This is a lively little square in the Panier district, with a small theater, a bar, and an ice cream shop.
From some of the outdoor tables at the Bar de la Place (first photo) there is a rather cramped view of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde if you look at the proper angle between two nondescript twentieth century buildings.
Second photo: I came to the Place de Lenche after our guided walking tour of the Panier district because our guide assured us that the shop Le Glacier du Roi (The ice cream maker of the king) had the absolutely best ice cream in Marseille. It was fine, I must admit, and certainly the best ice cream I had in Marseille because I didn’t try any other.
What interested me particularly about this ice cream shop was that it had a typical feature of Marseille, namely loose electrical cables hanging around the façade at odd angles. I also noticed this at the stage entrance of the municipal opera house and at several other places that I neglected to take pictures of.
The next day: Bus 83
It might seem odd to recommend visiting a railway station, especially when this one is not in the most salubrious of locations, but even if you're not going anywhere by train (or by bus....the main bus station is here too), have a look at the magnificent staircase leading from Boulevard d'Athenes to the station on top of a hill. At the top, there are spectacular views across the rooftops towards Basilique du Notre Dame de la Garde, and down into the "Arab quarter" of Belsunce. It's a great place to people watch...either sit on the steps, or avoid the hustlers and touts who work the steps by sitting in one of the bars just opposite the staircase.
I had been keen to see Le Corbusier's ideal block of flats known as Unite d'Habitation, the building that spawned a million featureless concrete blocks all over the world. I'd seen pictures of the bizarrely sculpted roof, the rooftop running track and paddling pool, the different coloured and shaped balconies, and decided that it was worth the long trek out to see it for myself. so off I set, following Rue de Rome out of the city centre until it became the Boulevard du Prado, pavements filled with market stalls until I reached the Olympique Marseille football stadium.
Just across the busy six lane boulevard lay the Unite d'Habitation, and ad first glance I did wonder what all the fuss had been about. It looked a little tired. Close up, I could see the detail, patterns carved into the concrete, primary colours lining the windows, no two balconies the same. I was all set to go in and find my way up to the roof, but a sign on the door stopped me. Due to renovation work, access was for residents only. Aaaaaaaagh! Bad timing. Bad bad timing.
It was then that I felt incredibly thirsty, but could I find a grocery store with a fridge full of refreshing cold drinks? Of course not...there never is one when you need one.
La Canebiere is the main artery running through central Marseille, its posher end down by the Vieux Port, and by the time it reaches L'Eglise des Reformes (full name Eglise St Vincent de Paul), it has become much less touristy and a lot seedier. The church at the end of it all is a very imposing structure, towering above a square and visible from all round the centre. Completely different to the cathedral and the basilica of Notre Dame, this church is more Gothic in style, although it is roughly the same age as the other two.
In the little place between two main roads and a tramline, there are a few shady seats, a bandstand, lots of graffitti and kids on skateboards, and a couple of giraffes. Yes, giraffes. A mother and her baby, both made of books, no less. Originally it's skin had been made entirely from books, but this was set alight by some football fans in 2010, and now it is an iron beast. but while the baby giraffe hides its head under the mother, you can peruse the second hand books in its belly and even make a swap or a donation if you feel like it. I don't know why they chose a giraffe as opposed to any other animal, or why they were put here, but it is things like this that make me like Marseille more.
Click on the link to watch a video of the burning giraffe
Across La Canebiere, the grand-but-shabby main boulevard running through central Marseille, is another lively quarter with a North African feel. Noailles has a colourful and raucous food market known as Marche des Capucins, based around the Noailles metro station and in several surrounding streets. If anywhere reminded me of Tunis, it was this market...the smells, the sounds, the Tunisian pastries on sale at the bakeries. This is not a sedate Provencal market, and that seems to be what draws a steady stream of tourists too, all looking for a taste of the exotic. The market ends abruptly at one point, and I found myself in a street of brothels, so this is maybe one area to avoid after dark...actually, none of the side streets off La Canebiere are particularly well lit at night...but during the day it is a great place to dive into.
