Marseille is the oldest city in France, founded by the Greeks in 600 BC. Its privileged position on the Mediterranean Sea has always made it a crossroads of peoples where influences from very distant cultures meet.
Those who arrive in Marseille encounter both delicious and very characteristic chaos: the heavy traffic, the fish markets, the whole city makes one think of a rich image with many details, colorful and cheerful.
In Marseille we eat well, we live with fervor and above all, there are many captivating things to see. Also known as the “Naples of France”, this city retains an invaluable historical heritage which earned it the title of Capital of Culture in 2013, a nomination that led it to redevelop some of the most important neighborhoods.
Those who arrive in Marseille prepare for a breathtaking view as well as the sublime food that awaits them, and it is no accident. The city is synonymous with its iconic fish soup, bouillabaisse, typically prepared with redfish (also known as redfish), sea galette, Saint-Pierre, eel, scorpionfish, spider crabs, sauces, and vegetables. Another typical accent of traditional restaurants is that of mussels à la Marseillaise, seasoned with tomatoes, to try at least once in your life.
Other typical dishes of the region are the tapenade, a starter made with olives, anchovies, and capers, and the Panisse, a flatbread made from chickpea flour that wins the heart with its authentic simplicity. Marseille is a city that for centuries has been home to different ethnic groups, mainly from North Africa and the East. Their dishes are an integral part of the local cuisine and the culture of the city. For example, leukemia, an aperitif generally served with anise-based liqueur, has made the region famous: Pastis.
Once satisfied with the local gastronomy, take a tour of the Canebière, the most important artery of the historic center of Marseille. The name comes from the Provençal “canabe”, a reference to the intensive cultivation of hemp for the manufacture of ropes and harnesses for boats. The road was inaugurated by Louis XIV in 1666, although its period of greatest splendor coincided with the Third French Republic. The region is rich in palaces, cafes, and restaurants, as well as places of more general cultural interest.
Let Costa Cruises guide you to discover this wonderful city, admiring the 10 things to see absolutely in Marseille :
The old Port
The Old Port district of Marseille has been inhabited for 2,600 years. The beating heart of the city, the Old Port is home to sailboats, fishermen, bars, theaters and is one of the most authentic and characteristic districts of France. Visit the Quai des Belges, the area where fishermen dock in Marseille and unload their fresh fish early in the morning, and where of course you can make various sea excursions from there. The Quai is accessible from La Canebière, a large avenue that crosses the city from the port and offers a fairly complete panorama of the city. Those who think they can visit Marseille should plan at least one stop at the fish market, a sample of city life that will be remembered forever.
Among the various attractions of the Old Port, there is also the ferry that goes around the port, Fort Nicolas and Fort Saint-Jean. Fort Saint-Jean was built after the plunder by the Aragonese in 1423, to defend the port, while Saint-Nicolas was built later, in 1660, in order to keep the population under control. The two forts were connected by a beautiful bridge, unfortunately, destroyed during World War II. Saint-Jean was one of the focal points of the French Revolution.
In the Old Port, you should also admire the most recent works, those completed in 2013 following the nomination of Marseille as Capital of Culture. Among these, “La Tettoia”, the work of successful architect Norman Foster: an artificial sky measuring 46×22 meters in stainless steel mirrors that offers passers-by curious perspectives on themselves and the city.
Also not to be missed is the Samaritaine bar, an old meeting point that has served excellent tea since 1910 and has become a landmark for the whole city. At the Old Port, you should also stop for a dinner based on typical fish soup, the Bouillabaisse, avoiding the most touristy places for a more traditional and quality choice.
Archaeologists believe that St. Lawrence Church was built on the exact spot where the first Greek settlements took place. At the foot of the hill where the church stands, in fact, an archaic Ionic capital has been discovered, probably belonging to the sanctuary of Apollo Delphinios. Saint-Laurent’s location offers a magnificent view of the Old Port, with its old and new buildings, and an extraordinary view of the blue sea.
Saint-Laurent is perhaps the oldest place of Christian worship in Marseille, and it has survived to the present day thanks to some restorations over the centuries. The interior has three beautiful naves separated by square pillars supporting transverse arches, and sloping towards the barrel vaults. The apse, ribs, was rebuilt in the XVII th century to make room for the octagonal tower, which later became the bell tower. The floor houses the slabs of several tombs, each bearing a number.
