Fun things to do in Marseille

  • Mérimée's novella
    Mérimée's novella
    by Nemorino
  • Opera program book
    Opera program book
    by Nemorino
  • Château d'If
    by Nemorino

Most Viewed Things to Do in Marseille

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Guided walking tour of the Panier district

    by Nemorino Updated Apr 25, 2014

    4.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    The Marseille Office of Tourism offers a variety of guided walking tours of various parts of the city. The exact dates and times are listed on their website www.marseille-tourisme.com and in the folders that they publish six times a year. The price per person is nine Euros (as of 2013). Places can be reserved online or by phoning 0826 500 500 – and you should definitely book ahead because numbers are limited.

    The tour I took was called Vieux Marseille – quartier du Panier (Old Marseille – the Panier district). It was announced as a two-hour bilingual tour, in French and English, but fortunately nobody needed the English translations and nobody was in a hurry to leave after two hours, so in fact it was only in French and lasted nearly four hours.

    Our guide was extremely knowledgeable, friendly and enthusiastic. She had so much to tell us that I don’t know how she could have fit in the English translations and done the tour in only two hours.

    Here in the first two photos she is telling us about the history of the Panier and Old Port districts, and especially about the evacuation and destruction of 1500 buildings by the Nazis in 1943. Apparently large numbers of Resistance fighters, Jews, Communists and anti-Nazi Germans had taken refuge in this neighborhood during the Second World War, at least that was the justification given for evacuating thirty thousand inhabitants and sending two thousand of them to concentration camps.

    Third photo: The Hôtel de Cabre (or Maison de l’Échevin de Cabre) was one of the few buildings that remained after the Nazis evacuated and destroyed much of the Old Port area on January 23, 1943.

    Fourth photo: Historical sign showing how the Hôtel de Cabre was jacked up and rotated ninety degrees after the war. The reason for this was to widen the street called Grand Rue, in other words to make room for more and faster cars. This sounded all too familiar to me because earlier in the same week I had taken a similar guided walking tour in Toulon, where we were shown a large gate and historic façade that had been jacked up, rotated ninety degrees and moved to a new location for the same purpose – to make room for cars.

    Fifth photo: Plaque commemorating the victims of the evacuation and destruction of the Old Port area on January 23, 1943. For details of anti-Nazi Resistance activities in Marseille during the Second World War, see this account compiled by the Alliance Française in London.

    Next stop on our guided walking tour: Église des Accoules

    Related to:
    • Historical Travel
    • Architecture

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Carmen by Georges Bizet

    by Nemorino Updated Nov 28, 2013

    4.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    When I was in southern France in October of 2012, it happened that the opera houses in Marseille and Toulon were both playing the opera Carmen by Georges Bizet (1838-1875). So I saw this opera twice within three days (on a Sunday afternoon in Marseille and the following Tuesday evening in Toulon), which was fine because they were two different productions and Carmen is deservedly one of the world’s most popular operas.

    The one I saw in Marseille was a production that originated at the Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse. The stage director was Nicolas Joël, who is now (2009 to 2015) the head of the National Opera of Paris. This is the organization that runs both the Opéra Bastille and the Opéra Garnier.

    In the cast in Marseille there was one singer I had often heard in the 1990s. That was the tenor Luca Lombardo, a native of Marseille who often used to sing in Frankfurt am Main. In Carmen he sang and played the role of Don José, Carmen’s unhappy lover who stabs her in the last scene.

    I have also seen Carmen in Bad Hersfeld, Bad Orb, Bremen, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt am Main and Weikersheim.

    When I was a child, my introduction to Carmen was a snippet that I learned on the school playground:

    Toreador
    Don’t spit on the floor
    Use the cuspidor
    That’s what it’s for
    We grade school twerps found this hilarious, even though we had never heard the opera Carmen and had never seen a cuspidor. (Cuspidors aka spittoons had fortunately gone out of fashion before we were born.)

