservations suggested. Disabled access is available.

Parc Longchamp

Boulevard Longchamp
Marseille, 13001
Neighborhood: 1st arrondissement
+33 4 91 64 15 75
Formerly the site of a zoological park, these gardens are situated behind Longchamp Palace – the sumptuous architectural masterpiece from the Second Empire built to commemorate the arrival of water in the city, and now home to both arts and science museums. The wealth of waterfalls, fountains and sculptures create a truly magical atmosphere, intoxicating every visitor with surroundings reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance. It is the perfect place to find relaxation. The Marseilles Observatory in Place Leverrier which holds regular planetarium shows is also nearby.

Préau des Accoules (Le)

29, montée des Accoules
Marseille, 13002
Neighborhood: 2nd arrondissement
+33 4 91 91 52 06
Métro: Vieux-Port
Admission: Free
This museum is situated in the Panier district, near the foot of the Montée des Accoules. It is housed in an old religious college dating back to the 17th century and is entirely dedicated to children. Both recreational and educational activities are organized to teach children from as young as four about art in all its forms.

Pacific Palissades

Port de la Pointe-Rouge
Marseille, 13008
Neighborhood: 8th arrondissement
+33 4 91 73 54 37
At “Pacific Palissades”, in the small village of la Pointe-Rouge, children over 7, can go out on sailing day trips.
For the more adventurous, wind-surfing is also available.

Parc Borély

134, avenue Clot-Bey
Marseille, 13008
Neighborhood: 8th arrondissement
+33 4 91 25 26 34
Métro: Rond-Point-du-Prado
This magnificent 54-hectare park to the south of the city was designed by landscape gardener Alphan. Water is a major feature here, not least of which is the lake and the ponds where you can go rowing. An eighteenth-century country house stands in the heart of this open space, complemented beautifully by a garden “à la française” and a nineteenth-century landscaped park. Other points of interest include botanical gardens with a rose garden and tropical greenhouse (admission: 10F (EUR 1.52)).
Children love coming here to feed the ducks, take the go-carts for a spin, or watch the model boats sailing on the lake.
Admission: Free

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