Marseille, European Capital of Culture

Posted on: April 17th, 2016 by Santana

arles_cafe_van_goghAlthough Paris is known across the world as the symbol of French culture, Marseille has recently begun to expand its own impressive reputation. Number two on New York Times’ Places to Go in 2013 and 2013’s European Capital of Culture, Marseille is the second largest city in France in terms of population and the largest city in terms of area with almost double the square kilometers of Paris. With a budding art scene, extensive history, exotic markets, incredible seafood, and miles of beaches along the beautiful Mediterranean coast, Marseille is the perfect cap to any French vacation.

For the last 26 centuries Marseille has developed a diverse culture due to its key location on the Mediterranean. It was originally developed as a Greek fishing port, but the trade routes of the Roman Empire opened the city to Spanish and Italian neighbors and North Africans to the south. All of these diverse cultures were brought together in the port town of Marseille, and together they gave this French city its unique atmosphere.

Today the majority of the city retains its functional working feel which helps set it apart from many of the more pretentious cities in France and along the Mediterranean. Marseille is located in the southern end of Provence where Cyclomundo offers a wide selection of self-guided tours.  Most start from Avignon which is located an hour from Marseille via high-speed TGV trains.  Among our tours, one called Bike to the Sea and See Cassis ends in the pretty harbor of Cassis, a mere 20 minute train ride from Marseille. The rich history and culture (not to mention the great weather!) means that Marseille has something for everyone.

In fact, recent years have seen a sort of renaissance for Marseille as a top international destination, and the city has certainly been busy earning that attention!

The largest urban harbor in Europe, Vieux-Port (“Old Port) has always been a central part of Marseille and its history– you may even know it from Alexandre Dumas’ novel, “The Count of Monte Cristo”! However, it has only been since 2013 that the port has really become an exceptional shared urban space, perfect for leisurely strolling and boating. With efforts made to “pedestrianize” the port, a repaving of the wharves to evoke their original cobblestones, and the creation of a massive reflective structure (“l’Ombrière), whose mirrored surface provides shade from the hot Mediterranean sun and captures the changing colors of the day, Vieux-Port has truly re-become the beating heart of the city. Further updates to the area are still to come, as there are plans to introduce and revitalize green spaces around the port by 2020.

At the entrance to Vieux-Port, there floats an entirely new feature of Marseille. MuCEM, or the Museum of Civilisation for Europe and the Mediterranean, opened in June 2013, right in the middle of Marseille’s “Capital of Culture” festivities of that year. Comprised of three individual sites, the museum is the first ever to be specifically devoted to the rich and diverse culture of the Mediterranean. Go on a tour of the museum’s storage (reservations required) or even enjoy a concert! With a semi-permanent “Gallery of the Mediterranean” and a diverse series of temporary exhibits, the museum is a veritable treasure trove of history and culture. You can explore the list of current and upcoming exhibits and shows on MuCEM’s website to find out what you can expect to see during your time in Marseille. Access to the outdoor spaces at the J4 and Fort Saint Jean sites is free during opening hours, with tickets to exhibits starting at 5 euros (concession). MuCEM is open every day except Tuesday (and certain holidays) year-round, though opening hours vary depending on the season.

Bask by the sea, enjoy a meal of bouillabaisse, and immerse yourself fully in the sun-soaked culture of the Mediterranean. Marseille’s airport and train station make it easy to get to and depart from, whether you plan to spend a few days there before heading to Avignon for one of our many Provence cycling tours, or you wish to end your time in the region at the seaside city. You are sure to enjoy yourself…and get a tan to boot! (pack that sunscreen)

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