    Later in my childhood I acquired a phonograph record entitled “Carmen Murdered – Spike Jones Suspected”, which as the name implies was a parody by Spike Jones and his City Slickers. I no longer have the record, but I’ve just been listening to it on YouTube.

    When I finally heard Bizet’s opera many years later, I was surprised to learn that Carmen worked in a cigarette factory, not a bubble gum factory. And that she was not at all ticklish.

    Second photo: Here the orchestra conductor Nader Abbassi is applauding the cast and chorus of Carmen at the Marseille Opera. Nadar Abbassi is the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Cairo Opera Orchestra and the artistic director of the "Orchestre pour la Paix" (Orchestra for Peace) in Paris. In addition, he has been appointed Artistic and Musical Director of the Katara Culture Foundation in Doha, Qatar.

    Third photo: More applause after the performance of Carmen in Marseille.

    Fourth photo: Program of the opera Carmen in Marseille.

    Fifth photo: Bizet’s opera Carmen is based on the novella of the same name by Prosper Mérimée (1803-1870).

    Location and photo of the Marseille Municipal Opera on monumentum.fr

    Applause after Carmen Conductor applauding the cast and chorus More applause after Carmen Opera program book M��rim��e's novella
    Related to:
    • Arts and Culture
    • Theater Travel
    • Music

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    At the front of the opera house

    by Nemorino Updated Nov 28, 2013

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    The steps in front of the opera house are normally closed off by a fence decorated with bronze medallions in the Art Deco style that was popular in the first quarter of the twentieth century.

    These medallions, which are attributed to the architect Gaston Castel (1886-1971), are said to be allegorical designs on the topics of dance and music. I suppose the fourth one shows Orpheus with his lyre, but I don’t know who the lovely ladies in the first three designs might be. (Perhaps someone can help me out here?)

    Location and photo of the Marseille Municipal Opera on monumentum.fr

    In front of the opera house In front of the opera house In front of the opera house In front of the opera house
    Related to:
    • Arts and Culture

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Seating and scheduling in the Marseille Opera

    by Nemorino Updated Nov 28, 2013

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Currently the opera house in Marseille seats 1,800 people. It has three rings of boxes, two balconies and a gallery.

    Although Marseille is now the second largest city in France, its opera schedule is extremely limited. For example, the opera season 2012/2013 in Marseille consists of only eight productions, each of which is performed four or five times, so there are fewer than forty staged opera performances per year.

    In the same season, the Lyon Opera scheduled 71 performances of eleven different operas.

    The Frankfurt Opera, in the same season, scheduled 194 performances of twenty-eight different operas. So Frankfurt has five times as many performances as Marseille, of three and a half times as many different operas.

    These figures are for staged opera performances only, not including concerts.

    Location and photo of the Marseille Municipal Opera on monumentum.fr

    In the Marseille Opera In the Marseille Opera In the Marseille Opera
    Related to:
    • Architecture
    • Music
    • Theater Travel

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Opera Foyer

    by Nemorino Updated Nov 28, 2013

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    The ceiling of the opera foyer was painted by an artist named Augustin Carrera (1878-1952). The center panel of the ceiling shows Orpheus charming the world with the irresistible music of his lyre. The other two compositions represent Orpheus losing his lovely bride Eurydice, and Orpheus being torn apart by Maenads.

    The story of Orpheus and Eurydice was the topic of what was probably the world's first full-scale opera, L'Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643).

    Actually Augustin Carrera painted two ceilings in the Marseille Opera House. The one in the foyer is still visible, but the one in the main auditorium no longer exists because it collapsed during the night of February 16-17, 1969, after a performance of the opera Otello by Giuseppe Verdi.

    Second and third photos: Views from the Opera Foyer.

    Fourth photo: People in the foyer during the intermission aka interval.

