If there were awards for the most revitalized cruise destination port, Marseille would be a prime contender. Only decades ago, Marseille was showing the shabby side of the docks. Long forgotten was its prime as a 12th century crusader’s port and 17th century player in world commerce. New Marseille, a city of business, passed by its historic legacy.
A major clean-up and revitalization of the port at the millennium began a resurgence of glory reminiscent of earlier days. Reclaimed harbor area, seaward from the 12th and 17th century forts, and seaward of the iconic Marseilles Cathedral, added space for the ultra-modern steel-lace clad MuCEM, abutting the dock. The MuCEM connects to the forts by an I-beam, roof-top walkway, past sculpture, a tribute to early French patriots. The Cathedral gained a new visitor and parking area. The old and new compliment the visitor experience without detracting from either.
Twin forts, built by French king Louis XIV in the 1660s, still guard the inner harbor. Cannons of Fort Saint-Jean and Fort St. Nicholas are pointed inward, in the way they were first set, to control actions of the city fathers, should they attempt to usurp the king.
Sitting on top the city’s highest point is the church-within-the-fort, Notre Dame de la Garde. The church first built in the 12th century, with loot from the 4th crusade, was enlarged in the 15th century and restored in 2008. The Spirit of Marseille, the Virgin on top the steeple, remains the beacon of life in the city. The Virgin is the enduring symbol of the city that has redefined itself several times, since begun by Greeks in 600 BCE.
Today, Marseille is a prime visitor destination. Wander the narrow streets beyond the harbor for the best croissants and coffee, or climb the hill to Notre Dame de la Garde, to look down over the city. Either way, seasoned travelers, who have been avoiding Marseille, can return to enjoy a city that has balanced old and new, without becoming a cliché of itself. The accomplishment deserves recognition.
This is our last blog for 2018, see you again in 2019!