Updated: Sep 4
I've visited Marseille many times over the years, including this past week. Known as the city of 100 neighborhoods, I doubt I'll ever finish exploring this eclectic city.
The Vieux Port, the "Old Port", has welcomed Mediterranean travelers from for centuries. Colonized by Greeks in 600 BC, inhabited by Phoenicians (Greek settlers from Turkey), then conquered by Rome in 49 BC, "Massilia" has existed for centuries.
For dinner one night at the Vieux Port, we had our favorite Moules Frites, mussels and fries, plus a local treat called "Panisses." These fried rounds made from chickpea flour were delicious. When we told the server how much we enjoyed them, he proudly told us how to make the tasty treats, including slicing to the exact right thickness. Too thin or too wide and they'll be no good. Noted.
Yes, we ate a lot of fried foods that night, but it was worth it! Good thing the regional wines are delicious and help with digestion, as they say.
Today, Marseille is the second largest city in France, after Paris, and is the melting pot to beat all melting pots. Walking through the Noailles quarter transported me to North Africa. After all, Morrocco, Tunisia, and Algeria are just across the sea.
Savon de Marseille is a widely used natural soap traditionally made from only four ingredients: olive oil, water, sea salt, and baking soda. Sold throughout France, it originates from Syria, then made commercially in Marseille as early as the 12th century. I love this soap! You can use it for everything. And I learned recently that it removes greasy stains from clothes brilliantly, a much needed tip in my case.
High upon a rocky outcropping is the Eglise de Notre Dame de la Garde. The locals like to think "Our Lady" watches out for the "OM," the Olympique Marseille football (soccer) team. This city is passionate about its team, one of the best in France.
In 1998, we were present when France won the World Cup semi-finals in Marseille. A team member needed to go to urgent care that night, and as we drove through the city, it looked much like a riot, even though the home team won! Fires, people running around yelling, cars blocked, and more. I can't imagine what it would have looked like had they lost.
Our itinerary that year took us next to Paris, just in time for France to win the World Cup. Celebrations in the street rivaled that of the liberation day from World War 2. An incredible experience that continued for a week.
I find it interesting that the national anthem of France is called the Marseillaise. Turns out, it originated in Strasbourg, in the eastern part of the country and used by French soldiers in various revolutions and wars. During World War 2, it became associated with Marseille when local volunteers marched to Paris singing it along the way.
I read that the actors' tears weren't scripted. Filmed in France during the German occupation, Casablanca, the emotion was genuine.
Before we leave the city, here's a sampling of the ubiquitous street art. It's everywhere- on buildings, bridges, doors, and more. Truly a modern form of expression.
Southeast of Marseille, we find one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited. The "calanques" are absolutely incredible. Limestone promontories jut out into the sea, leaving inlets of turquoise water, pebbled beaches, and endless beauty. Whether you follow a high walking path or descend for a swim, they are a wonder to behold. There are 26 calanques between Marseille and the charming village of Cassis.
Taking in this view, breathing the salt air opens wide the soul.
Finally, no trip to Marseille would be complete without hopping on the boat for a visit to the Château d'If. Situated on an island about 20 minutes from the Vieux Port, the former prison is the fictional setting of the Count of Monte Cristo.
A plaque in one cell attests that "man in the iron mask" was incarcerated here. The identity and secrets of this mysterious prisoner threatened the throne of Louis XIV. Many other nobles who found themselves on the wrong side of power also spent time in this formidable place.
Built in the 16th century, authorities also used the Château d'If as a prison for Protestant Huguenot galley slaves. Arrested by order of Louis XIV, they stayed here in transit before being chained to galleys of Marseilles until their death.
This memorial plaque serves as a testimony to their courage and faithfulness.
"To the memory of the 3500 Protestants condemned for their religion
who rowed the galleys of Marseille from 1545-1750.
Many were incarcerated in the Forts St. Jean and Fort Nicholas and this fortress.
They preferred the chains of prison and death rather than renouncing their faith."
This memorial never fails to move me deeply. Would we do the same? Would I?
Before we go, enjoy these spectacular views:
Little peek of my family in this one
La vie est belle!