    Location and photo of the Marseille Municipal Opera on monumentum.fr

    Opera Foyer View from the Opera Foyer View from the Opera Foyer People in the foyer during intermission
    Related to:
    • Theater Travel
    • Arts and Culture
    • Architecture

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    The Municipal Opera House

    by Nemorino Updated Nov 28, 2013

    4 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    The first opera house on this site was the Grand Théâtre de Marseille, which was begun on July 14 (the French national holiday) in the year 1786.

    Over 133 years later, on November 13, 1919, the theater was practically destroyed by a fire which spared only the front columns, the outer walls and the frieze surrounding the stage.

    Reconstruction of the theater was begun in 1920 under the direction of the departmental architect Gaston Castel (1886-1971). He preserved the eighteenth century colonnade, but added elements of the Art Deco style that was popular in the first quarter of the twentieth century, so now the building is an unusual mixture of the two styles.

    Unfortunately the Marseille opera house faces north, so the façade is nearly always in the shade.

    Location and photo of the Marseille Municipal Opera on monumentum.fr

    Second photo: Side view of the opera, with Art Deco elements.

    Third photo: Rear view of the opera, from Rue Lulli.

    Fourth photo: The stage entrance on Rue Corneille. What interested me particularly about the stage entrance was that it had a typical feature of Marseille, namely loose electrical cables dangling around at odd angles. I also noticed this later at the ice cream shop on Place de Lenche and at several other places that I neglected to take pictures of.

    Fifth photo: People entering the opera house for a Sunday afternoon performance of the opera Carmen, by Georges Bizet.

    The Municipal Opera Side view of the opera house Rear view of the opera house Stage entrance People entering for Carmen
    Related to:
    • Architecture
    • Music
    • Theater Travel

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Fort Saint-Jean

    by Nemorino Updated Jul 31, 2013

    4.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    The last stop on our guided walking tour of the Panier district was Fort Saint-Jean, one of two forts built at the entrance to the harbor starting in 1660 on orders of King Louis XIV.

    The alleged purpose of these forts was to defend the city against foreign invaders, but in fact most of the cannons were pointed inwards in hopes of intimidating the citizens of Marseille, who had been in revolt against the authority of the king.

    The fort was used as a prison during the French Revolution.

    During the Nazi occupation of Marseille in World War II Fort Saint-Jean was used to store munitions, some of which exploded in 1944. This caused large amounts of destruction to the fort. The damaged parts were eventually reconstructed, but not until 1967 - 1971.

    When we visited in 2012, considerable construction work was again going on in and around Fort Saint-Jean, to prepare for the opening of a new national museum of European and Mediterranean civilizations (MuCEM). This new museum is scheduled to open in May or June of 2013, during Marseille’s year as the European Capital of Culture. It will be housed in the fort itself and in a large new adjoining building.

    Update: This new museum was opened on June 7, 2013. The architect was Rudy Ricciotti, the same architect who re-designed an old industrial flour mill for use as the main building of the Diderot University in Paris.

    Fifth photo: In this photo, Fort Saint-Jean is the one on the left, i.e. the north side of the harbor. The one on the right is Fort Saint-Nicolas.

    After the guided walking tour: Place de Lenche

    Tour group at Fort Saint-Jean Tour group at Fort Saint-Jean Bulldozer on Fort Saint-Jean, 2012 Fort Saint-Jean from the boat The two forts
    Related to:
    • Castles and Palaces
    • Historical Travel

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    European Capital of Culture 2013

    by Nemorino Updated Jul 31, 2013

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    When I was in Marseille in October 2012 (ten weeks before the beginning of 2013), there were numerous construction sites related in one way or another to the fact that Marseille and vicinity (Marseille-Provence) had been chosen as the European Capital of Culture for 2013.

    The red fence in my first photo is at the stock exchange in the center of Marseille.

    On our guided walking tour of the Panier district we asked our guide about all this construction. She just laughed and said the closer we get to 2013, the more holes there are in the ground.

    Second photo: Construction at Fort Saint Jean of the new National Museum of European and Mediterranean civilizations (MuCEM). This new museum is scheduled to open in May or June of 2013.

