FRANCE : MARSEILLE
Marseille is the second largest city in France and the third
metropolitan area, with 1,516,340 inhabitants at the 1999 census.
Located in the former province of Provence and on the Mediterranean Sea,
it is France's largest commercial port and the largest in the
The most renowned and populated city in France after Paris,
MARSEILLE has - like the capital - prospered and been ransacked over the
centuries. It has lost its privileges to sundry French kings and foreign
armies, recovered its fortunes, suffered plagues, religious bigotry,
republican and royalist Terror and had its own Commune and
Bastille-storming. It was the presence of so many Marseillaise
Revolutionaries marching from the Rhine to Paris in 1792 which gave the
Hymn of the Army of the Rhine its name of La Marseillaise , later to
become the national anthem.
Marseille is divided into sixteen arrondissements which spiral out
from the focal point of the city, the Vieux Port . Due north lies the
old town, Le Panier , site of the original Greek settlement of Massalia.
The wide boulevard leading from the head of the Vieux Port, La Canebière
is the central east-west axis of the town. The Centre Bourse and the
little streets of quartier Belsunce border it to the north, while the
main shopping streets lie to the south. The main north-south axis is rue
d'Aix , becoming cours Belsunce then rue de Rome, av du Prado and
finally boulevard Michelet . The lively, youngish quarter around place
Jean-Jaurès and the trendy cours Julien lie to the east of rue de Rome.
From the headland west of the Vieux Port, the Corniche heads south past
the city's most favoured residential districts towards the beaches and
promenade nightlife of the Plage du Prado.
Today, it's an undeniable fact that Marseille is a deprived city,
not particularly beautiful architecturally, and with acres of grim 1960s
housing estates. Yet it's a wonderful place to visit - a real,
down-to-earth yet cosmopolitan port city with a trading history going
back over 2500 years. The people are gregarious, generous, endlessly
talkative and unconcerned if their style seems provocatively vulgar to
the snobs of the Côte d'Azur
The Marseillais eat just as well, if not better, than the ageing
aristos and skin-stretched celebrities of the Riviera. Fish and seafood
are the main ingredients, and the superstar of dishes is the city's own
expensive invention, bouillabaisse , a saffron- and garlic-flavoured
fish soup with bits of fish, croutons and rouille to throw in; theories
conflict as to which fish should be included and where and how they must
be caught, but one essential fish is the rascasse or scorpion fish. The
other city speciality is the less exotic pieds et paquets , mutton or
lamb belly and trotters.