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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 Mediterranean.
 

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.


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