    Update: This new museum was opened on June 7, 2013. The architect was Rudy Ricciotti, the same architect who re-designed an old industrial flour mill for use as the main building of the Diderot University in Paris.

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Nineteenth century buildings

    by Nemorino Updated Mar 11, 2013

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Here are some examples of nineteenth century apartment buildings in Marseille.

    The ones in the first two photos are in the Rue de la Rotonde in the first arrondissement, near the Saint Charles railway station.

    Third photo: These buildings were designed and built in 1881 by an architect named Sixte Rey, who in his lifetime was best known for designing the beautiful cemetery Saint-Pierre de Marseille. This cemetery is larger than Père Lachaise in Paris and is also visited by people trying to find the graves of famous people.

    Fourth photo: The entrepreneur who financed these apartment buildings was named J.B. Durbec.

    Fifth photo: More nineteenth century buildings near the old harbor. Apparently these buildings were controversial at the time because some people in Marseille thought they looked too Parisian.

    Related to:
    • Architecture

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Alcazar

    by Nemorino Updated Mar 11, 2013

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    The Alcazar, so called because it was decorated in Moresque fantasy style, was a popular café-theater and music hall. It opened in 1857 and had room for two thousand spectators sitting at tables, where they could drink and smoke while watching the performances.

    Like most variety theaters, it had a turbulent history, but with various interruptions it continued as a prominent venue for popular entertainment for over a century. It finally went bankrupt in the 1960s. In 1969 a fire on the ground floor destroyed the Alcazar archives of over a century, and in 1979 the remains of the old music hall were finally demolished.

    The ornate doorway was preserved, however, and was incorporated into the new public library that was built here from 2000 to 2004.

    Related to:
    • Theater Travel
    • Historical Travel
    • Architecture

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Marseille Skyline Countdown, # 1

    by Nemorino Updated Mar 11, 2013

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Don’t worry, I’m not going to do a complete Skyline Countdown for Marseille as I did for Frankfurt am Main. So don’t bother looking for # 2 because you won’t find it, at least not here.

    (The second tallest building in Marseille is called Le Grand Pavois and is 100 meters tall, but I don’t have a tip on it.)

    Marseille’s tallest building is called the “Tour CMA CGM” – a typical French name, don’t you think? The word tour means tower, but I have yet to meet anyone who knows offhand what CMA CGM stands for.

    I know now, because I have just looked it up, that CMA CGM is the world’s third largest container shipping group. CMA stands for Compagnie Maritime d'Affrètement (Maritime Chartering Company) and CGM stands for Compagnie Générale Maritime (General Maritime Company), which turns out to be a descendent of the old Messageries Maritimes, the company that used to run ships between France and its then-colonies.

    If you have ever seen the film L'Amant by Jean-Jacques Annaud (based on the novel by Marguerite Duras), you may recall that the film ends with an old Messageries Maritimes steam ship leaving the harbor at Saigon to begin a long voyage to Marseille with the tearful heroine on board.

    In any case, the CMA CGM tower is currently the tallest building in Marseille. It was built from 2006 to 2010 and is 142.80 meters tall. If it were in Frankfurt am Main, it would be # 14 in the Frankfurt Skyline Countdown.

    CMA CGM Tower CMA CGM Tower CMA CGM Tower CMA CGM Tower
    Related to:
    • Architecture

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Port Frioul

    by Nemorino Updated Mar 11, 2013

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    After leaving the Île d'If, the Frioul If Express makes a stop at the village of Port Frioul, on Ratonneau Island, before returning to the Old Port of Marseille.

    This village of Port Frioul wasn’t established until 1974. It now has restaurants and about seven hundred mooring points for boats.

    Since 1822 the two largest islands of the Frioul archipelago, Pomègues and Ratonneau, have been connected by a causeway.

    In earlier centuries the Frioul Islands were a compulsory quarantine stop for ships arriving from other parts of the world, to make sure they had no contagious diseases on board before they were allowed to land in Marseille. This seems to have worked fairly well most of the time, but in 1720 a ship called the Grande Saint-Antoine somehow managed to circumvent the quarantine and introduce the plague to Marseille, killing half the population.

