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Five Interesting Facts About Marseille

Updated on October 4, 2017


Marseille is one of France's most important ports along it's south eastern coast, Marseille history and culture have been heavily influenced by the Mediterranean Sea. Marseille has been a trading centre for thousands of years and has it's modern origin's in Ancient Greece. Marseille was established as a Greek colony over 2,500 years ago and it has witnessed the birth of nations, the end of Empires and great social upheaval.

In this modern age, Marseille is a mixture of North African culture meeting colonial French grandeur, Marseille is home to much of France's maritime culture and it has a healthy tourist industry. The influx of many African immigrants has caused tensions and the cultural melting pot has create a distinct culture with a few instances of social unrest.



(1) The Old Port of Marseille


The Old port of Marseille was bombed by both sides of the Second World War, such was it's strategic importance to the control of the Mediterranean Sea. In the early stages of the Second World War, the Old port was bombed by the German Luftwaffe and the Italian Air Force. By 1942 the City and it's port was under Axis occupation, although Marseille was in the Southern Zone of France it had an Axis presence due to it's tactical value.

In 1944 the Old port of Marseille was bombed by the Allies to soften up the occupied French territories so that the D-Day landings had a better chance of success. Whether the bombing was designed to trick the Nazi's into believing an invasion would come from the South or the plan was to disrupt the infrastructure of the occupying force has been debated for many years. The devastation from the strategic Bombing campaigns took many years to clean up and as part of the peace settlement the Axis nations had to pay millions to help rebuild the beauty of the Old port.


Corniche de Marseille, France.
Corniche de Marseille, France. | Source

(2) Ethnic melting pot


Marseille has offered visitors a gateway into France for thousands of years and like all coastal ports, the make up of the population is influenced by foreign settlement. From the first Greek settlers in the lands of the Ancient Celts in 600 BC, Marseille had welcomed the influx of foreign ideas and trade. The Merchants from across the Mediterranean area would have settled slaves and their families in the port changing the demographics of Marseille forever.

It was the immigration of French speaking citizens of Africa who caused the biggest shift in ethnicity. When the French colonial possessions gained their independence in the 1960s thousands flooded into the City of Marseille. The rise of Nationalist groups due to the perceived threat the new citizens has continued to cause clashes along racial and social lines.


The early settlement of Marseille secured it's future with Roman help.
The early settlement of Marseille secured it's future with Roman help.

(3) Trading partner with the Roman Republic


The City of Marseille grow to prominence as an Ancient Greek colony, it was called Massalia and was established around 600 BC. This would make Marseille one of the oldest surviving Cities of Western Europe and would make it France's oldest settlement. Given the new colonies distance from mainland Greece, the fledgling City was in need of allies and it turned to the Roman Republic to secure it's survival in the face of Celtic and Carthaginian pressure.

The Greek colony became more Romanized due to the port's trade with the expanding Roman Empire. The City had a beneficial relationship with Rome, the Romans exported their luxury goods to the interior of Gaul and received Slaves to help it's economic and military progress. Marseille kept it's independent identity until it's leaders chose the wrong side in the Roman Civil War, after this Julius Caesar incorporated the important port into the Roman Empire.



Bourride a regional Fish Stew.
Bourride a regional Fish Stew. | Source

(4) La Bourride


Marseille is renowned for it's cuisine and the port has a wide variety of Fish dishes for the tourist to sample. The abundance of fish along the Mediterranean coast of Provence, has lead to the creation of many traditional fish recipes. La Bourride is a regional stew made with fresh fish, vegetables and white wine. It is thickened with egg yolks and flavoured with shallots, fennel, leek, garlic, thyme, bay leaf and orange zest.

The dish is commonly made with Monk fish and another two types of White Fish, the use of Sea Bass and Cod is often seen. The dish is usually served with boiled potatoes and has been served throughout Marseille and the greater Provence area for generations.



The French Empire through the ages.
The French Empire through the ages. | Source

(5) French Empire


The port of Marseille served the needs of the French Empire in establishing routes to new lands for the Crown. Marseille was key in transporting personnel to the Crown's African colonies and served as the port to land the riches of Empire. In the golden age of French Empire, France had control of much of North Africa and with the British carved up much of Africa.

The French needed a secure and defended harbour to challenge the British Royal Navy and Marseille was a heavily defended Port that helped protect French shipping. Marseille continued to increase it's fortifications to help protect French colonial interests. Because of the high number of middle class merchants in Marseille, there was a deep strain of Republicanism running through the City. The City famously sent a contingent of volunteers to defend the new Republican government as they headed North they sung a marching song, this song became the French national anthem which is today known as the La Marseillaise.


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