Monday, March 19, 2012

My favorite cities : Marseilles

Lately, a dear friend of mine whom I consider like my sister sent me an article from The National Geography about Marseilles and its diversity. It says to sum up it a bit that Marseilles was born from immigration and is still nourished by the newcomers. Marseilles has always been one of the main gateways into France. It says that 145 different nationalities live within the city and are mostly integrated to the inhabitants. The journalist pointed out a fact; Marseille inhabitants don’t live with each others.
Despites the real natural attraction and this generous nature, Marseilles has been suffering from a real bad reputation through the years. The crime bands were legion back in the 30’s and made think Maeach others, but live aside each others. It is a fact; most communities have their district and just live within the community. The two places where everyone is rubbing the other are Stadium & beaches. It’s a melting pot.

I was born in Marseilles and truly liked it for years. Until I travel from it and appreciate the others cities qualities. Marseilles is, no doubt, one of the most ancient city in France (one says the oldest with more than 2 600 years of exciting) and one of the most geographically gifted.

Large opening to the Mediterranean sea, a forty kilometers of coasts, close to wilder countryside, having little fjords within the city (Calanques), 1 hour and half from the Alps Mountains and to ski spots, Marseilles offers to its inhabitants and tourists huge possibilities.

Despite the real natural attraction and this generous nature, Marseilles has been suffering from a real bad reputation through the years. The crime bands were legion back in the 30’s and made think Marseille like a probation city like Chicago : crimes, girls, cigarettes and money. The commercial harbor was one of the major one in Europe and the number one in the Mediterranean area, but by the end of the 70’s, financial crisis hurt Marseilles badly. Nowadays, Marseilles bases its life on cruising, local companies, some sport major events, hi-tech companies (fewer and fewer), and some cultural events to come (Marseilles and Provence will host European Culture City in 2013).           

In fact, Marseilles deserves its reputation somehow. I think that Marseilles missed the economic and modern opportunities a decade ago and still has huge difficulties to rise up from ashes. The most I get older, the less love I have to my hometown and it really bothers me. I was considering myself as one of its children when I was 15 or 20, but in the early 90’s, I really cut off the bond we had. I don’t feel like home when I am in Marseilles. I don’t have this emotional feeling whenever I come back in the place. I had that missing feeling when I was younger. Too bad it is gone. I feel like that for others places and Marseilles doesn’t make me happy anymore.

I was about working for Marseille-Provence 2013 upon my writing and photography but I wondered what the point to be involved in something and somewhere I don’t belong anymore. I am deeply sorry not being able to fall in love again with my hometown.

Anyway, I still can tell you the main points to visit and how beautiful this city is :

-          Le Vieux Port (old port/harbor) is the main harbor and marina of the city. It is guarded by two massive forts (St Nicolas and St Jean) and is one of the main places to eat in the city (not all are good), lining the waterfront. The Quai des Belges (end of the Canebière) is the site of the daily fish market and the departure of ferries.
-          La Vieille Charité in the Panier district is an architecturally significant building designed by the Puget brothers. The central baroque chapel is situated in the courtyard lined with arcaded galleries. It is the home of an archeological museum and a gallery of African and Asian art, as well as a bookshop and a café. It houses the Marseille International Poetry Center.

-          Le Musée d’Histoire de Marseille (Marseilles Historical Museum) is located in the Centre Bourse (main Mall close to the Vieux Port). It contains records of the Greek and Roman history of Marseilles and the best preserved hull of a 6th century boat. Ancient remains from the Hellenic port are displayed in the adjacent archeological gardens.
-          L’Hôtel Dieu, former hospital in the Panier district, is currently being transformed into a luxury hotel (InterContinental). The building is one of the major attractions in the district.
-          L’Abbaye St Victor (Abbey of Saint-Victor) is one of the oldest places. Its 5th century crypt and catacombs occupy the site of a Hellenic burial ground, later used for Christian martyrs. Every year, at the Candlemas, a black Madonna is carried in procession for a blessing from the archbishop and a distribution of “Navettes” (traditional biscuits) and green votive candles settle.
-          La Major (Cathedral of Sainte-Marie-Majeure) was founded in the 4th century and has been enlarged in the 11th and rebuilt in the second half of the 19th (Architects Vaudoyer & Espérandieu). It’s a Romano-Byzantine style with transept, choir and altar from older medieval cathedral. Nearby, the 12th century parish church, Saint-Laurent and adjoining chapel from 17th century (Sainte-Catherine).
-          Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde is a 19th century basilica built by architect Espérandieu. It was built in the hills to the south of Vieux Port and it’s a Romano-Byzantine type. The terrace offers an astonished panoramic view of Marseilles and its surroundings. The restaurant runs by nouns is one of my favorites.

-          Le Corbusier – Unité d’Habitation (or Maison du fada – Crazy man House) is an experimental building designed by Swiss architect Le Corbusier in the late 40’s.
-          Palais Longchamp is an Italianate colonnaded building rises up behind a vast monumental fountain with cascading waterfalls, which is the entry of point of the Canal de Provence into Marseilles.

-          La Corniche (Promenade J.F. Kennedy) is a large waterfront road between the Vieux Port and the bay of Marseilles, with 3km sitting stone bench.
-          Le Parc Borély is a park nearby the beaches (David Statue, Prado beach) and the bay of Marseilles with a lovely lake, a botanical garden and a typical Provencal “castle”.
-          Les Plages (beaches) : Les Prophètes, Prado, Pointe Rouge, Les Goudes, and Callelongue are the most famous ones.
-          Les calanques (little fjords) belong to Marseilles 9th district and are becoming a National Park.
-          The islands of Frioul archipelago and Château d’If are accessible by ferry from the Vieux Port. The prison of Château d’If is well-known due to Alexandre Dumas’s novel “Le Comte de Monte Cristo” (The Count of Monte Cristo).

After visiting all those places, you should be able to get an opinion about the beauty of the city. The next step would be to go and eat to one of the restaurants not mentioned in the touristic guidebooks (apart from the SO famous ones) and attend to a football game at the Velodrome Stadium to get an idea of the melting pot of the city.

“Marseilles, either you like it or you loathe it !”  : That what I am used to say to newcomers and visitors. Honestly, I don’t love it anymore, but I still like it. Part of, sort of.