Don’t miss the left apse, where the dark wooden Madonna and Child is located, also known as the Black Madonna – in an entirely Catalan style.
The Cathedral of Notre-Dame de la Garde
The white profile of Notre-Dame de la Garde cathedral silently watches over the chaos of Marseille. From here you can enjoy a splendid view not only of the city but also of the Mediterranean. Built-in the Roman-Byzantine style, the cathedral is dominated by the Madonna, whom the Marseillais affectionately call Bonne-Mère.
Here there are actually two churches: a lower crypt-shaped church, with a polychrome crucifix and a mother of sorrows, or Mater Dolorosa, in marble. Then there is the upper church, a sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin and decorated with mosaics on a gold background, marbles, and representations of all the miracles performed by the Virgin Mary.
The hill on which Notre-Dame de la Garde stands, as it is easy to see, has always been an excellent vantage point. In the XVth century, a Charles II of Anjou order entered this place on the list of guard posts. Over time, the area became a place of worship, and already in the middle of the XIXth century, the sanctuary is too small for the many pilgrims who want to visit. It was Monsignor Mazenot who decided to build a large basilica, the same that can be admired today.
The MuCEM, or Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean, inaugurated in 2013, when Marseille was still the capital of culture, extends into an exhibition of 45,000 square meters at the entrance to the Old Port. The futuristic silhouette of MuCEM is designed by architects Rudy Ricciotti and Roland Carta and stands on quay J4, near Villa Méditerranée. It is a cement cube with a classic design, the color of dust, and surmounted by a cement veil decorated with lace which allows, from the inside, also to observe the sea.
The museum is entirely devoted to the cultures of the Mediterranean basin, a very important project where each exhibition offers interdisciplinary perspectives on anthropology, history, culture, archeology, and contemporary art. This with the aim of showing curious and interested tourists the souls of the cultures which have a dialogue to give life to what we now call Europe.
MuCEM is the point of reference for permanent and temporary exhibitions, conferences, seminars, and other cultural events in the heart of Marseille. The permanent collection contains around 200 artifacts, 135,000 prints, drawings, posters, and paintings, as well as 355,000 photographs and 150,000 books and magazines, the result of more than 130 years of collecting and the union of several collections, merged here by the Ethnographic Museum of the Trocadéro Palace, the Musée de l’Homme and the National Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions. The MuCEM offers a suspended footbridge that leads directly to the Place d’Armes of Fort St-Jean and an agora where you can attend cultural shows. The museum is open every day except Christmas and the 1 st of January.
Le Panier district
Behind Marseille town hall, you enter the historic city center, known as the Le Panier district. The name has uncertain origins, but could derive from that of an old inn, “Le Logis du Panier”. It is an old and labyrinthine district, where the clothes which are on the outside of the windows conceal the facades of the old buildings; the elderly stop by the side of the road, and the raids of the children never stop. This district can be visited on foot and must be explored in its singularity, its alleys, and streets. Don’t miss the Place des 13 Cantons, the Place du Refuge, the Place des Moulins, and the Vieille Charité.
In the heart of the Le Panier district is the Vieille Charité, a perfectly restored former hospice. This very particular structure, which once housed the poor and underprivileged, and its restoration has punctuated the renovation of the entire neighborhood that houses it. The complex was born in 1640 when the Town Hall decided to create a collective space dedicated to the poor of Marseille. The construction, followed by Pierre Puget, the king’s architect, gave birth to one of the most beautiful souls in Provence and one of the most evocative architectural ensembles in France.
La Vieille Charité is made up of four buildings over 3 floors, which overlook an interior courtyard with an Italian Baroque chapel in the center. Currently, the structure houses a multidisciplinary center, the Museum of African, Oceanic, and Amerindian Arts, the Center international de poésie de Marseille, the Cinémathèque Le Miroir, the Museum of Mediterranean Archeology, and a few rooms dedicated to exhibitions.
The Cathedral of Saint Mary Major
Affectionately known as La Major, the Cathedral of St. Mary Major was built in the Neo-Byzantine style and is an imposing structure, about 146 meters high, capable of attracting the attention of tourists from the very first steps in Marseille. Former Major was built in the middle of the XIIth century and was cut in half with the construction of the new Major, and opened the currently visible part of the church. The renovations have indeed brought to light an enchanting early Christian baptistery that has however been buried again. The old Major is located next to the new one and, for the moment, cannot be visited.
