Our Blog - Marseille, France - September 2008

Marseille is the second largest city in France but it took us almost two years before we made the trip to go see it. Part of the reason for the delay is that we had heard mixed reviews of the city, that it was dirty and poor and just not a very nice place to visit. However, since it was getting cooler in Paris and Marseille sits right on the Mediterranean we decided it was worth it to go, at least for a weekend.

The heart of Marseille is centered around the Vieux Port (old port), having been the natural port of Marseille since ancient times. Fort Saint Jean is one of two forts that flank the entrance to the port. They were built under Louis XIV with their guns facing towards the city in order keep the Marseille residents under control.

Overlooking the Viuex Port is the Abbaye St-Victor, built in the 11th century, most famous for its crypt which allegedly holds the 5th century sarcophagus of the founder of the abbey.

Another view of Fort Saint Jean, a bit further down the port.

Standing above the city is the Notre Dame de la Garde, erected in 1853 by Napolean III. We only had a limited amount of time in Marseille so we did not actually make it up the hill to see the church as the climb would have been a bit tough for two old people.

Another of Notre Dame de la Garde

Saint-Laurent Church is a medium-sized church with its exact origins uncertain but it is mentioned in a number of 13th Century documents. Saint Laurent was the parish church of the fishermen and seafarers and is the only parish church from the Middle Ages still preserved in Marseille today.

The New Major (New Cathedral) is a huge church built over a period of 40 years in the 19th century. It is built in the Byzantine Romanesque style in the shape of a Latin cross with an ambulatory. The total length of the cathedral is about 450 feet and the main dome is almost 225 feet high.

The interior of the New Major (New Cathedral)

Another of the interior of the New Major (New Cathedral)

Originally designed as a hospice in the 17th and 18th centuries the Centre de la Vieille Charite is now a museum with a nice inner courtyard and a Baroque chapel with a unique egg-peaked dome.

Centre de la Vieille Charite

Marseille soap is a household standard in France and we picked up a few interesting smelly versions. There were a few street markets in the city where some more nice designs we carved in front of potential customers, but alas we did not buy any of these.

Overlooking the Vieux Port is the Jardin du Pharo, a garden with a Palace from the 1850's originally designed for Louis Napoleon. Louis never lived in the Palace and it was donated to the city in 1905 and it now contains various municipal services.

It was rather windy and the sea choppy the weekend we went down to Marseille. We took a 3 hour tour around the coast and once we got a little bit away from land the waves were buffeting the boat severely. We were originally on the top of the boat but once the crew realized the severity of the water we all had to go to the bottom level.

Another view of Fort Saint Jean, this time taken when we took the 3 hour boat tour.

A different view of the Jardin du Pharo, again from the boat at the beginning of the tour.

A perspective of Marseille from the water, showing how right behind the port are the hills flanking the city.

Another perspective of Marseille from the water.

Once we got near the coast again the boat ride became much more pleasurable and calm. As you can see from the rest of the pictures, the coast is very rocky with limited vegetation, although there were some people around enjoying the nice weather by rock climbing or just hiking.