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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 ropemakers and hemp merchants. With the destruction of the dockyard in the late 18th Century, it gained free access to the port and in the 19th Century. 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.
Established in 1815 through the impetus of the Marquis de Montgrand, then mayor of Marseilles, the Natural History Museum of Marseille assembles some of the most invaluable examples of our natural heritage. Housed in the right wing of Palais Longchamp, a magnificent palace built in the Second Empire, the museum's collections earned it, in 1967, a place among the top nine museums in France. Today, with more than 200,000 species classified according to similarities of origin, structure etc., the museum seeks to preserve the memory of our rich biodiversity.
Marseilles' local history museum was created at the end of the 19th Century, with the initiative of Frédéric Mistral and Provençal poet Félibrige. Housed in la Maison Diamantée, a stunning mansion with a façade of diamond-shaped relies, the location is in itself a symbol of times gone by. The vast inventory of exhibits, including Provençal furniture, contoured maps of the town, traditional costumes and local-style figurines, conjures up daily life, shipping trade and popular traditions in the old city. Paintings and engravings ranging from the 17th to 20th Century further enhance this snapshot of Marseilles culture.
Created in 1963, the Musée des Docks Romains harbors the remains of one of the few preserved trading ports in the world. Discovered during the reconstruction of the old port area which was destroyed during World War II, these archeological remains are testimony to the commercial activity of Marseilles, the Phocaean City, in ancient times. Other exhibits retrace the Greek and medieval period from 6 BCE to 4 CE, giving a revealing insight into the different kinds of merchandise that passed through the city. For instance, you can see an amphora : the ancient Greek two-handled jar, as well as details of how it was made, and pieces of wreckage, once buried in the depths beyond the harbor, have now been raised for display.
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.
The Roman-Byzantine Marseille Cathedral was built in the middle of the 19th Century by Léon Vaudoyer, on the remains of the ancient Roman-Provençal 'Major' building which dates back to the 12th Century. With a capacity of 3000, it is the largest cathedral in France since the Middle Ages. The marble slabs, impressive porphyry columns and mosaics reflect the cathedral's true splendor, complemented by magnificent altars from the 12th and 15th Centuries, and earthenware from the Della Robbia workshop are worth seeing.
Marseilles' memorial to the Holocaust includes powerful eyewitness accounts from concentration and death camp victims that have been re-transcribed. Together with previously unpublished photographs of the evacuation and the destruction of Marseilles' historic quarters, they present a moving reminder of this tragic part of recent history. This is a great memorial that carries an important message for future generations.
Situated on the southern bank of the Vieux Port above the dry dock, the Abbey of St. Victor, Marseille played an important role in development of Christianity in the Mediterranean between the 11th and 18th Centuries. In the 14th Century, Pope Urbain V oversaw its fortification. The abbey's crypt and catacombs, which contain a number of ancient sarcophagi, are open to visitors, while its excellent acoustics make it the perfect venue for the religious and classical music concerts held here on a regular basis. Large crowds attend its special ceremonies for la fête de la Chandeleur (Candlemas) in February.
The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations or MuCEM is a remarkable feature of Marseille's cultural scene. It boasts a unique harborside location on the Mediterranean Sea, adjacent to the Fort Saint-Jean and J4 port terminal. Celebrated architect Rudy Ricciotti is the mastermind behind its unique architecture and futuristic design. The permanent exhibition is dedicated to the rich culture and heritage of the Mediterranean basin over the centuries. The construction also features an underground auditorium and a rooftop restaurant.
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.
The Museum of Contemporary Art is located near the sculpture by César (on the Pierre Guerre roundabout), not far from the Bonneveine shopping center. It hosts both permanent and temporary exhibitions in an area of 4000 square meters (2.5 square miles). Enter into the world of the "New Realists," the "Supports-surface," the "individual mythologies" and other representatives of the art of today. Call or see the website for more information on the latest displays and admission prices.