17 April 2016
Marseille, France: The Second City

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Marseille is the oldest city in France, and the country’s second-largest city population behind only Paris.

Very much a working city, Marseille is France’s largest commercial port.

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Silver Cloud at the dock near the Vieux-Port of Marseille today

The city’s name is the latest version of several, reaching back to the Occitan name of Marselha, and before that the Greek name Marsiho. There’s also a not-much-used local dialect, which calls the place something like Mocx-sey-oh.

To the east, starting in the small fishing village of Callelongue on the outskirts of Marseille and stretching as far as Cassis, are the Calanques, a rugged coastal area interspersed with small fjord-like inlets.

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Recent additions to the old port include a dramatic ferris wheel and a handsome mirror canopy by British architect Norman Foster

Two large forts flank the entrance to the Old Port: Fort Saint-Nicolas on the south side and Fort Saint-Jean on the north.

Further out in the Bay of Marseille is the Frioul archipelago of four islands.

One of those, L’ile d’If, is the location of Château d’If, made famous by the Alexandre Dumas novel The Count of Monte Cristo.

There have been settlements in this area for almost 30,000 years. In 1985, diver Henri Cosquer discovered an underwater cave near the calanque of Morgiou southeast of Marseille.

Within what is now known as the Grotte Cosquer, or Cosquer Cave, were hundreds of paintings and outlines of hands. Scientists believe they date back to between 27,000 and 19,000 BC.

The city of Marseille was founded about 600 BC as a Greek trading port; it was named Massalia.

Facing an opposing alliance of Etruscans, Carthaginians and the Celts, the Greek colony allied itself with the expanding Roman Republic.

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The beautiful Notre-Dame de la Garde cathedral looms over the city, visible from almost everywhere

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The interior of the cathedral includes spectacular art and ex-votos left by parishioners, including ship models by hopeful or thankful sailors

Massalia became a link between inland Gaul and Rome, importing wine and other goods and exporting agricultural items and slaves to Rome.

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The Four des Navettes claims to be the oldest bakery in Marseille, dating from 1781

Massalia lost its independence in 49BC, when it backed the wrong side in a civil war against Julius Caesar. Now a Roman port, Christianity first appeared in Marseille; we know this because of catacombs found above the harbour and records of Christian martyrs.

According to Provencal tradition, Mary Magdalen evangelized Marseille with her brother Lazarus.

In 1792, Marseille sent 500 volunteers to Paris to support the French Revolution. The song they sung on their march from Marseille to Paris, a call to arms that became known as La Marseillaise, now the national anthem of France.

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The Palace Longchamps celebrates the arrival of fresh water to the old city

Text and images copyright 2016 by Corey Sandler. All rights reserved. If you would like to purchase a high-resolution image, please contact me.


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