“THE GOOD MOTHER”
It is not an easy task to describe in words the immense richness and contrasts that Marseille hides. As the second most populous city in France, it is the main commercial port of the French Mediterranean and one of the largest and busiest in Europe.
Located in the region of Provence, there are two colors that define it: white of the calcareous rocks on which it sits and blue of the sea and its sky, almost always clear thanks to its characteristic wind that usually blows on its coast, the cold and intense Mistral.
Its physiognomy is much more similar to Lisbon or Athens than to any city in the south of France.
The soul of this city, in fact, is Greek. It would be the Phoceans who, six centuries before Christ, would venture to this place to found a simple enclave port which they baptized as Massalia.
Since then, periods of splendor and decline, rebirth and destruction, progress and chaos or peace and invasions have followed one another uninterruptedly until today.
Open to the south on the impressive Gulf of Lion and the Mediterranean and closed to the north by the magnificent peaks of the nearby Maritime Alps, there is no better vantage point to admire all the infinite beauty of this exciting metropolis than climbing the Notre Dame hill of the Garde. Very close to the old port (epicenter of our stay in Marseille), it is crowned by the emblematic Catholic basilica of the same name, whose majestic profile dominates the entire city.
Curiously, built by a Protestant architect (Henri Espérandieu) in the second half of the 19th century, it is in Neo-Romanesque-Byzantine style. Surely, both because of its appearance and its location, it will remind you of the iconic Sacré-Coeur Basilica in Paris, which leaves nothing to envy.
Built on a calcareous peak about 150 meters high, its bell tower is topped by a huge golden statue of the Virgin Mary, protector of the city and whom the Marseillans affectionately call "the good mother". Without a doubt, she will also look after us so that our Marseille adventure becomes an unforgettable experience.
To get to this church-viewpoint you have several options:
The fastest and cheapest is to take the 49 urban bus from the old port which, in just 15 minutes and for 2 euros, will leave you at the door of the basilica.
If you have more time, another possibility is to get on one of the picturesque tourist trains that leave from the same place and that, in addition to stopping at the basilica, offer us a beautiful journey from one end of the port to the other. We can contemplate its main monuments as well as the Corniche promenade, from which we can see the entire bay. Its price is 7 euros and it works every day of the year.
If you find yourself with enough strength and energy and need to do penance, you can also choose to climb on foot through the various paths that lead up the hill, but be careful, the path is steep, long and tiring!
The basilica, for its part, is also open all year round (from 7 A.M. to 6 P.M.), and admission is free. Its sumptuous interior will surprise us with its varied polychrome, achieved thanks to the use of different colored marbles and the decoration with vivid mosaics.
A two-thousand-year-old city, Marseille has always been a crossroads of cultures and civilizations, which have contributed to endowing it with a unique characteristic and idiosyncrasy.
Over the centuries, Greeks, Romans, Spaniards, Italians, Jews, Lebanese, Armenians and North Africans arrived at its port.
Its gastronomy, therefore, is a true reflection of that multicultural richness that it possesses. There is nothing more pleasant than entering one of its traditional pastry shops to enjoy the variety of its typical sweets, among which some surprising chocolates made with olive oil or some original biscuits in the shape of a boat with the aroma of orange blossom (the navettes) stand out, that will help us to continue “navigating” with energy through the city.
Made with a secret formula for more than 200 years, they are prepared with sugar, flour, eggs, butter and different spices. Sailors liked to wear them when they set sail on the high seas because they were preserved very well.
Formerly, they were taken on February 2, to celebrate the festival of the Candelas or the Virgen de la Candelaria, an ancestral religious tradition that is also celebrated in many other places in the world. In the case of Marseille, this festivity is associated with the arrival by ship to its shores, according to legend of the "Holy Marys" in the 1st century from the Holy Land. It is said that, to commemorate this story, the owner of the Le Four à Navettes bakery (the oldest in Marseille and still in operation), Monsieur Avyrous, devised this exquisite biscuit with such a peculiar shape.
