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Discovering Marseille


Introduction

Just a few miles from Aix-en-Provence, lies Marseille, France's second-largest metropolis following Paris. It's a fascinating city, yet equally characterised by much prejudice, a little like Naples. Here I'll illustrate the city's various aspects, and in particular those which I liked the most, to disprove any malicious gossip. I have visited Marseille on a few occasions in order to continuously discover a different aspect of the city.

How to get there

From Aix, Marseille is reachable by train or by bus. I would recommend the bus, which costs 8 euros for a return ticket, or only 1 euro for those who are students under 26 years and who possess the Cartreize card. The train, on the other hand, is more expensive. More detailed information on these journeys can be found via this link: http://www.cartreize.com

The bus journey takes around thirty to forty minutes, and as one leaves around every fifteen minutes, or sometimes even more frequently, it makes a very convenient journey. This is due to the high number of students that commute and thus take advantage of this service.

Just before arriving at Marseille station you are taken aback by a strange yet simultaneously unexpected landscape: an expanse of rural houses surrounds the motorway and stretches out for many miles.

The station lies at the peak of a small hill, and thus you can admire a breathtaking panorama of the whole city (and also a beautiful sunset during the evening). In this same building you can find furthermore both the gare SNCF (that is, the train station) as well as the bus station. In my opinion this provides an excellent organisation and in this way facilitates those who may also need to change their mode of transport.

The centre

Despite Marseille being one of the biggest cities in France, its old town is surprisingly small and easy to navigate. With a bit of good spirit and enthusiasm you can even visit the whole centre in one day without necessarily using public transport.

The central station descends into a a wide and straight avenue, with an abundance of impressive buildings and shops. Within ten or fifteen minutes by foot you arrive directly at the vieux port: the lifeblood of the city. Leaving the wide avenue with the shops behind, on the right lies the old town and on the left a cluster of little alleyways. These lie at the base of the hill where the Notre Dame de la Garde towers: the famous cathedral of Marseille.

  • The vieux port: this is the heart of Marseille around which all the city's main activities revolve. If you arrive early in the morning you can even see the daily fish market, which I would define as the essence of the city. The view from the harbour is beautiful and surrounded by bars and restaurants that (even if a little touristy) provide a stunning panorama, especially during sunset.

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    The path along the pier is dotted with various stalls selling souvenirs and small soaps, and during Christmas they are transformed into organised stands selling the typical Marseille nativity scenes. They are beautifully intricate and made by hand (thus very expensive), but an excellent idea for a Christmas gift.

  • The old town: by going right and passing the municipality, it leads to a street that takes you to the old town's entrance (everything is nonetheless signposted). This is my favourite area; that which made me fall in love with the city, forgetting all its prejudice.

    You come face-to-face with some small steps, and here stands the last shop selling the authentic Marseille soap. I would absolutely recommend going there to become enveloped by the scents and the colours of this small boutique. The owner is also very kind and will certainly be willing to explain the history of the soap in detail, as well as its production and the various ways in which it can be used. This is a must-see!

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    The old town is made up of small streets and alleyways which are characterised by low and sandy buildings with colourful doors and shutters. Here exemplifies the beauty of this area: losing yourself in these little streets! By continuing ahead towards the sea, you can see another beautiful church and close by, the Mucem museum. I have never been there, but the contemporary architecture is fascinating to see and, when combined with the reflections of the sea, plays with shades of colour and shadows in a most evocative way. By going on towards the centre you can also see one of the two forts that controlled the entrance to the harbour. This is an excellent spot for a panoramic.

  • Notre Dame de la Garde: by continuing from the old harbour you pass a long boulevard full of shops. If you explore the surroundings you can also discover the artisan district, which is characterised by narrow streets and high buildings with forged railings. This spot marks the bottom of the small hill on which the cathedral looks down.

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    For the less athletic, there is a small train that takes you to the entrance of the old town, but in order to make the most of the experience I would recommend walking the route. It is a little tiring, and you do ascend quite a bit as there are many steps, but it is all worth it for the final view that you get. You can admire Marseille from above (and at sunset it is even more magical), with the sea on your left and the Îles du Friuol that are scattered along the horizon. On the right, the vastness of the city extends out into the distance, and it is here that you understand why Marseille is one of the biggest cities in France, despite its fairly small centre.

    The interior of the cathedral is magnificent, decorated with gilded mosaics and little wooden boats that hang from the ceiling. There are also many marble plates that have been placed there by fishermen who wanted to thank the Virgin Mary for having protected them during their navigation or for having saved them during a storm. There is even a terrace that is filled with these plaques.

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My impression

In my opinion Marseille is an incredible city: it has both an illustrious artistic and cultural heritage that offers a great deal through events, shows, exhibitions and concerts.

It is also a very active and dynamic city, thanks to its status as a harbour-side location where many ethnicities mix together. Due to this fact (and also due to considerable migration that has hit the south of France), there are many Middle Eastern and African citizens, but to me this adds something even more unique and particular to Marseille. It reminds me in a way of Genoa or even Trieste, as all three cities have very important seaports.

For this I think that Marseille is certainly a must-see, but it is always advisable to remain in the centre and best to avoid the peripheral zones (especially if you do not know the city very well) and north of the station.


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