Marseille is the second-largest city in France. It is located in the southwestern part of the country, on the Mediterranean Sea, between the 1011 m Mont Saint Victoire to the north and the Camargue region and the Lion’s Gulf to the west.
It is the capital of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region, an important industrial center, and a major seaport. It is the oldest city in the country, founded in 600 B.C. by Greeks from Asia Minor. From ancient times Marseille has been an important port, and even today, the economy of the city is dominated by the port activities, handling commercial containers as well as transport for the Mediterranean Sea.
Marseille is also an important tourist destination in the southern part of the country. The city is famous for rich architectural and cultural heritage, as well as beautiful countryside. The city itself is divided into 16 districts (arrondissements) but only the central ones; 1, 2, 6 and 7, are usually interesting to visitors as they contain the historic landmarks. The city is rich in museums and surrounded by beautiful countryside. There are beaches, lively nightlife, as well as boating and hiking to explore, so there is something to be found for every taste.
Marseille has a Mediterranean climate. Winters are mild and humid, summers are hot and dry. The coolest months are January and February with average temperatures around 10 °C. The hottest months are July and August with average 28 °C. Winter and spring are prone to Mistral winds. Average warmest month is July, coolest is January, and the rainiest is October.
January average temperature 6 deg Celsius, 48.3 mm rainfall February average temperature 7 deg Celsius, 40.6 mm rainfall March average temperature 10 deg Celsius, 45.7 mm rainfall April average temperature 13 deg Celsius, 45.7 mm rainfall May average temperature 17 deg Celsius, 45.7 mm rainfall June average temperature 21 deg Celsius, 25.4 mm rainfall July average temperature 24 deg Celsius, 15.2 mm rainfall August average temperature 23 deg Celsius, 25.4 mm rainfall September average temperature 21 deg Celsius, 63.5 mm rainfall October average temperature 15.5 deg Celsius, 94 mm rainfall November average temperature 10.5 deg Celsius, 76.2 mm rainfall December average temperature 8 deg Celsius, 58.4 mm rainfall
Marseille is served by the Marseilles-Provence International Airport located 30 km northwest of the city, in the town of Marigane. The airport is served by direct flights from over 80 destinations, including domestic and foreign. Many flights serve Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt.
The airport shuttle links the airport with the main train station Gare Saint-Charles. There is a well serviced taxi rank outside the terminal. A bus or a taxi ride to the city should take around 30 minutes. There is also a 20 km airport motorway which is a short trip in almost any traffic conditions.
Saint-Charles is Marseilles’ central train station and has train links to Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, Milan, Genoa and Geneva. 12 TGV high-speed trains are available to Paris every day; the journey only takes 3 hours. Local trains leave almost every hour for trips along the Côte d’Azur.
The Metro system has two lines, orange and blue. They intersect at the Gare de Marseille Saint-Charles and serve the city and some of the suburbs. The services run from 5:00 am till 9:00 pm on weekdays and from 5:00 am till 12:30 from Friday to Sunday.
Tickets can be bought at the automated booths at any metro station, or any shop displaying an RTM sign.
The city and its suburbs are served by an extensive network of buses; there are over 80 bus lines. Buses leave from the Gare Routiere bus station. Services are frequent and run from 5:00 am till 9:00 pm. Bus lines are well integrated with metro lines and stops. Night buses are also available from 9:00 pm till midnight.
For more information on metro and bus services visit: www.rtm.fr
There are numerous providers, among the best known are TaxiBlancBleu (tel: (04) 91 51 50 50), TaxisPlus (tel: (04) 91 03 60 03), TaxiRadioMarseille (tel: (04) 91 02 20 20) and TaxiTuppRadio (tel: (04) 91 50 37 93).
Taxis can be obtained from designated taxi stands or hailed on the road or they may be pre-booked.
Driving and parking in Marseilles is difficult, many areas have very narrow streets, drivers are fast and erratic and abide by their own rules - and do not hesitate to sound their horn for any reason.
The city center is compact and can easily be explored on foot.
The gorgeous Côte d’Azur is only a short drive away from the city, giving you an ideal opportunity to explore its numerous sandy beaches. Plage du Prado and La Corniche are among the most popular beaches in the area.
The Marseille bay is well worth exploring. It harbors the Frioul Archipelago, composed of four small islands with quiet beaches, lovely countryside and many walking and cycling trails.
Visit the wonderful fiords where spectacular white lime cliffs fall into the blue sea. It can be accessed by bus no. 21 departing from Rond Point du Prado opposite the Stade Velodrome, or by boat.
