[Originally posted by Rachel Fountain, a Journalism and Media Communication Major. She is spending the Spring of 2015 in Aix-en-Provence, France. You can find her blog directly here.]
Since I first arrived in Aix I’ve been hearing things about Marseille, the loud and infamous city that lies only a 30 minute bus ride away. What’s interesting is I never heard the same things.
“…it’s always summer and always a party…it’s dirty and crowded…it’s sketchy and run by the mafia… it’s a culture hub…it’s a center of commerce…it’s most famous for it’s soap…it’s most famous for it’s soup…”
Anyways, there seemed to be no agreement on what Marseille was really about, and so last Saturday I finally went to go see it for myself!
My friends and I took an early bus, so we arrived around nine. As we walked down the stairs from the bus station and started wandering up a main street, Marseille first struck me as an art nouveau poster, mostly because of the crazy, swirly details on the stairs and the lampposts!
The crew and I found our way to the Vieux Port (the old port) and we stopped by a tiny museum (called the Roman Docks Museum) that was full of ancient maritime artifacts. There, we got to know Marseille as the port city of antiquity.
Continuing along the Vieux Port, we turned a corner and were stuck by the sight of a magnificent striped cathedral called Cathédrale de la Major.
The essence of this cathedral is easy to capture on the outside due to it’s bold exterior, but not so easy on the inside. The space is very open and smooth with beautiful mosaic floors, hanging flags and thick stripes of red, tan and sage-colored rock.
Moving on, we turned right and headed up the Port Moderne (modern port) where we ran into a shopping mall that was indeed very modern! We went in looking for bathrooms and ended up working our way to the top where there was a huge terrace.
It was there that I got my first good look at the Mediterranean, which did give me dorky butterflies in my stomach, I’m not gonna lie. We all took a moment to gawk and take pictures.
The group then split up. Half headed off to another cathedral on the hill and my half went to the MuCEM (Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée), a brand new museum that floats on the blue waters of the Med. Once there we visited the gallery of the Mediterranean and an exhibit on photographer Raymond Depardon.
The photo exhibit was inspiring, and so we emerged from the MuCEM even more trigger-happy with our cameras than usual! We worked our way from the museum back to the Vieux Port, and we got so many unique photo opportunities I swear the city of Marseille was posing for us.
As we backtracked, we realized that the once quiet Vieux Port from that morning was no more. People were everywhere! A bride and a groom were exiting a chapel, musicians were scattered along the dock, and some sort of dancing was going on that involved huge circles and flags…
(I must apologize for my videos, I’ve got no video editing software to speak of at the moment but that will hopefully change here very soon! As of now, this is all I’ve got!)
The streets were busy too; antique markets, dogs, traffic, beggars, everyone! We did stop into a church for a while, and it always strikes me how silent and somber churches can be in the midst of such noise.
At the end of that day, Marseille undoubtedly left an impression…actually, about six of them. I was hoping to find a theme to Marseille, some common denominator or unifying characteristic that I could use to make sense of this city, but I had none.
If anything, Marseille taught me how difficult it is as a tourist to really understand a city and it’s culture. It’s frustrating, but I suppose I should be glad that one trip isn’t enough to understand a place. Otherwise, I’d have no reason to come back.
Until next time, Marseille!