You will find this world-famous establishment at one end of the harbour, next to St. Victor´s Abbey. It is open from Monday to Saturday from 8 A.M. to 6 P.M. and on Sundays from 9 A.M. to 1 P.M. and from 3 P.M. to 6 P.M.
If you prefer to choose something savorier, along with the usual homemade croissants and baguettes, you can always order the unmistakable “croque-monsieur” and “croques-madame”. They are hearty sandwiches of sliced bread, cooked ham and cheese, usually Emmental or gruyere, heated on the grill or in a pan and almost always baked au gratin.
Of relatively recent creation - it seems that they were offered for the first time in a café in Paris in 1910 - their success was immediate and their spread throughout France was astounding.
Their amusing names serve to differentiate them, since the croque-monsieur does not have an egg and the madame has a fried egg on top that. This reminded the first consumers of this snack of the hats of the ladies of the turn of the century.
YOUR SKIN, HEALTH AND HOME WILL THANK YOU...
If there is a place associated with a soap, it could not be other than Marseille.
Since the 13th century, this unusual city has been producing what has become, over the centuries, one of the most appreciated soaps in the world.
Its properties, excellent quality, peculiar cubic shape, artisan appearance and intoxicating Provençal aromas have captivated all those who visited the capital of southern France since ancient times.
Made by hand with olive oil or other vegetable oils, their purity and authenticity make them totally natural, ecological and biodegradable.
Ideal for skin care and cleaning clothes, together with its multiple hypoallergenic and cosmetic qualities, it can even be used as a toothpaste to strengthen gums, as an antiseptic, as a shampoo for your pets, to clean your furniture and tools, to keep moths away from your clothes or for shaving. Did you know that it prevents colds and cramps when placed at the foot of the bed?
Inexpensive and durable, this handy little product makes a wonderful gift. You will find charming traditional craft shops where you can buy it around the old port.
Of course, pay close attention to buying the original! Since, as with so many other mass-selling products, counterfeits are common. From here we want to help you by giving you some tips to distinguish the real one from the imitations and their consequent picaresque:
- Made with 100% natural, biodegradable and never containing more than 6 ingredients.
- You must specify on the label or the insignia engraved directly on the soap itself of the company
that manufactures it. It should contain at least 72% olive and/or vegetable oil.
- If it says to carry olive oil, its color must be green. In the case of carrying other types of oils (linen, sesame, palm, lavender, carnation, mimosa, jasmine, rose...) its color will vary.
- No artificial perfumes, dyes or industrial additives. It can carry natural aromas.
- It must not be exclusively cubic in shape. In addition to this classic model, there are also
elongated, rounded, heart, cicada, etc.
If you would like to know more about this soft and creamy soap, there is a simple and didactic museum in the same port where you can discover, in a playful and brief way, all the secrets of its manufacture and its cultural and social relevance. Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 A.M. to 6 P.M., it costs 2 euros and with the entrance they give away a bar of soap.
THE WORLD UPSIDE DOWN!
Different, fabulous, fun, entertaining, great, playful, functional...these are just some of the adjectives with which tourists define this structure that you will want to photograph a thousand times.
In one of the corners of the old port (which we will describe in the next point), specifically next to the so-called Quai des Belges, this amazing canopy was placed that was born from the creative imagination of the prestigious British architect, Sir Norman Foster. Author of architectural landmarks as applauded as the Millau viaduct (masterpiece of contemporary engineering and also in the south of France), the restoration of the German Reichstag, the Beijing international airport, the renovation of the London stadium of Wembley, the design of the Bilbao metro, the skyscraper of the Commerzbank in Frankfurt, or the headquarters of Apple in the United States, among many others.
Called L´Ombrerie, which we can translate as the shadow, it is actually a discreet and simple cover to protect yourself from the cold, rain or sun while waiting in port. It was the winning project of the international competition convened in 2010 by the municipal authorities to remodel the place and was part of the proposals and actions included in the ambitious program of the European cultural capital that Marseille held in 2013. A risky and controversial intervention, it received some criticism for its high cost. However, we believe that the result was worth it. What do you think?