    Back to my first Frioul tip

    OR

    Back to my Marseille intro page

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Église des Accoules

    by Nemorino Updated Mar 11, 2013

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    On our guided walking tour of the Panier district we stopped at the site of the old Church of the Accoules.

    This was one of the oldest churches in Marseille, built at the beginning of the eleventh century, but it was destroyed in 1794 because it had been used for political meetings during the French Revolution.

    Nothing remains except the bell tower and a crucifix that has been mounted on one of the old walls.

    Next: Our tour group in the Old Town

    Related to:
    • Historical Travel

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Our tour group in the Old Town

    by Nemorino Updated Mar 11, 2013

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Some of the buildings we saw in the Panier district were in serious need of repair. Generations of poor people have lived here, especially immigrants. Generations of unscrupulous landlords have charged inflated prices for small apartments in crumbling buildings.

    Now the city is attempting to upgrade the district without destroying its character, but inevitably this involves a certain amount of gentrification. The traditional poor inhabitants are gradually moving to other poor neighborhoods a bit further north. They are being replaced by artists and affluent couples who can afford to buy or rent modernized flats in some of these old buildings.

    Fourth and fifth photos: The enigmatic slogan “La Street c’est chic” apparently refers to street style fashions, which means dressing in creative and original ways by combining new and vintage articles of clothing. (Have I understood this correctly?)

    Next stop on our guided walking tour: Vieille Charité

    Related to:
    • Architecture
    • Historical Travel

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Association de Bien-Fêteurs

    by Nemorino Updated Mar 11, 2013

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    When I first saw the whimsical façade of the Association de Bien-Fêteurs in Marseille’s Panier district I thought it was some sort of joke or party club, like the Institute of Clavological Sciences in the Old Town of Lyon.

    But it turns out that the association has a more serious purpose. It was founded in 2008 to provide “creative support for Liberia” and particularly to help young people who were victims of the long drawn-out Liberian civil war.

    Next stop on our guided walking tour: La Chocolatière du Panier

    Was this review helpful?

Marseille Hotels

See all 126 Hotels in Marseille

Latest Marseille Hotel Reviews

New Hotel Of Marseille - Pharo
145 Reviews & Opinions
Latest: Jul 8, 2014
Hotel Kyriad Vieux Port Marseille
62 Reviews & Opinions
Latest: Jul 2, 2014
Chez Pia Schaufelberger
4 Reviews & Opinions
Latest: Apr 29, 2010
Etap Hotel Marseille Vieux Port
61 Reviews & Opinions
Latest: Jul 6, 2014
New Hotel Vieux Port
216 Reviews & Opinions
Latest: Jun 28, 2014
Hermes Hotel
44 Reviews & Opinions
Latest: Jun 3, 2014
Alize Hotel
49 Reviews & Opinions
Latest: Oct 1, 2013
Citadines Aix Forbin Aparthotel
14 Reviews & Opinions
Latest: Jun 23, 2014
Mercure Marseille Beauvau Vieux Port
139 Reviews & Opinions
Latest: Jul 5, 2014
Etap Hotel Marseille la Valentine
5 Reviews & Opinions
Latest: Dec 15, 2013
Hotel Les Cigales
29 Reviews & Opinions
Latest: Aug 2, 2013
Hotel de Rome et St Pierre
23 Reviews & Opinions
Latest: Sep 13, 2013
Hotel HM
11 Reviews & Opinions
Latest: Sep 22, 2009
Suitehotel Marseille Centre Euromed
103 Reviews & Opinions
Latest: Jun 20, 2014
Hotel du Coq
1 Review & Opinion

Instant Answers: Marseille

Get an instant answer from local experts and frequent travelers

114 travelers online now

Comments

Marseille Things to Do

Travel tips and advice posted by real travelers and Marseille locals.
Map of Marseille