There is a spectacular walk along the coast from Cassis to Marseilles but note that the whole trip takes one full day walking at a fast rate. The trail is well marked with red and white strips.
In the Calanques you can explore underwater caves with breathtaking prehistoric paintings.
Home to one of the country’s best teams, Olympique Marseille, Marseille boasts a giant stadium Stade Velodrome which seats 60,000 people. Most home games are fully booked so you will need to order tickets well in advance.
The main tourist attraction in Marseille, this 19 th century Romano-Byzantine basilica is nestled on the hilltop, to the south side of Vieux Port. On top of its 60 meter belfry stands the giant gilded statue of the Virgin Mary.
The esplanade offers magnificent sunset views.
PLACE AUX HUILES
This lively square is the largest pedestrian area in the city, and an ideal place for partying, shopping and eating. A great place to soak up the local atmosphere, the square is filled with shops, cafés, clubs, bars and restaurants.
The city’s major icon and main thoroughfare, the wide boulevard La Canebière stretches downhill to the Old Port. This is the heart of the city and the main shopping area. During the Christmas celebrations the boulevard is richly decorated.
Address: island off the coast of Marseille Phone: 04 91 59 02 30
This 16 th century fortress built on a small island just off the coast of Marseille was initially intended for protection of the city against invasion but was later turned into a state prison. It was immortalized in Dumas’ novel ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’.
It can be reached via a quick ferry ride from Vieux Port.
LE VIEUX PORT (The Old Harbor)
This area is the historical part of Marseilles and the main port of the city. Much of it was destroyed in 1940 by the Nazis but was later rebuilt by the architect Fernand Pouillon. Today the area offers one of the most impressive views of the city.
The entrance to the port is guarded by two large forts: Fort St Nicholas on the south side and Fort St Jean on the other. Numerous restaurants and cafés line the port area. In the Quay des Belges (Belgian Quay) the daily fish market is held. Jardin du Pharo offers a nice view of the harbor. The Pharo castle, built by Napoleon, is also a popular tourist attraction.
MUSEE DES BEAUX ARTS
Address: Palais Longchamp Phone: 04-91-14-59-30 Open: October 1 – May 31: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm; June1 – September 30: 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
The Museum of Fine Arts is housed in the Palais Longchamp, and is one of the finest museums found in France. Major French, Italian and Flemish artists’ works are represented here, dating from the 17 th to the 19 th century. In addition, the museum houses a splendid collection of paintings, drawings and decorative pieces.
Marseille is a multi-cultural city, which is evident in the stunning array of cuisines available. Almost any type of ethnic food can be found from deluxe restaurants to food stalls on the streets. Marseille serves to all tastes and budgets.
Marseille, of course has some of its own, unique dishes: The two most important are bouillabaisse and ratatouille. Bouillabaisse is a tasty fish stew composed of a variety of fish, crabs, squid, onion, tomato and garlic. Ratatouille is a hearty vegetable stew.
Seafood is very popular: there is sea bass, cigales de mer (sea locust), and other delicacies. Tapenade, a paste usually made from olives, anchovies and garlic is also very popular.
Luxurious and high end restaurants are located in fancy hotels and along the wharf but if you are looking for budget meals visit rue Pavillion, Le Panier or Cours Belsunce.
In this traditional carnival parade floats from each part of the city meet up in the old port area. There is plenty of fun, music and dance, good food and drink.
Date: June Location: various venues
The festival has a rich program of all types of music including folk, ethnic, jazz and rock. For several days the city of Marseille comes alive with various kinds of music played at least a dozen different venues throughout the city.
Date: July Location: the city
Bastille Day has great significance for the people of Marseille. This historical event is celebrated with much gusto and fervor all over the country. There are fireworks, celebrations, singing and dancing, and of course the mandatory ‘La Marseillaise’ is sung everywhere.
MARSEILLE INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL
The most important European exhibition of documentary films showcasing all the best documentaries in a couple of days.
FESTIVAL OF THE WIND
The festival – not surprisingly – coincides with the arrival of the Mistral wind. The climax of the festivities is a spectacular display of large brightly colored kites flown off the Prado beach where international kite clubs gather to compete.
The city night scene offers a great range of bars, clubs and music venues, catering to all tastes, from jazz, blues, to techno, dance, funk and salsa. Many lively clubs and bars can be found at Place Jean Jaures and Cours d’Estienne d’Orves. To find out more about what is going on in this pleasure-seeking city, pick up a copy of Marseille Poche.