Its originality lies in its material, since the huge roof is made of polished stainless-steel sheets that work like a mirror in which multiple images are reflected, including us. The photos that we will obtain will be as poetic and amazing as they are funny. Of course, be careful not to end up with a torticollis!
This unprecedented pergola is installed 6 meters above the ground, with a surface of 22 by 48 meters. It is supported by 8 fine posts that enhance its sensation of lightness. In the words of its own creator, he defines this work as an "isthmus" that unites land and sea, pause and movement, calm and action, in order to integrate all the space and surrounding realities from a dreamlike perspective and poetics.
In 2013, the inhabitants of Marseille, as if it were an Olympic victory or a Zidane goal, euphorically celebrated the more than deserved appointment of their city as European Capital of Culture, a fair award and recognition for its rich past and vibrant present, for its fusion between tradition and modernity. Always attentive to supporting all kinds of artistic, social or cultural manifestations and movements, the city took advantage of the occasion to regenerate itself urbanistically and equip itself with new meeting, participation and leisure spaces.
One of the examples that reflects this idea is the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations, whose mission is to establish a dialogue with all the peoples and cultures that share the Mare Nostrum.
Located at one end of the harbor entrance, it is often overlooked when visiting the city. However, it is worth it just to contemplate its magnificent architecture, a slender cube of pure lines inspired by water, stone and wind, covered with a grid with oriental calligraphy that is a nod to the Arab spirit of the city.
Entering requires a lot of time, so we suggest you go up to its panoramic terrace and cafeteria (access is free and it is open every day of the year from 10 A.M. to 6 P.M.) to enjoy wonderful views of the cove with the lighthouse, the Fort Saint-Jean, or the Catedral de la Major.
The other great religious temple of the city, along with Notre Dame de la Garde, the cathedral, also of clear Byzantine inspiration, immerses us with its eclecticism in the history and evolution of Marseille. Due to its size and monumentality, it is unparalleled among the religious buildings of the same period, the 19th century, built in France. Its dimensions are similar to the Basilica of San Pedro in Rome and its decoration relates it to the Tuscan Renaissance cathedrals.
Likewise, from the museum´s viewpoint, we can admire the avant-garde silhouettes of two skyscrapers that, proud and defiant, show the strength of the city´s shipping industry. Conceived by Jean Nouvel and Zaha Hadid respectively, two great media stars of today´s architecture, they are located at the end of the promenade.
This museum will also be the best place from which to observe the sinister Island of If. In the middle of the bay, this islet has a gloomy castle built in the 16th century to defend itself against the Spanish, which is sadly famous because the Count of Monte Cristo was imprisoned there, an immortal fictional character created by the French playwright Alejandro Dumas, whose adventures, which revolve around concepts such as justice, revenge, forgiveness or mercy, became a resounding literary success.
Among other values, this book teaches us how, through knowledge, it is possible to give meaning to life. The same thing that happens when we travel, don´t you agree?
Apart from Edmundo Dantés, the island had another illustrious visitor, this one real and much more exotic. In 1516, a Portuguese ship carrying a present for Pope Leo X from Lisbon to Rome made a stopover in If. It was nothing less than a rhinoceros that the sultan of India gave to King Manuel I of Portugal. The expectation it caused was such that even the French King Francis I went to the island to contemplate it.
TO THE RHYTHM OF ANTHEM
After everything described above about this commemorative monument, how would you like to -
provided you have musical skills, of course- interpret, or at least hum, a fragment of La Marseillaise while recording a video with the arch in the background?
It will certainly be a historic moment in your trip!
To gain enough courage and clarify your voice, we recommend that you first drink another glass of Pastis, the typical aniseed distillate from Marseille. It will surely help them to pronounce French with more ease and joy.
Here we transcribe the first, fifth and sixth stanzas (those that are usually sung) and the chorus (in italics) of the lyrics of this military march:
Allons enfants de la Patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé !
Contre nous de la tyrannie
L´étendard sanglant est levé (bis)
Entendez-vous dans les campagnes
Mugir ces féroces soldats ?
Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras
Égorger nos fils, nos compagnes !
Aux armes, citoyens !
Formez vos bataillons !
Marchons, marchons !
Qu´un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons !
Français, en guerriers magnanimes
Portez ou retenez vos coups !
Épargnez ces tristes victimes
À regret s´armant contre nous. (bis)
Mais ces despotes sanguinaires,
Mais ces complices de Bouillé,
Tous ces tigres qui, sans pitié,
Déchirent le sein de leur mère !
Amour sacré de la Patrie,
Conduis, soutiens nos bras vengeurs
Liberté, Liberté chérie,
Combats avec tes défenseurs ! (bis)
Sous nos drapeaux que la victoire
Accoure à tes mâles accents,
Que tes ennemis expirants
Voient ton triomphe et notre gloire !
On YouTube, you can listen to a beautiful version of the unforgettable Mirelle Mathieu singing precisely these verses, in addition to the chorus:
In reality, it was composed by a captain of engineers from the French army, Rouget de Lisle, commissioned by the Mayor of Strasbourg. He lamented that France, which had just declared war on Austria, did not have an anthem.
That same year, a soldier who heard it during a funeral, brought it to the volunteer troop from Marseilles that was heading to Paris to support the incipient French Revolution. Chanting their verses, they would enter the city of light, whose inhabitants immediately adopted the theme, which from that moment was renamed "La Marseillaise".
In its melody, they say, there is an influence from Mozart´s Piano Concerto No. 25, something certainly paradoxical, since Austria was the homeland of the baroque genius.
The emperor Napoleon did not like it very much, so he proposed an alternative song that became famous at the time.
There are endless versions with all kinds of rhythms and chords, which gives an idea of its immense
To all of them, it will be necessary to add, from now on, yours!
ARCHES TO SUCCEED
Marseille has always been proud, independent and indomitable. "Only now am I really king," Henry IV is said to have exclaimed so when, in 1596, he finally succeeded in subduing the city. Later, Louis XIV, the Sun King, to humiliate the rebellious Marseilles, instead of entering peacefully, he would do so by destroying part of its walls.
Perhaps as revenge, the people of Marseilles composed the soundtrack of the French Revolution, when many of them came to Paris in 1792 in support of it by singing “La Marseillaise”, as it is the official anthem of France today.
In one of those demolished gates of the ancient walls that led to the city of Aix in Provence, a colossal triumphal arch (called Porte d´Aix) was erected in the 19th century as a tribute to the glories and victories of the French empire and army. This is one of the hidden gems that the city offers us.
About 15 minutes on foot from the old port, in the vast Jules-Guesde square, your photo next to this imposing monument will make you a "success" on the social networks or in front of your friends, who will believe and be amazed, that you are in Rome or Paris.
In fact, hardly anyone knows that it was finished only 3 years after the Parisian Arc de Triomphe and its inspiration was not this, but the triumphal arches of Roman times. No wonder Marseille was known in ancient times as the beautiful friend of Rome or the Athens of Gaul.
As a curiosity, we would like to indicate that it is a perfect square, although it may not seem like it. Its height and width are identical, although due to its dimension, our eye deforms it a bit. We also indicate that, due to the damage of the stones, some of the statues that were finished were destroyed. Due this reason, it was the subject of an expensive restoration in 2003.
Its bas-reliefs illustrate the battles of Fleurus, Heliopolis, Marengo and Austerliz, while the four surviving sculptures are allegories of Devotion, Prudence, Resignation and Strength.
Inspired by its colossal size, the people of Marseilles, with the irony and humor that characterizes them, invented the following expression that they usually pronounce in the Occitan dialect: "Have a butt as big as the Porte d´Aix", which perhaps they can use someday to boast of culture, ingenuity and originality.
