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FRANCE : MARSEILLE HISTORY

Marseille is the oldest town in France. The legend surrounding the origins of the town go back to 600 B.C. Marseille was founded. by Greeks from Phocaea as a trading port under the name ‘Massalia’. Facing an opposing alliance of the Etruscans, Carthage and the Celts, the Greek colony allied itself with the expanding Roman Republic for protection. Under this arrangement the city maintained it’s independence until the rise of Julius Caesar. During the Roman times, it was called Massilia.  

Massalia quickly became a successful city thanks to the commercial talent of the Greeks. Trading posts were set up all along the Mediterranean coast, in particular at Agde, Arles and Le Brusc. Massalia's history is one of turbulence and uncertainty. Initially the city went into decline when it was taken over by Rome. Its fleet, treasure and trading posts became the property of Caesar.  

After losing her autonomy in the 3rd century A.D., the city seemed to languish, but her favorable location led a tense rivalry between barbarian party''s that desired her once successful and ideally located port. The city of Marseilles would suffer continuous lootings and devastation at the hands of the barbarians who fought over rights to her lands. At the same time Christianity was inflitrating the Mediterranean coast and it was in the 4th century that bishopric was installed in Marseilles and the 5th century when Abbey Saint-Victor was constructed, one of the first religious structures of it''s kind on the western European shores.  

After the invasions it became a port which was favourable to commercial activity. In the 11th century, the city began to expand. A vast boatyard came under construction but Marseille quickly fell under the control of Charles d'Anjou. The town also opposed Louis XIV, and was conquered once again. The Fort Saint Nicolas and the Fort Saint Jean were both built. At that time, Massalia was under the control of Colbert who developed the city's infrastructure. Business prospered on an international scale.  

Periods of prosperity alternated with times of crisis, and just when Massalia had become a truly international port it was hit by a plague. The Great Plague was a major event during the 18th century. The origins of the epidemic was a ship - Le Grand Saint Antoine. Quarantine was not sufficient and the plague swept through the town. In May 1720, Marseille was cut off from the rest of Provence. The parliament in Aix forbade any communication with Marseille. However, the plague continued to spread all the same to Aix, Apt, Arles, Toulon, and soon the whole of France was touched by it. The city was not completely wiped out, but it had lost half of its population. The revolution was eagerly received. It was in 1792 that the war song, sung by the army of the Rhine and composed by Rouget de Lisle - known as La Marseillaise - became an anthem. Marseille then rebelled against the 'Convention.' As a result it became "the town with no name" for a few months.  

Marseilles would escape WWI relatively unscathed, but the town was heavily involved in World War II. The destruction of certain historical districts in the city made way for reconstruction efforts following the war. It is during this period of restoration that the Old Port became an integral thoroughfare, and much of the current infrastructure commenced. Today archaeological excavations throughout the Vieux Port and Center Bourse areas have revealed many relics from the city''s past. They are but a small token of this city''s rich and varied history.


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