Marseille and the Charm of the south, France.

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Massalia, the beautiful is now Marseille and is more beautiful. The Ambiance there is unique and you will enjoy this multi-cultural city.

Marseille is the second largest city in France after Paris and the centre of the third largest metropolitan area in France after Paris and Lyon. 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. Further east still are the Sainte-Baume a 1,147 m mountain ridge rising from a forest, the city of Toulon and the French Riviera. To the north of Marseille, beyond the low Garlaban and Etoile mountain ranges, is the 1,011 m Mont Sainte Victoire. To the west of Marseille is the former artists’ colony of l’Estaque; further west are the Côte Bleue, the Gulf of Lion and the Camargue region in the Rhône delta.

Marseille was originally founded 600 BC as the Greek colony of Massalia and populated by settlers from Phocaea. It became the preeminent Greek polis in the Hellenized region of southern Gaul. The city-state sided with the Roman Republic against Carthage during the Second Punic War (218-201 BC), retaining its independence and commercial empire throughout the Mediterranean western even as Rome expanded into Western Europe and North Africa. However, the city lost its independence following the Roman Siege of Massilia in 49 BC, during Caesar’s Civil War, in which Massalia sided with the exiled faction at war with Julius Caesar.

The port is also an important arrival base for millions of people each year, with 2.4 million including 890,100 from cruise ships. With its beaches, history, architecture and culture (24 museums and 42 theatres), Marseille is one of the most visited cities in France.

The port’s southern quay is dotted with bars, brasseries and cafes, and there are more to be found around place Thiars and cours Honoré d’Estienne d’Orves, where the action continues until late.

The icon of modern Marseille, this stunning museum explores the history, culture and civilisation of the Mediterranean region through anthropological exhibits, rotating art exhibitions and film. The collection sits in a bold, contemporary building, designed by Algerian-born, Marseille-educated architect Rudi Ricciotti. It is linked by a vertigo-inducing footbridge to the 13th-century Fort St-Jean, from which there are stupendous views of the Vieux Port and the Mediterranean. The fort grounds and their gardens are free to explore.

This opulent 19th-century Romano-Byzantine basilica occupies Marseille’s highest point, La Garde (162m). Built between 1853 and 1864, it is ornamented with coloured marble, murals depicting the safe passage of sailing vessels and superb mosaics. The hilltop gives 360-degree panoramas of the city. The church’s bell tower is crowned by a 9.7m-tall gilded statue of the Virgin Mary on a 12m-high pedestal. It’s a 1km walk from the Vieux Port, or take bus 60 or the tourist train.

From the Vieux Port, hike north up to this fantastic history-woven quarter, which is fabulous for a wander with its artsy ambience, cool hidden squares and sun-baked cafes. In Greek Massilia it was the site of the agora, hence its name, which means ‘the basket’. During WWII the quarter was dynamited and afterwards rebuilt. Today it’s a mishmash of lanes hiding artisan shops, ateliers and terraced houses strung with drying washing.

Bouillabaisse is the most famous seafood dish of Marseille. It is a fish stew containing at least three varieties of very fresh local fish.

 

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