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La Canebière is Marseille's most famous street, opening directly onto the Old Port (Vieux Port). Its name originates from the Provençal term canébé, meaning "hemp," and can be traced back to the 11th Century when the street was home to rope-makers and hemp merchants. With the destruction of the dockyard in the late 18th Century, it gained free access to the port. Its lively hotels, luxury shops, theaters, and cafes earned it an international reputation.
The history of the port goes back as far as 600BCE, with the arrival of sailors from Phocaea, a Greek city in Asia Minor. France's oldest city came into being following the union of one of their leaders, Protis, with Gyptis, princess of the Ligurian people already settled in the region, whose territory in ancient times stretched right along the Mediterranean coast. The area, dappled with boutiques and historic landmarks, has since grown into a flourishing port and tourist site. With yachts and fishing boats bobbing by the side, the port beautifully captures the vibrancy of Marseille at the early morning fish market. Tourists and locals are found frequenting the numerous cafés facing the port which is an ideal spot to people watch as the dusk paints the whitewashed port environs in shades of tangerine. With its beauty recorded in several literary works, the port is a timelessly graceful relic of Marseille.
Formerly the site of a zoological park, these gardens are situated behind Longchamp Palace -the sumptuous architectural masterpiece from the Second Empire built to commemorate the arrival of water in the city, and now home to both arts and science museums. The wealth of beautiful waterfalls, fountains and sculptures create a truly magical atmosphere, intoxicating every visitor with surroundings reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance. It is the perfect place to find peace and tranquillity. The Marseilles Observatory in Place Leverrier which holds regular planetarium shows is also nearby.
Topped by a monumental gilded bronze statue of the Virgin and Child-- added in 1870-- Marseille's distinctive basilica dominates the city from its highest point of 154 meters (505 feet). It was formerly used as a look-out post and important city fortification (François I had a fort built here in 1524). The hill on which it stands (Colline de la Garde) became a popular place of worship and pilgrimage with the building of this Romano-Byzantine-style basilica. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica was built on the site of the first chapel erected here in 1214. Today's basilica, designed by Espérandieu, formed part of major building work undertaken during the Second Empire and was consecrated in 1864.
It was 1975 and in spite of having a long coastline, Marseille wasn't well equipped as far as beach facility and safety was concerned. The Plages du Prado was thus created, combining park and beach facilities all along the coast. Calling this area the "poor man's riviera" would be selling it short. The beaches are a lot less crowded, a lot less pretentious and a lot more beautiful, and the water is ideal for surfing, especially in autumn and winter. Dining at any of the restaurants along l'Escale Borély will round up the perfect day at the beach.