The materials used for the construction of this extraordinary structure are numerous, such as greenstone from Florence, white marble from Carrara and stones from Calissanne and Gard, onyx from Italy, and mosaics from Venice. The structure can accommodate up to 3,000 believers.
Ile du Frioul and the Château d’If
During his visit in 1516, Francis I first realized the strategic importance of the islands of Friuli and ordered the construction of a fortress, however, quickly changed the function and became a prison. This one saw many people die behind bars, but among all, the name of a particular guest stands out: José Custodio Faria, whom Alexandre Dumas made famous thanks to his novel “The Count of Monte Cristo”. The Château d’If, a place of death and great hope, can still be visited today thanks to the regular shuttle that connects it to the coast.
The Frioul Islands form a limestone barrier to the beautiful city of Marseille, visible in the distance. This archipelago is made up of four islands: Pomègues, Ratonneau, If, and Tiboulen. The defined character of these islands swept by the mistral testifies to distant history. The microclimate allows the birth of original floral species which, in total, amount to 200. The islands are also a refuge for many sea birds and the reference kingdom of seagulls.
On the island of Ratonneau, there is an old hospital, the Hospital Carolina, built in the 19th century to treat patients with yellow fever in a relatively quiet and secluded area. Currently, the structure is decommissioned, but a site redevelopment project is underway to put it back into service.
The Calanques of Marseille
Who wants to explore Provence, must-visit Les Calanques, a paradise of coves embroidered around Marseille, one of the most beautiful natural spectacles in the region. The wild ravines are nothing more than small coves of white rocks swept by the mistral which plunges into a sea of crystal. This coastal strip, Les Calanques, about 20 km long, has been protected since the 1970s for the richness of its fauna and flora. The region is almost inaccessible by car, except for a few sections, but most of the Calanques can be visited on foot using very difficult hiking trails.
It is also a good idea to explore these caves by boat. Several of them leave from Marseille. Don’t miss the unspoiled beauty of the place and take some photos of the famous cabins, the colorful boathouses made even more authentic by the context of the Calanques.
Of all the Calanques, Sormiou is the largest and the most famous and it is simply a wonder. Here, a diver from Cassis discovered a cave with cave paintings from prehistoric times, which is currently not open to the public. Also visit the Calanque de Callelongue, Morgiou, Port Pin, and Port Piou in Cassis.
The Corniche is the name given to the long panoramic road that crosses Marseille and runs along the sea. First dedicated to Kennedy, it is accessible by the Quai de Rive-Neuve road and is an excellent place to admire some of the most interesting points of the city, such as the Porte d’Orient and the Repatriates monument.
The route is particularly admirable and suggestive and overlooks luxury private villas up to the Prado beaches, an authentic seaside park in the city that houses some of the most important tourist facilities.
The Corniche was founded in 1848 not for tourist purposes, but for the sole purpose of employing 8,000 unemployed people. The works, which lasted 15 years, however, gave birth to this road, which is also one of the most beautiful in the world. The tram line, which goes to Cassis, also makes it a walk for everyone, from where you can access the Calanques National Park.
Prado seaside park
In the mid-1970s, construction work on the Marseille metro began, and it was from there that the need to take more land on the sea near the city appeared. From this need emerges the Prado seaside park, forty hectares of meadows, parks, playgrounds, and six fantastic sand and pebble beaches: Gaston Defferre Beach, Borély Beach, L’Huveaune Beach, Bonneveine Beach, La Vieille Beach Chapel and Beach of Pointe Rouge.
This project has definitely improved the tourist attractiveness of Marseille while offering an excellent pretext to improve the quality of life of the inhabitants, who can now enjoy a green space worthy of the name.
In addition to the various activities intended for young people, such as the skate park, the district is also home to two museums: the Musée des Arts Décoratifs at the Palais Borély and the Museum of Contemporary Art, marked by the large statue made by the artist César Baldaccini.
Leave for Marseille with Costa Croisères
Bright and colorful, Marseille will seduce you instantly: take advantage of Costa Cruises excursions to discover the most beautiful places of this lively city, such as the Old Port, Notre-Dame de la Garde, and the MuCEM.
Name- Julien ChbibBio- Julien is the founder of Julius Homes His interest in hiking, skiing, and adventure holidays made him bring together the choicest accommodations around the globe to make holidays relaxing and comfortable.