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Visiting Marseille, France, and the Grand Stairway to Saint-Charles station: an opulent entry on a huge scale

Updated on August 13, 2015
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
Monumental stairway, Saint-Charles station, Marseille
Monumental stairway, Saint-Charles station, Marseille | Source
The Great Stairway and Athens Boulevard, Marseille, France, seen from Saint-Charles station
The Great Stairway and Athens Boulevard, Marseille, France, seen from Saint-Charles station | Source
Map location of Marseille, France
Map location of Marseille, France | Source

Mounting 104 steps of seemingly never ending grandeur

When looking at the Grand Stairway at Marseille's Saint-Charles railroad station, I don't necessarily think of trains.


Rather, the sheer grandeur, scale and opulence of this built environment reminds me more of what one might expect of a Baroque 17th century cathedral in Italy or Spain.

Be that as it may, this impressive stairway, classified as an historic monument, is certainly a major sight of Marseille.

Some history and features

It was planned from the year 1911, but completed in 1926 and inaugurated by French President Gaston Doumergue in 1927. The stairway's architects were Eugène Sénès and de Léon Arnel.

The stairway incorporated various statues by sculptors Ari Bitter, Auguste Carli, Henri Martin and Louis Botinelli. These works follow African and Middle Eastern themes, a tribute to the fact that Marseille has historically been viewed as a gateway to the East, and to the extensive trade links which the port of Marseille has long maintained with these regions.

The total height of the grand stairway is 15.5 metres. From the top of the stairway, a commanding view of the city, and nearby hills, may be seen.

The railroad station itself, the architect of which was Gustave, Count Desplaces, was one of the early rail facilities in France, opened in 1848. This building has recently been refurbished, with its frontage in keeping with its original design.

(But after the mounting grandeur of the monumental stairway, a train ticket seems almost an anticlimax.)


(1) Spelling: The French spelling of the city is 'Marseille'; the English usage 'Marseilles' has been quite widespread, but increasingly 'Marseille' is being used within English texts also, and I have followed this trend.

Also worth seeing

In Marseille itself, the church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde is a conspicuous landmark overlooking the city; the Old Port (Vieux-Port ) area is picturesque; the City Hall (Hôtel de ville) is housed in a 17th century building near the Old Port.


How to get there: Continental Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle ), where car rental is available (Paris-Marseille: distance: 778 kilometres); a variety of Paris-Marseille air connections is also available. The French railroad company SNCF maintains services from Paris to Marseille. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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