THE GOLDEN MILE OF MARSEILLE
We now propose a relaxing walk, allowing our eyes to be entertained by contemplating the elegant Parisian-style bourgeois buildings and tempting shop windows, through the commercial heart of Marseille. Rehabilitated in recent years, it presents a renewed, clean and welcoming image. With some of its pedestrianized streets, this area is home to the most exclusive design firms, the most select gourmet shops or the most luxurious jewelers, as well as the most daring youth clothing stores, international affordable fashion chains or shops traditional. It offers, therefore, options for all tastes and pockets. We would love its typical architecture (of clear Genoese influence) and bustling atmosphere.
In front of the port and, as a block, our tour would begin at rue la Canebière. To the left of it, we will find the Tourist Office and a modern and interesting shopping center called La Bourse. Then we recommend turning right to take the pedestrian street of Saint-Ferréol until reaching rue Vacon, where we would turn right again in the direction of the Opera, a harmonious neoclassical building that is the most solemn lyrical temple in the city. From here we would reach the port again.
Not far from the Opera, there was another music hall that, with its much more popular and worldly shows, shone with its own light in the Marseille night. Alcazar was its name and it programmed all genres so loved by the French as the revue, the operetta or the cabaret. On many occasions, he witnessed the anger and annoyance of the Marseilles public, considered the most demanding and critical in France.
Today, only the entrance remains of this place, integrated into the Regional Public Library that was built on its site but, until its closure in 1966, received the visit and praise of great celebrities and stars of the golden age of music and French cinema.
Precisely, in 1970, a film would be shot in Marseille that knew how to capture that somewhat rogue and violent atmosphere of the city before the Second World War. Entitled “Borsalino”, it starred the handsome Jean Paul Belmondo and Alain Delón, who play two clever and cool swindlers who find themselves involved in a dangerous criminal plot. The enormous success of the film spread internationally as an image and aesthetics of the city that were too stereotyped although very attractive and that, in part, have been maintained until today.
Be careful, remember that, as is the case throughout France, shops are usually closed on Sundays!
A PORT TO DREAM
As you may have seen, Marseille has managed to overcome the ups and downs of history without losing its essence. In the old port (vieux port), despite the fact that it was bombed by the Germans in 1943 and recently transformed into a tourist port, the aroma of great trips and distant lands, of broken illusions and dreams, is still breathed, fulfilled with eternal promises and ephemeral loves.
Every morning, among the modern sports yachts, as if it were a scene from an old French movie, the colorful boats of the fishermen still appear. Its crew members, who have spent the night on the high seas, with their rough beards and typical yellow vests, chat animatedly in a strong local accent as they pull in the nets and unload makrel, sea bass and other fish, which will be immediately sold in makeshift stalls.
Next to the pier, there are cafes and bistros that, even during the winter months, take their tables out onto the street. Sit in one of them to contemplate the miraculous spectacle of daily rituals and gestures that are still alive, while you try a tasty Bouillabaisse, a humble traditional soup made with the remains of the fish that was not sold. It is really exquisite.
This recipe, the best example of the authenticity and simplicity that characterizes Marseille gastronomy, is the culinary star par excellence of any letter or menu of the typical restaurants of the port. Different leftover fish such as conger eel, monkfish, red mullet, etc., are cooked in a stew -with potatoes, tomato, spices and aromatic plants- to which, on many occasions, crayfish, mussels or lobster are added. It is normally served in two dishes: on the one hand, the soup itself and, on the other, the dish with the fish, drizzled with a good splash of olive oil and accompanied by a garlic-based sauce.
The best wine to share Bouillabaisse is a white or rosé from Provence. Fresh and light are the most suitable.
Its name derives from the way in which it was prepared in the past: it was essential to watch the fire so that, as soon as the pot began to boil, it would be lowered.
After toasting with a glass of pastis, mixed anise liqueur and water born precisely here, treat yourself to taking the shortest commercial ferry in the world, to cross the 206 meters that separate both shores of the port.
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