Only one photo I'm afraid, of one of the more organised sections of the market close to the metro station...I'm always far too self-conscious taking photos in markets!
Tucked in a sidestreet in the Quartier Belsunce is a new museum dedicated to telling the story behind La Marseillaise, the French national anthem which was originally a marching song adopted by volunteers from Marseille calling for the French Revolution. Maybe if I was French, I would have had more interest, and I'd probably be more familiar with the stories. But the way the museum is laid out, you have to spend a certain amount of time in each room as the displays run on a loop, doors open automatically when it is time to move on, and there is either not enough time to look at the exhibits in a room, or too much time in a room with nothing but a wall of faces screeching the national anthem at you. It was interesting to begin with, but once you've heard a choral version, a jazz version, a soprano version, a bass version, a reggae version (yes, I did say reggae), and countless other versions, I found myself willing the displays to come to an end soon. I'd elected not to wear an English audio head set, perhaps a mistake but I hate wearing those things and wanted to test my French...most of it I understood, but found I did switch off during the lengthy piece of theatre with actors' voices booming as various heads were lit up on the walls. I was also the only visitor, so felt obliged to appear interested throughout...it's an odd sensation to be in a warehouse-size room on your own with faces appearing on every wall serenading you with yet another version of La Marseillaise at top volume.
I was much more interested in the local neighbourhood, the Quartier Belsunce, traditionally an area that has attracted immigrants, firstly Italians and Spanish, then Lebanese and Egyptians in the 19th Century, followed by waves of Armenians, Turks and Greeks at the start of the 20th century. After World War 2, more immigrants moved in, mostly from Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, and so it continues today, with communities from other parts of Francophone Africa. Today, Belsunce is a place to come for couscous and mint tea, internet cafes offer cheap calls to le Maghreb, shops sell brightly coloured shawls and dresses alongside veils and abayas, prayer beads and Islamic books, and alarm clocks in the shape of mosques. Towards the Cours Belsunce main street, things become more sub-Saharan with Ivoirian and Senegalese shops mixing with those from the Comoros and Congo. My guidebook warned against visiting Belsunce, as did other travel advice online, but this does seem over the top. It's not a rich area by any means, but safe enough to wander round. It's also a historic area, with many buildings quite beautiful if you take the time to look past the litter and dirt. Regeneration projects connected to the European City of Culture 2013 are taking place, and one street is optimistically being nicknamed "rue des Arts" for its galleries and boutiques.
As I visited during Ramadan and August, most shops and cafes were closed during daylight hours, only becoming lively (i.e. packed to the rafters) at sunset. I'd like to see what the quarter is like in a normal month.
The north side of the Vieux Port is mostly modern, as this area was blown up during the German occupation in WWII, it's inhabitants shipped off to concentration camps. Up the hill is what remains of the old town, now known as Le Panier, a maze of narrow streets and stairways. It's quite an atmospheric neighbourhood, although not all of it is originally old, and many streets and squares have been gentrified, with cafes and art galleries in clusters in between more down-at-heel residential areas. It's worth having a wander around, and although there are a couple of sights to aim for, the best strategy is to take any street from behind the quayside town hall, and get thoroughly lost. It's not a huge quarter, and sooner or later you'll end up on one of the main roads that surround it. Alternatively, you can take a noddy train from the quayside, which seems to get a round of applause as it passes certain trendy cafes!
Marseille's oldest church is somewhat hidden and neglected. Barely signposted, to find it, you have to head along the south side of Vieux Port until there is a little inlet before the fort. From the waterside you should be able to see what looks like a little castle, which happens to be the Abbaye St Victor, it's belltower looking as if it was built to withstand an invasion rather than to house bells. It's not all thet pretty from the outside, especially given its surroundings (scaffolding on most buildings and a litter-strewn park), but apparently the interior and the crypt are fascinating. I say apparently, as the church was undergoing restoration work, like most places in Marseille in 2012, so was closed to visitors. Wish someone had pointed that out before climbing all the steps in the heat.
I don't remember where it was, but when I was little, perhaps on a school trip, I was taken to one of those Imax cinemas with the 360 degrees screens. i realise it doesn't sound much now, but back then, it left an impression, being surrounded by moving images. Anyway, the short film playing was taken from the point of view of a boat entering Vieux Port, and I remember thinking it was spectacular, thousands of boats and all these pretty buildings.
I'm sure it will look similar to that film next year once the pedestrianisation of the quays is completed, but in 2012 it wasn't easy to get close to the water unless you happened to own a yacht. The famous fish market on Quai des Belges, supposedly one of the highlights of a trip to Marseille in normal circumstances, had been temporarily moved elsewhere, and the cross harbour ferry was not operating either. The quays were fenced off, and all pedestrians were forced into narrow walkways with only occasional watery views visible through the fencing. The quayside cafes were still busy, despite the lack of view though. I'm sure it will be lovely next year, but trying to walk around the harbour in 2012 was not really much fun. To get a good view of the port, I had to head for higher ground....see later tips.
The Museum is on the right side of the Longchamp Palace. Not so much things inside, very basic. Nice to see the wild life animals ! very close to you. If you have extra time to do something you can go and visit this Museum. Also, it's free for Marseille City Pass.
How to reach? Tram, stop Lonchamp
Wandering around Marseille, I found that this city had quite a few pieces of Art Noveau.
I really love this style and found some really interesting pieces.
Near the Cathedral, I found the end of a block of flats completely painted with a Mural.
A little further on, I found monuments and sculptures.
I can't find information on any of then, all I can say, is seek and you shall find!
The Frioul Islands are also easily reached from Marseille harbour. They consist of four Islands, Pomegues, Ratonneau, If and Tiboulen.
The Islands looked very rocky and dry with impressive cliffs and beautiful clear water surrounding them. Some have beaches, and all are a conservation area as rare floral species, adapted to the arid conditions live here.
This is where plants known as "xérophytes" love to grow,because of the dryness and "alophytes" because of the salt. Over 200 species have been discovered here.
These islands are also a refuge for numerous birds, like the Caspian Gull, called "gabian" in Provence.
La Canebiere is Marseille's most famous street. I also think it is Marseilles nicest street to walk.
The walk is about 1km, and uphill. We started our walk from the beginning at Vieux Port, then followed the street until we reached the Reform Church where we found a coffee shop, so stopped here for a rest at one of the outdoor tables. It was very pleasant. We had views of the Church from our table.
One of the first cafes, in the street, is the Turkish "u cafe alla turca", from 1850.
Lots of buildings along the way are old and now classified as National Heritage Sites. Some were large hotels and cafes which closed after the French colonies gained their independence.
This very wide tree-lined street had a Tram running along the centre which we used for the rest of our uphill trip after our coffee. I loved seeing the old buildings, most with interesting detailed architecture. If you like this kind of thing and seeing statues, fountains and a beautiful gothic Church, then come for a walk or ride along La Canebiere.
The Saint Paul-Saint Vincent church, is a beautiful Church of a very different style to any of the others I had seen in Marseille.
It was in 1803, a new parish was created in this quarter because of its increasing population and this lovely new church was built in stunning neo-gothic style. It wasn't until 1998 that a set of four bells were placed in one of the two spires, a height of 69 metres above the floor of the crypt.
I couldn't view the inside, wished I could have!
This old Hotel I happened to notice on my walk along the street to see Palais Grandchamp.
What I liked about it, was the Art Nouveau female figures along the facade of the building.
These represented the four continents (Europe, Asia, America and Africa).
This hotel was ranked among the first class hotels and was in operation until 1941, when it was requisitioned and purchased by the Navy. After the war and until 1977, the Navy used it for offices, social events and an Officer's Mess. In 1980, after three years of deterioration, the building was sold, then in 1984, it was classified Historic Monument and the C & A store opened its doors.
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