Opéra de Marseille
Address: 2 rue Molière Phone: 04 91 55 11 10 Web: opera.mairie-marseille.fr Access: underground rail: Vieux Port
Opera is Marseille’s main attraction, located near the Old Port and the Canebière, in the heart of the city; today the opera program is modernizing and starting to look to the future by inviting young groups and fresh programs.
Abbaye St-Victor is the major concert hall holding regular concerts, featuring Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.
Théatre National de Marseille La Criée (Quai de Rive Neuve, Vieux Port) has a repertoire of classic and contemporary works.
Marseille has over 2.5 millennia of history and is one of the historically most important cities in Europe. There is some archeological evidence of prehistorical habitation, but the town was truly settled by the Phoenicians who established a port, to the north of the harbor, around 600 BC.
Under the rule of Romans and Greeks massive fortifications were built. The town prospered and population grew. The city became one of the richest in the region due to good trade ties between the Romans and the Gauls. Marseille lost its independence after the Roman civil war, and the Roman Empire tightened its grip on the city, diverting much of the wealth to Rome.
After the fall of the Roman Empire the town passed to the Gauls and later joined France under the Franks. Marseille remained a major French port until the medieval period. It was revived in the 10 th century by the counts of Provence.
During the Crusades the city once again became the most important trade and provisioning center. To return the favor, the Crusaders helped upgrade the port defenses, making it even more impenetrable.
The great plague hit the city severely in 1347. Being a major port, it is believed Marseille was one of the first places in France to catch the epidemic. In the city of around 90,000 people, some 50, 000 died of plague. The town was dealt a further blow by the Aragonese pillaging in 1423.
Marseille soon bounced back, trade with the Mediterranean reemerged, population grew, and the town became the most fortified settlement outside of Paris. The status of ‘town’ was raised to ‘city’.
Marseille became part of France in 1480s but constantly rebelled against the central government. The French empire in Algeria grew, this stimulated maritime trade and the city prospered. The era of conquest of North Africa and Indochina is reflected in the architecture of Old Port, and the Train Station. The city became more prosperous than ever. Trade with the East, the Caribbean, central and south Africa blossomed. The city soon started attracting migrants from the French colonies and Africa.
The Revolution of 1792 was embraced enthusiastically and 500 volunteers helped defend Paris. The song they sung, La Marseillaise, became the French national anthem. After the city rejected the Convention it became known as the ‘town with no name’.
MODERN (20 TH CENTURY)
During the 20 th century Marseille still maintained its position as the major port of the empire. During WW II the city was bombed by the Germans and the Italians. The old part of the town, Panier, was reduced to rubble. After the war Marseille again reemerged quickly as it supplied material to rebuild a devastated Europe.
Towards the end of the 20 th century Marseille experienced a massive decline in economy. The city became infested with crime, particularly in the poor, immigrant neighborhoods. The city’s infrastructure, architecture and streets were so dilapidated that tourists ceased to visit.
In recent decades, however, things took a turn for the better. The city developed a modern and advanced economy, based mainly on high technology, manufacturing, oil refining and service sector. Money has been invested in the old districts and Marseille is regaining its old glory. Due to vast renovation and a sharp decrease in crime the city has become a popular tourist destination.
A common form of greeting is the handshake, whereas friends may greet each other by lightly kissing on the cheeks, once on the left cheek and once on the right cheek. First names are used for family members and close friends.
'Bonjour', 'bonsoir' means good morning and good evening, 'au revoir' means good-bye). If you are giving flowers, you should do so in odd numbers but not 13, which is considered unlucky. If you give wine, it should be of the highest quality you can afford.
A typical gesture of politeness is to let another person pass through a door first. In addition, a man always gives way to a woman. If someone gives way to you, it is common to thank them or say pardon.
Marseille was once considered one of the most dangerous cities in Europe but the city has come a long way since then. It has managed to eradicate its serious crime problem, and as a result, the city is now as dangerous, or safe, as any large European city.
Petty crime is present as in any large city. Pickpocketing occurs primarily at night in bars, on metro and crowded buses.
Muggings still occasionally occur. Travelers should take the normal precautions:
Stay away from poor neighborhoods especially at night and stay in well lit areas where there are plenty of people around.
Keep your valuables in a safe. Take care of your belongings when on the street.
Marseille is a good place to visit any time of year. If the weather is sunny, even winter days can be pleasantly warm. The most pleasant period is in spring (May – June) and autumn (September- October). Summer is steaming hot and crowded, so visiting in July and August is only for those who like high heat and big crowds!