Nestled between the sea and the hills, Marseille is an enthusiastic city that combines the richness of its unique heritage with a vibrant cultural life. Marseille was founded 2,600 years ago, and is France's oldest and second-largest city.
Greek sailors coming from Phocaea in Asia Minor chose to set up an outpost at the current location of the Jardin des Vestiges, just behind the conference center. This park is a major archeological site testifying to their presence (and different sea levels, as it communicated with the current Vieux Port) and can be visited.
The legend goes that the day the Phoceans arrived, the leader of the Greeks, Protis, paid a courtesy visit to the Ligure tribe, which had settled there. It just so happened that on that very day, Gyptis, daughter of the local King Naan, was to be married. Gyptis chose Protis as her husband above a number of other suitors - he had also fallen head over heels for her - and thus, Massalia was founded. The oldest city in France thus arose at a time when Nebuchadnezzar II ruled over Babylon and the future Buddha was born in what is now Nepal.
LonelyPlanet says this about Marseille
Marseille’s fusion of cultures is best experienced at its thronging street markets of Provençal produce stalls, Algerian souk-like bazaars, and fresh-off-the-boat catches splayed along the Vieux Port’s docks at its centuries-old fish market, selling the base ingredients for the local speciality fish stew, bouillabaisse.
Free of mass tourism but always buzzing, this is a seaport city with the right balance of tradition and modernity, nature and culture. Its unique setting, exuberant mood and extravagant multicultural diversity make it one of the most delectable cities in France.
Books set in or around Marseille (fiction, non-fiction and guidebooks)
Suggestions for sight-seeing:
Le Panier is a fantastic history-laden neighborhood of sloping streets and lanes flanked with ochre buildings, terraced houses and artisan shops selling traditional Provençal products. It houses two twelfth-century churches, the Clocher des Accoules and the Eglise Saint Laurent. Quintessentially Marseillais, and across the street from the conference center, Le Panier has been the set for a popular French soap opera five days a week since 2004, known as Plus Belle La Vie (Life More Beautiful). Life can be more beautiful in Marseille!
In 2013, Marseille was chosen to be the European Capital of Culture. Within Le Panier neighborhood is the arcade courtyard of the Centre de la Vieille Charité, which houses museums freshly renovated for the occasion. In addition, abutting our conference’s Mercure Centre Bourse hotel is the Museum of Historic Marseille, which in June, 2013, will re-open with more than double the surface area as the “Musée d'Histoire et du Port antique” (Museum of History and the Antique Port). It will display choice pieces from the former Museum of Mediterranean Archaeology - testimony to the many trader cultures that have made Marseille such an important port of the Mediterranean rim.
A few minutes’ walk from the conference center, the most picturesque part of town, the colorful Vieux Port (Old Port) is crammed with fishing boats, pleasure yachts and visitors. The lively waterfront is ringed with tempting terrace restaurants and bars, an ideal spot for evening refreshment.
A block inland from the Vieux Port, toward the omnipresent Basilica Notre Dame de la Garde (Our Lady of the Guard; admission free; 7am-7pm) atop the city’s highest hill at 162m, is the Place aux Huiles. This restaurant-incrusted plaza is built over an antique canal that originally allowed galley access to the Arsenal, and later was used by oil merchants for the soap industry before being filled in between 1927 and 1929. (More reading about the galleys here)
Surprisingly adjacent to Marseille’s built-up and spread-out neighborhoods, the wild Calanques, geologic formations in the form of deep valleys with steep sides and a fjord-like part submerged by the sea, occupy 20 kilometers of crystalline coves and wild rocky inlets. They are most spectacular viewed from a boat (excursions leave from the Vieux Port) but they also offer ample walking opportunities with varying degrees of difficulty. Bring hiking shoes. The bus line number 21 is direct between the conference center and the Luminy university campus, its terminus. The exquisite Sugiton and Morgiou calanques are approximately an hour round trip hike each.
Additional Museums include:
- Museum of African, Oceanic and American-Indian Art
- Marine Museum
- Fashion Museum
- Death Camps Memorial
- Natural History Museum
- Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions
- Grobet-Labadie Museum (furniture, paintings)
- MAC - Contemporary Art Museum
- Palais des Arts (Temporary exhibitions)
- Musée Cantini
- Musée de la Faïence
All opening hours are available at the Marseille Tourist Office