Planning a trip to Marseilles

25 Apr

Soon I will be making a trip to Provence in the South of France and although I have made many journeys to France and have travelled extensively throughout France I have never visited the ancient city of Marseilles. There is evidence to suggest that Marseille was already established as a trading post around 600 B.C when Phocaen Greeks sailed up the creek that is now the Old Port of the city. The Phocaens are responsible for putting Marseilles on the map they in fact originally called it Massalia. The Phocaens came from an island off the coast of Turkey and were the earliest Greeks to make long distance voyages. They are responsible for establishing Frances oldest city Marseille. What is also of interest is that they also established what is now considered to be Mediterranean agriculture when they planted key crops such as vines, almonds,olives, apricots and cherries.

When the Romans arrived they changed the name to Massilia and they introduced the first monastic communities which led to the spread of Christianity in Provence. By the end of the third century barbarians and plagues had turned the city into a backwater. The saving grace of the city was the shipbuilding and navigational skills of the Marseillase which helped bring the city to prominence once again as they competed with the Genoese to outfit and supply the Crusaders.

The city is renowned for its resilience and power of recovery, Twice the Port of Marseille has been a gateway for the entry of plague in to Europe. The last major outbreak of Plague in Europe in 1720 cost the city of Marseille almost 50,000 people. During the second World War its reputed that because Hitler abhorred Marseilles for whatever his reasons were he had under the pretence of a civic clean up evacuated more than 40,000 people from its oldest and most picturesque quarters and razed the area to the ground.Nearly all of the Old Port was destroyed and the inhabitants of the area sent to the death camps. Today despite high levels of unemployment and poverty it still remains one of the most important ports in Continental Europe.

Today Marseille is associated with terms like The French Connection and the Count of Monte Cristo or its most famous dish bouillabaisse. It also can be remembered as the city where the French National Anthem was established. Le Marseillase  or The Song from Marseille was originally called The War Song for the Army of the Rhine and was composed in 1792 by Claud Joseph Rouget de Lisle. They say the name of the song came about because it was sung on the streets of Marseille by volunteers on thir way to Paris during the French Revolution. I think we can all agree that Marseille has had an interesting history to date so it should not be surprising to learn that this year Marseille is the EUs city of culture and plans to  mark this honour by celebrating with over 500 planned events.

Marseille is indeed a melting pot of various cultures and experiences which is of interest to me. Unfortunately this variety of experiences has left the city with a somewhat mixed reputation. Its enticement to entertain and enjoy has been balanced somewhat by a well recognised reputation for crime. Marseille has long been associated with criminals and undesireables.While Marseille has a long association with both crime and poverty there is currently ample evidence to show how it is working on its image. In a building down by the old port where in years gone by immigrants mostly from the colonies especially North African were showered, deloused and examined before entry into France much like Ellis Island in New York is now being regenerated as a museum and has opened for an exhibition on March 1st this year called “Regards de Provence, Mediterranean Reflections ” as part of its role as European capital of culture for 2013.

So this gives Marseille Frances second biggest city a chance to reinvent itself and its lovely port for its inhabitants and tourists alike. So it will be so fulfilling to see a city steeped in such tradition transform itself from a poor,rough, crime ridden area to an attractive tourist and heritage city a destination for sun,sea seafood and culture.


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