Located in southern France, Marseille is a lovely port city. It was founded by the Phoenicians in 600 B.C.E. It offers visitors peaceful squares, vibrant 19th century avenues, parks and awesome fountains, The very heart of Marseille is the Vieux Port, where fishmongers sell fish right from their boats.
The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations is an impressive museum divided into two parts and connected by a foot bridge. One half is known as Fort St-Jean and was founded in the 13th century by the Knights Hospitaller of St. John of Jerusalem and rebuilt in the 17th century by Louis XIV. The other half is shaped like a shoe box and has an interesting lace-like design the creation of Algerian-born architect Rudi Ricciotti, who studied in Marseille.
From the museum you can get wonderful views of the Mediterranean either from the Parapet Walk that goes along the ramparts or from the top of the Tour du Roi Rene which is a defensive tower that can be accessed by a narrow staircase. You can learn about the history of the tower in the Guardhouse Room and there are temporary exhibitions to enjoy. Then you take a walk across the 115 m long footbridge way above the sea with breathtaking views of Vieux Port to the Galerie de la Mediterranean that offer the culture, history and civilization of the Mediterranean region through exhibits of anthropology and ethnography, art work and film
Take a walk to the elongated square called cours Julien to sit awhile and people watch. There is a fountain that no longer flows and an exotic forest of palm trees. Here children come to play football. On Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays you can find morning markets selling things like flowers, antique books and even stamps. On the western side of the square you’ll find cafe terraces. On the east side of the square are fringe theaters and Espace Julien for nighttime entertainment offering different types of music like rock, oper-rock, reggae and hip hop.
From the Vieux Port head on over to Le Panier a historical quarter that has been named Marseille’s Montmarte. It has sloping streets, lanes with artisan shops, workshops and lovely terraced houses from which wash dries on the line. It will take you back into history and has much to delight the eye.
The centerpiece is Centre de la Vielle Charite. This was once a charity shelter that was built for the town’s poor. The architect and sculptor was Pierre Puget. The complex has an arched sienna-stone courtyard. It has rotating exhibits and two small museums – the Musee d’Archeologie Mediterraneenne and the Musee d’Arts Africains, Oceaniens et Ameridiens. Close-by is the Cathedrale de la Major standing guard between the old and new ports. Inside an 18th century Jesuit college is Preau des Accoules that offers creative art exhibitions for children.
The Musee de Beaux Arts is the oldest museum in Marseilles and houses incredible Italian and Provencal paintings and sculptures from the 17th to the 21st centuries. It is all in the Palais de Longchamp that also has a shaded park where people love to relax. There are awesome fountains that were constructed in the 1860s.
For over 26 centuries ships have docked at Vieux Port. The old port is a thriving harbor where you can see fishing boats and yachts sailing on the sea. You can take a sail on the Cross-Port Ferry. The port is guarded by Bas Fort St. Nicolas and across the water is Fort St-Jean. At the southern quay are bars, restaurants, cafes and theaters offering a lively nightlife. There is the Abbaye St. Victor to see which is the birthplace of Christianity in Marseille and was built on a 3rd century B.C. Greek necropolis. Close-by is the Musee du Santon and Atelier du Santon with handcrafted tiny kiln-fired figures or santons that means “little saint”. A delightful place for a picnic or to watch the sunset is Jardin du Pharo.
You’ll discover art, culture and impressive architecture in Aix, the old city where everyone loves to take long strolls. In the very heart of Aix is the cours Mirabeau. On the north side are lots of lovely cafes and on the south side a long stretch of elegant Renaissance hotels. At the intersection of cours Mirable and Rue du 4 Septembre is the mossy Fountain d’Eau Thermale that spouts out water at 34 degrees C. There is the Mazarin Quarter that dates from the 17th century and is home to some of the finest buildings in Aix. Farther on is Jourdan Park with the largest fountain and at the Boulodrome Municipal beneath plane trees residents of the city play petanque.
In his classic novel “The Count of Monte Cristo” Alexander Dumas immortalized the 30-sq-km island known as Ile d’If. Here you can find the Chateau d’If, a 16th century fortress that became a prison. At one time political prisoners were locked up here as well as hundreds of Protestants, the Revolutionary hero Mirabeau and the Communards of 1871.You can get an express boat to the island.
The Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde is an impressive 19th century Romano-Byzantine basilica and it sits on Marseille’s highest point. It is adorned with colorful marble and has murals that depict the safe passage of sailing vessels as well as great mosaics. The hilltop offers visitors fantastic views of the city. The church bell tower is topped with a 9.7 m tall gilded statue of the Virgin Mary on a 12m high pedestal.
The Cathedral de la Major is a lovely and historical cathedral that was built in the middle of the 19th century. The cathedral can seat over 3,ooo people and is an impressive structure with marble and artistic mosaics. Visitors can view the ancient altars.
A thing visitors must do in Marseille is to take a drive along the coastal road Comiche du President J.F. Kennedy. This coastal road offers spectacular views of the sea and stretches from the heart of the city and is the main road to take to get to the lovely Gaston Deffere and Prado beaches. The road has a split level pavement and stretches for more than 2,220 meters.
At the crossroads of Rue de Rome, Boulevard Baille and Avenues Jules Cantini and du Prado is the Fontaine Castellane. This is a monumental fountain that was created by Marseille sculptor Allar in 1911 and sits right in the center of the Castellane Square. Depicted on the pedestal of the fountain is the journey of the River Rhone from its source to the Mediterranean. On top of the pedestal is a statue that symbolizes Marseille. It is one of the city’s most famous landmarks.
A must see is an ancient hospital that was built between 1823 and 1828 called Hopital Caroline. It is located on the Iles du Frioul, a group of islands off the Marseille coast. It was built to help contain an epidemic of yellow fever. This restored facility was named after the Duchess of Berry and offers cultural events like the MlMl Music Festival.
One of the loveliest parks in France is Borely Park which was designed by landscape gardener Alphan. In the very center of the park is a wonderful 18th century country home with a beautiful garden. Within the park are ponds and crystal clear lakes where children enjoy feeding ducks. All through the park are botanical garden and there is an awesome rose garden.
A public park and garden is Jardin de la Magalone and it is listed by the French Ministry of Culture as one of the Notable Gardens in France. It is 1.4 hectares in size and surrounds an 18th century manor house. There are two terraces with fountains that represent the Rhone and Saone Rivers. The garden is made to be a classical French garde with parterres, broderie of box wood, statues that represent the four seasons and two basins. It is surrounded by trees, separating it from the city.
Much more awaits you in Marseille so come visit and play by the Mediterranean.