France’s cities and towns are a fascinating mix of old and new, none more so than Marseille, along the walk from the Old Port, through the Panier District, to the spanking new MuCEM, opened for the city’s special year as cultural capitol of Europe in 2013. The panier, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, has become a favorite place for artists, muralists and crafts stores.
The murals are hip and modern, the buildings old and the streets narrow. It all makes for a fascinating walk, which is what Emerson College’s contingent of students visiting Provence did earlier this week on a cool and windswept afternoon.
Marseille, not so long ago reviled as a city of crime and drugs, is in the midst of an extended facelift in part as a result of its status in 2013 as Europe’s Capitol of Culture. Its physical attributes, I suspect, have always been spectacular, starting with the stunning Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, the cathedral that stands high above the city’s port and dominates the landscape. The port itself is filled with boats and lined with fish restaurants. Today it also boasts a ferris wheel and a section of sidewalk under which all passersby can look up at their mirror images.
The city’s Vielle Charite, built as a hospital and housing site for the poor in the 17th century, has become a site that now houses serious art exhibits. Throughout the city, there are dramatic views of the port and the Mediterranean. (Don’t miss the city’s many markets, including the fish market in the port and the Arab market just a few blocks away.)
My students adored Marseille and I’m sorry we didn’t plan a full day there. Next year!
Marseille remains a big city, France’s second largest, and you’ll be wise as in any big city, to be aware of where you are and where your valuables are. But today no one should spend time in Provence without carving at least a day in this lively, historic and beautiful place.