When you are cruising in the Western Mediterranean, chances are one port of call will be Marseille, France.
Known as the second largest city after Paris and also as the oldest city in France, it once had the reputation of not being sophisticated and a little rough around the edges. Marseille with all of its historical sites has been retrofitted and its beauty shines once again.
Marseille holds the honour of being named the 2013 European Capital of Culture. A full schedule during the course of the year has planned 400 cultural events covering theatre, music, dance and art. When the announcement was made several years ago, Marseille went into high gear to spiff up the whole metropolis with much accomplishment.
On a cruise that takes in Marseille there are numerous excursions available to purchase from the cruise company but why not venture out on your own and come across many pleasant surprises?
Editors note: Cruises from Marseille are available from a number of cruise lines including Pullmantur, Costa Cruises and MSC who have a certain allocation available to and from this port. These cruises are normally 7 nights in duration and part of an itinerary that starts in Italy or Spain.
Discovered by Greek fisherman some 2600 years ago, the city centre is clustered around the huge Vieux-Port which is lined up fishing crafts exposing the port’s seaside charm.
There’s a new generation of contemporary restaurants dotted along the harbour serving Marseille’s most famous dish, Bouillabaisse. This is a type of fish soup/stew which is usually presented in two parts. The broth is served separately from the ingredients used which contain three to five different types of seafood.
Guarding the narrow entrance into the Vieux-Port are the forts of St-Jean and Saint Nicolas. The fort of St-Jean is dates back to the 13th century and has always been used to defend the northern gateway which is the oldest in the town.
Louis XIV ordered the star-shaped and Saint Nicolas fort to be built in the 17th century. He used it as a strategic manoeuvre to keep the population in line by having the cannons face the town and not the sea.
Napoleon III had his hand involved with Marseille’s history also. The Palais du Pharo, built in the 19th century as his waterfront residence stands on hill near the entrance to Vieux-Port. It is used as a conference centre today.
The Notre Dame de la Garde is located at the highest point of the city at 500 feet. This enormous basilica dominates the city’s skyline and its patron saint is dedicated to the seafaring men, it glimpses at below in Vieux-Port.
The Cathedral of La Major is built in Byzantine-Roman style and is a National Monument in France. Portions of the church date back to the 11th century which was built upon the ruins of a temple to Diana.
Near to the Cathedral is the Maison Diamantée. The ‘Diamond House’ was built in 1570 and is named so because of the diamond-shaped reinforcements that adorns its outer façade. Now the Museum of Old Marseille, its represents a testament to life in Marseille during the 18th and 19th centuries and presents a comprehensive exhibit dedicated to the Plague of 1720.
Inaugurated in 1869, Palais Longchamp is an impressive and remarkable palace that houses an art and natural history museum. Its most beautiful facet is the water aspect and flowing fountains which are connected with the Durance canal.
The Musee d’Histoire de Marseille offers a window into Marseilles past with its archaeological garden where excavations continue.
With a map in hand, walking is the best way to explore the city. However, the local transport system is very efficient. You can travel either by metro, bus or by the sleek new tram system.
Marseille has many points of interest to enjoy and discover while your ship is in port.
Written by Veronica Shine