The historical port city of Marseille will co-host the European Capital of Culture in 2013 and France’s second city (after the capital of Paris) is perfectly poised to showcase its 2,600 years of history. Founded by the ancient Romans and Greeks, the city is the perfect antithesis to Paris, with a more laidback, even slightly edgy approach to life. Travellers are guaranteed historical architecture, reams of culture in the cathedrals, museums and fortifications and a great atmosphere around the chic restaurants, bars and boutiques; after all this is the glorious South of France!
Gawp at the city from the Notre Dame De La Garde
The Notre Dame de la Garde is a resplendently large church that majestically overlooks Marseille and is pictured above. Neo-Byzantine in style, from this precipitation this basilica offers one of the best views of the city. This church was designed by the French architect Jacques Henri Esperandieu and opened in 1864 and was once associated with old fishing merchants who had their boats blessed by the patriarchs of this church. The church still exhibits several of the old fishing vessels. The best way to access the basilica is via a local train to save long hike up the hilly region, which is the highest point in Marseille sitting atop a limestone hill reaching a height of 162m.
Experience the beauty of the Calanques
The Calanques are collectively a series of small fjords that lie to the south of Marseille between the city and Cassis. The whole Calanques region is ideal for walking and trekking enthusiasts. The Calanque de Morgiou is one of the largest fjords in the area. This fiord was formerly a fishing port destination which became famous in 1622 for its giant tuna fishing operation. The then King, Louis XIII paid a royal visit and today the Calanques region is still a popular tourism location for both local and international travellers. The Calanques (fjords) are numerous and feature clearly marked hiking trails and walks along the coast suitable for all abilities and fitness levels.
Wander the Parc Borély
Seventeenth century Parc Borély is a large mature urban park that is located just 300 meters from the Marseille coast. Designated as a public municipal park, the Parc Borély is highly regarded and is considered one of the most Notable Gardens of France. Covering some 17 hectares, the park will delight those seeking refuge from the sun and culture lovers alike. There is an 18th century mansion contained within the grounds, which is popular with local joggers. There is also a Botanical Garden, extensive rose garden, pier, lake, sculptures and monuments which are all clearly marked.
Explore the literary roots of Château d’If
The Château d’If is located on the tiny island of If that is about a mile off the coast of Marseille. The Castle If fortification is located in the Frioul Archipelago of the Mediterranean, was originally built in 1524-31 as a defensive structure and was later used as a prison. The prison has drawn parallels with Alcatraz Prison Island in California. This castle was made famous by the 1844 novel by Alexander Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo who used the island as the setting for his novel. American author Mark Twain also visited in 1867 and recorded his visit in his book The Innocents Abroad. The prison was demilitarised in 1890 and today serves as a popular tourist attraction thanks to its strong literary connections. Tourist boats leave from the Vieux Port and travel to the Castle of If on a regular schedule.
Discover the handsome Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure de Marseille
The Marseille Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral built in the Byzantine and Roman style of architecture. This type of architecture was prominent during the 1800’s in France. This particular domed example was built on a huge scale in 1852 to 1896 and was constantly updated and developed. Marseille is the second most populated city in this country and is the economic center of the Cote d’Azur region. This Cathedral shows a time in this city’s history and is an example of the ancient civilization of the past centuries.
Catch a football match at the Stade Velodrome
The Stade Velodrome is a stadium that is the training area and arena for the local football team – Olympique de Marseille. Football matches are hugely popular with both Marseille residents and tourists wanting to experience the local sports of this area of France. The stadium hosted both the FIFA World Cup 1998 and the Rugby World Cup 2007 and holds up to 42,000 spectators, which creates an electric atmosphere. Tickets are available a few days before each match, and in order to get the best seats, opt for a less-popular fixture.
Soak up the culture at the Museum Of Mediterranean Archaeology
There are many fascinating museums across Marseille, with that are undergoing refurbishment in order to host the European Capital of Culture and provide a year-long cultural show. One notable museum is the Museum of Mediterranean Archaeology displays the indigenous history of this area and provides an overview of ancient civilizations. You can join a tour which includes ancient weaving techniques, excavations of villages, displays of artifacts, and information about the various ancient regions. Explore the Musée Cantini (museum of song), the Musée de la Mode (Museum of Fashion) and the intriguing Musée du Vieux Marseille (Museum of Old Marseille). There are also exhibits of the ancient port region at the Musée d’Histoire et du Port Antique, moving exhibits at the Death Camps Memorial (Mémorial des Camps de la Mort) and fine art is on display at the Musée des Beaux Arts.
It’s going to be a very busy year indeed for Marseille!