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This first chapter of the Marseille travelogue represents the first parts of the city that I visited upon arrival, mostly along the coastlines north and south of The Old Port. I did these first as I arrived in Marseille at roughly 6AM at the train station, so I used the early morning to scout out the wider environs until the city itself woke up. At that point, I concentrated on where the people went.
The start point of the tour was the Gare St. Charles, Marseille's main train station. I arrived via an overnight train from Strasbourg and found myself at the top of a tall hill overlooking the city. Before me was a wide boulevard lined with bars and shops and row houses leading in the general direction of the Old Port. This uptown part of the city was truthfully the lesser part and I passed through it quickly. Greeting me nearby was the arch shown in the first photograph, the Porte d'Aix and its surrounding park. The resemblance to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris was uncanny, but arches like this figured prominently in nearly every major French city.
From there, I reached the residential zones each of the Old Port. This area was densely populated with high-rise apartment buildings over simple Mom-and-Pop grocery stores in the ground floor. Trucks began crowding these steep and narrow cobblestone streets in order to deliver their daily shipment of fresh fruits, vegetables, baked goods, or fish to these storekeepers. Some workers were washing the debris off the streets using hoses, letting the junk run down the sidewalks like in the old days.
I soon reached the Old Port and headed north toward the Cathedral, shown in the second photograph. The Cathedral was located on the shoreline, separated from the city's police station and new opera house by the main beach highway. I took this shot from an overpass over road. It shows less color than reality -- the stones were light yellow and the stripes were olive green, much like the exterior colors of the Notre Dame de la Garde overlooking the Old Port. I was not able to go inside, but I got a good look at the incredibly ornate blue and gold entranceway with its Middle Eastern theme.
The Cathedral and the Notre Dame were two of a seemingly infinite array of churches around the city, each exhibiting its own architectural style. While the domed structure of the Cathedral seemed Middle Eastern, the Abbaye du St. Victor, shown in the third photograph, looked like a classic Medieval English castle. This abbey was located amongst a pack of old structures high on the hills surrounding the Old Port. Just to the left of the photo was a semi-modern high-rise apartment complex. Also prominent were the octagon-shaped Churches of St. Vincent and St. Catherine located in the hills to the north of the port.
From the Abbaye, I following the main road circling the Old Port and followed it further south. Along the way, I encountered several points of interest. One was the city's war memorial located over the water. Shown in the fourth photograph, this was a classic French-style WWI memorial -- very large and extravagant. The opposite side of the structure had the years of WWI inscribed, and the sculptures on each side represented the galliant French warriors in uniform who fought.
The memorial was located on a stretch of coast called the Catalans. There was a huge beach there, and I meant huge. Protected by a huge stone breakwater, the beach had perfect sand and was shallow enough for adults to wade far out from the sand. The beach also contained several wooden decks that were built over the water for people to laze away the day. Beyond the memorial, however, the water splashed against large rocks and a three-meter tall wall upon which the road and all other structures stood. Some brave souls scrambled down to the rocks for a little peace and quiet with the gentle Mediterranean waters. Beachfront hotels had decks jutting out over the sea, but well above it. Behind the road were some sheer cliffs directly overhead, some eight to ten meters high, with posh residences perched precariously on top and a mere wire fence to keep folks from falling off. (I have determined that the French are not acrophobes).
The last point of interest southward was the Vallon des Auffres, shown in the fifth photograph. This was a short canal and harbor built upon and around a very steep rocky cliff. Compared with the yachts that crowded the marina, these boats were mostly rowboats or small motorboats serving as fishing vessels (I believed). It looked like it all used to be a fortress that had been replaced with modern residences, or the wall served to keep the hill intact. It was a really awesome sight.
Despite the rockiness, Marseille did sport some gardens. One I remembered well was near the city center, called the Jardin de la Colline Puget, a huge patch of greenery dedicated to the famous French artist Pierre Puget who was born in Marseille in the 17th Century.
This part of the city tour was fantastic, and I was glad to have done it in the morning before it got too hot. I noticed that the city had a tourist tram that took visitors to many of the places I hit without having to do so much climbing. My only negative about taking the train was that my nighttime return to Gare St. Charles for a late night departure took me back through a part of the city that I would not ordinarily have wanted to go, but of course all large cities had them (and Marseille was France's second largest city).
Trip taken 28 July 2001 -- Page Last Updated 26 September 2006 -- (C) 2001 Tom Galvin
Subchapters in this Travelogue: