Marseille is the second-largest city in France, after Paris. Also, it has the third-largest metropolitan area in the country. The National Park (Park National des Calanques) begins on the outskirts, to the east. Throughout the Calanques, there is a formidable, rugged coastline with small fjord-like inlets.
Sainte-Baume mountain range
Some considerable distance to the east is the Sainte-Baume mountain range. Beyond is the city of Toulon and the French Riviera. The Etoile mountain ranges are north of Marseille. Furthermore, if you head out west from the city you will reach the former artists’ colony of l’Estaque. The Gulf of Lion and the Camargue region in the Rhône delta are also in this direction. Marseille Provence international airport is 17 miles north-west of the city at Marignane, on the Étang de Berre.
The Old Port
The city’s main thoroughfare is a broad boulevard called the Canebière. This road runs all the way from the Old Port to the Réformés Quarter. Two impressive forts flank the entrance to the Old Port, one on the south side and one on the north. In the Bay of Marseille is the Frioul archipelago which comprises of four islands. “Château d’If”, made famous by the Dumas novel “The Count of Monte Cristo” is on one of these small islands.
The centre of Marseille has several pedestrianised zones that are well serviced by shops and businesses.
Marseille was initially founded around 600 BC as a Greek colony, populated by settlers from Phocaea (Turkey). The city sided with the Roman Republic against Carthage during the Second Punic War (218-201 BC). The city managed to keep its commercial empire even when Rome expanded into Europe and North Africa. However, it finally lost its independence following the Roman Siege of Massilia in 49 BC, during Caesar’s Civil War. Marseille prospered during the Roman Empire, becoming an early centre of Christianity.
Marseille maintained its position as a premier maritime trading hub even after its capture by the Visigoths in the 5th century AD. Later though, the city went into decline following the attack in 739 AD by the forces of Charles Martel. Black Death in the 14th century ravaged Marseille, but the city’s fortunes rebounded with ambitious building projects strengthening the city’s fortifications during the mid-15th century.
Marseille was again ravaged by disease and lost a significant portion of its population during the Great Plague of Marseille, in 1720. The city entirely recovered by the middle of the 18th century.
By 1792 the bustling city became a focal point of the French Revolution. It was the birthplace of France’s national anthem, La Marseillaise. The Industrial Revolution and the establishment of the French Empire during the 19th century allowed for further expansion. The German Wehrmacht occupied the city in 1942. Subsequently, it was heavily damaged by Allied bombing during World War II. The city has since become a significant centre for immigrants from former French colonies, such as French Algeria.