Marseille - City of Culture
This is the guide in English for all things about Marseille.
Vieux Port - Le Panier - Saint Victor - Notre Dame de la Garde - Palais Longchamp - Le Corbusier building - Château d'If and Isles de Frioul
(metro, Vieux Port)
Probably Marseille's main tourist area, "where civilisation began". Look for the stone commemorating the arrival of the Phoceans in 600 BC.
The Vieux Port is a small port area used by sailing boats, some fishing boats, ferries to Château d'If and the islands, and tourist boats visiting the calanques. If you get tired you can take the free ferry boat from one side of the port to the other. In the summer there is a boat service to Pointe Rouge, the port on the South Side of Marseille.
In the mornings there is a fish market so if you're self catering you can buy fresh fish.
It has cafés and restaurants on all three sides. For suggestions of some to try go to Food and Drink.
The Marseille Tourist Office is at 4 Canebière, by the Vieux Port entrance to the metro.
At the mouth of the port are the forts of St Nicolas and St Jean, and the abbey of St Victor. You can visit part of the Fort Saint Nicolas (Entrecasteaux) where you'll find some great views down towards the port. The Fort Saint Jean is being restored and developed to become the Museum of Mediterranean and European Civilization (MUCEM). It is due to open in June 2013. Back to top.
La CRIéE the national theatre of Marseille, can be found on the Quai de Rive Neuf (left hand side looking towards to sea). Here you can often find French renditions of Shakespeare plays and other classics.
Walk past la Criée, take a left turn along rue Robert and follow the signs to Saint Victor, (3 rue de l'Abbaye) an ancient church which houses a black Madonna that is particularly revered on the feast of Candlemas (2 February). After the service the tradition is to eat Navettes (hard biscuits shaped like traditional boats). Saint Victor also houses a macabre collection of relics of different saints, beautifully presented in cases decorated with gold filigree. Between September and December concerts are held in the basilica. For details see News
(metro Vieux Port, bus no.60)
If you walk along the Quai du Port (right hand side looking towards the sea) you will see to your left the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde with its gleaming statue, covered in gold leaf, looking over the city and the sea.
The basilica is known locally as La Bonne Mere. You can visit her by walking up the hill from the Vieux Port along rue Fort Notre Dame and Boulevard Notre Dame. A more interesting route can be found by taking a detour through the jardin de Puget. You'll approach the basilica through a park and past one of the tanks that was involved in liberating the area in 1944. Alternatively you can do it the lazy way - take the number 60 bus from the Vieux Port at the corner of Quai de Rive Neuf and Rue Breteuil. For information on public transport and tickets click here and look at Getting around.The petit train will take you there from the Vieux Port, with a commentary along the way.
Inside the basilica you'll find a highly decorated main church with an extraordinary collection of ex votos pictures and medals dedicated to the virgin by those who believe she has protected them from harm. There is also a much plainer crypt. Outside you'll find tremendous views of the city and the sea and along one wall of the basilica the marks of battle in 1944. Back to top.
(metro Vieux Port, bus no.83)
On the hill behind the Quai du Port is the area known as Le Panier. It is a maze of narrow streets where you can escape Marseille's traffic and explore the small shops and cafés dotted around. Here you will also find the Vieille Charité, that was built to "house" the poor. It has also served as a hospice and as social housing, has been used by the army and been allowed to fall into ruin before being restored by the city between the 1960s and 1980s. It is a beautiful building set around a quadrangle that has in its midst the former church with an unusual egg shaped dome designed by the architect Pierre Puget in 1670 (the king's architect who lived close by). It is worth looking inside the chirch and wandering around the three storeys of arched walkways that surround it to get an idea of how it must have been when it served its original purpose. Access is free.
(2 rue de le Charité) also houses the museum of mediterranean archeology and the museums of African, Oceanian and Amerinidian art as well as other museums and institutions. In addition to the permanent collections temporary exhibitions are often held here. There is a charge for the museums and normally for the exhibitions. There is also a small bar-restaurant where you can buy meals, sandwiches and coffee and sit in the shade of the arches to admire Pierre Puget's work. Back to top.
(Metro line 2 La Joliette, bus no. 55)
On leaving the Vieille Charité, if you head towards your right and walk down towards the sea you will come to La Major, Cathédrale Sainte Marie Majeure de Marseille, a newly restored church that is one very small ancient (12th to 15th century) building that was partly destroyed to make way for a very large more modern (18th century) one. It is located on an esplanade behind the Fort Saint Jean. Around la Major is an area that has beendeveloped for 2013, Marseille's year as capital of culture. It includes the renovated Station Sanitaire which is now the home of Regards de Provence gallery.
If you walk past the gallery along the road you will come to the Mémorial des camps de la mort. It is located in a second world war blockhaus. The entrance is not obvious, it is by the terminus for the no.83 bus. Inside is a memorial to those who suffered in the Nazi death camps and, even if you cant read the French, the photographs on the second floor give you an idea of how Marseille, and particularly the Panier area was affected by Nazi extermination policies. The memorial building is linked to the MUCEM works so is closed until June 2013.
The area around La Major along the coast in both directions has been the subject of huge investment with the development of MUCEM and the Villa Méditerranée and the opening of J1. See the Capital of Culture page for details.
(metro line 1 Cinq Avenues)
The Palais Longchamp is a magnificent building with a fountain that was built to celebrate the bringing of water to Marseille from the Durance river via the canal to Marseille. It also houses the museum of natural history and the musée des Beaux Arts (closed for renovation until June 2013). Behind the fountain is a small local park which is the home of the Five Continents Jazz Fetival in July. Back to top.
(metro line 2 Rond Point du Prado, bus 21)
A metro or bus ride from the centre of Marseille at 280 Boulevard Michelet and a must for those interested in architecture, the cité radieuse is an appartment block with a difference. It was designed by Le Corbusier and completed in 1952. Until recently it was a shabby shadow of its former self but it has been revitalised. It was conceived as a "vertical village" and includes a hotel, restaurant and shops. There is a roof terrace with a gym and great views. For those who are interested, there is a dual text English / German guide to Le Corbusier's revolutionary building available.
The Frioul If Express ferry (details here) at 1 Quai des Belges on the Vieux Port will take you to Château d'If and the Iles de Frioul. If you only want to go to only one island you need to say so when buying your ticket.
If you go to the prison island of Chateau d'If you need to note that the entrance fee is not included in the ferry fare. It is a must for fans of The Count of Monte Cristo. There are versions of the film playing in almost every cell of the prison. You can also learn a little French history by reading the panels that explain who was really imprisoned in the chateau.
Isles of Frioul
The Isles of Frioul have a small port for sailing boats which has a range of restaurants catering for tourists, and some beaches that tend to be quieter than those in Marseille. In July and August there is a petit train that runs from where the boats arrive to hospital Caroline via the beaches. If you wander off the beaten track you may find calanques where you can swim in relative peace. Hospital Caroline is an 18th century hospital that was used to quarantine people suffering from infectious diseases such as yellow fever. It is currently being restored, mostly by volunteers.
Other boat services leaving from the Vieux Port offer trips to the calanques. The price depends on how many calanques you visit. Some include a trip to Cassis.
All of the boat services are subject to weather conditions and may be cancelled if the Mistral (the prevailing wind) is blowing too hard. Back to top.