Marseille is the oldest city in France and its largest commercial harbor in the Mediterranean. It is believed that in 600 B.C., travelers from the Greek town of Phokis founded the autonomous town of ‘Massalia’. In the Middle Ages, the city’s main harbor was used by the crusaders to embark on their journey to Jerusalem and it rivaled those of the maritime republics of Genoa, Pisa and Venice.
One of Marseille’s main landmarks rises high above the harbor, the seafarers’ church of Notre-Dame-De-La-Garde. It towers above the city like a fortress and on its bell tower is a gilded ten metre high figure of the Virgin Mary.
Several hundred yachts of all sizes crowd into the old harbor where there is often little room for the comings and goings of modern day sailors. It is difficult to imagine that once near-starving slaves were forced to use their last ounce of strength to row their master’s galleys into the harbor.
Modern harbor complexes require a great deal of space as is well demonstrated by Marseille’s new harbor and after Rotterdam, it is the second largest in Europe. Two mighty fortresses overlook the harbor, the northern Fort Saint-Jean is the oldest and was used by the Order of the Knights of Malta, the Fort Saint-Nicolas stands guard over the southern side of the narrow harbor entrance and was built in the 17th century.
The tiny island of Chateau d'If was made famous due to a novel by Alexander Dumas, The Count of Monte Christo. A small museum features many items related to this classic novel and visitors can search for the hole in the wall through which Edmond Dantès is said to have entered the Abbé Faria.
A boat trip from Cassis leads to one of the most beautiful coastal areas in Europe, Les Calanques, a unique nature reserve. Shining white limestone cliffs plunge more than 400 metres into the deep blue sea and extend for 20 kilometres.
Marseille - France’s wonderful gateway to Africa!