Fun things to do in Marseille

  • Mérimée's novella
    Mérimée's novella
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    Opera program book
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Most Viewed Things to Do in Marseille

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    Le Panier: walk the red line!

    by tini58de Written Nov 15, 2006

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    There is a proposed two hour walk through the Panier, the old part of Marseille. It starts next to the City Hall and if you keep following the red line it will take you to various places. There are little information poles (in French and English) and it is really quite interesting! You will pass by squares, the old Charité, a 17th century hospice for the poor, the Cathedral and many other sights.

    Sometimes it is a little difficult to find your way through the quarter, but since this is a walk that is introduced and printed on the tourist map as well, you can find your way anyway!

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    A merry-go-round

    by JLBG Written Dec 26, 2004

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    In front of the bourse, on the other side of the Canebière, on a small square, an old time "manège" (merry-go-round) has been installed for the kids. It is exactly as it would have been at the turn of the XIXth century with cardboard painted horses, carriages, gondolas, etc….

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    Quartier du Panier

    by JLBG Written Dec 26, 2004

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    This picture is seen from the South Quay (Quai Rive neuve), across the Vieux Port, packed with boats of various kinds. On the other side the North quay (quai du Port) with the "Quartier du Panier", one of the oldest parts of the city. The clock tower is the only part remaining of a XIth century church. On the far right, the Town Hall.

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    The town hall

    by JLBG Written Dec 26, 2004

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    The town hall of Marseille is a small building on northwestern bank of the Vieux Port. It was built in 1653 on the site of the former City House. It is decorated by a medallion by Pierre Puget bearing the arms of France. It is much too small for such a big city. It is now only for ceremonial uses. An annex has been built behind the "Bourse de commerce". During the digging, the oldest harbor of Marseille was discovered

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    The harbors

    by JLBG Written Dec 26, 2004

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    This picture was taken from Notre Dame de la Garde, which dominates Marseille. It shows in the middle fort Saint Jean with the Vieux Port on its right that can hardly be seen (only rows of boat are seen on the far right of the photo). In the background, the open sea. On the right the "Port Autonome de Marseille", the actual harbor with its several different basins.

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    Îles du Frioul

    by JLBG Updated Feb 18, 2005

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    Another photography from Notre-Dame de la Garde showing the "Îles du Frioul". The "Château d'If" (Castle of If), in the foreground, is the smallest. Other islands are Pomègues island, Ratonneau island and Planier island. Except the later, they can be visited and boats sail from the Vieux-Port for their visit.

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    Fort Saint-Jean

    by Nemorino Updated Jul 31, 2013

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    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

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    Palais du Pharo

    by tini58de Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    This palais (with adjacent gardens) is another place with an absolute spectacular view of the Old Port and the Panier quarter of Marseille. Please see the other pictures for the panorama!

    The palais itself was built in the middle of the 19th century and serves as a convention center now.

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    Red walk : through the old town : le "Panier"

    by ptitetoile Written May 19, 2005

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    Le Panier is the oldest neighborhood of Marseille and also the most picturesque one containing almost all the nice old buildings and monuments. The tourist office propose a tour in the neighborhood following a red line marked on the ground and on the map of the city they give. It starts from the Tourist Office on the Cannebière street near the old harbour (Vieux Port). A great tour !!!!

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    Guided walking tour of the Panier district

    by Nemorino Updated Mar 11, 2013

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    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

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    The "Port Autonome de Marseille"

    by JLBG Written Dec 26, 2004

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    This close-up shows the "Port Autonome de Marseille", the actual harbor with its several different basins. From the "Gare Maritime de la Joliette", ferries depart to Corsica, Sardinia, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Spain (especially the Balearic islands). The trading harbor is in the background.

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    City Hall

    by tini58de Written Nov 15, 2006

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    The City Hall of Marseille is one of the few old (baroque) buildings on the Vieux Port. It has survived the destruction of this area by the Germans in 1943. The city hall was built in 1653. To the left and right you will find some (as I think) rather ugly modern buildings....

    The City Hall is the starting point for the "red walk" through the panier area (see my next tip).

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    Carmen by Georges Bizet

    by Nemorino Updated Nov 28, 2013

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    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

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    Vallon des Auffes

    by tini58de Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    This is a cute little bay on the inland side of the Corniche. You will see two things: the bridge Pont de la Fausse-Monnaie et Malmousque and the bay with the little harbor. Truly pictoresque! The bus #83 stops right there at the Vallon des Auffes.

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    The Municipal Opera House

    by Nemorino Updated Nov 28, 2013

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    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.

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