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Visiting the Longchamp Palace, Marseille, France: 19th century grandeur, with fine gardens
Up-market water tower by Architect Henri-Jacques Espérandieu
Regarding the name of this fine structure in Marseille (sometimes written in English 'Marseilles'), the visitor may exclaim: Oh, I've heard of Longchamp! Well, this may indeed be so, but the Longchamp Palace (French: Palais Longchamp ) is not to be confused with the famous racecourse near Paris, also referred to as 'Longchamp' (1).
So which famous prince, duke or count lived here? is another question that the visitor may ask. A good question, but nowhere near the mark.
In fact, this structure started as a water tower, with the eventual complex developing into ornamental gardens and museums. The project was a long time coming to fruition. Commenced in 1839, the architect who in time was given responsibility was Henri-Jacques Espérandieu (1829-1874)(2). Thus aged 10 when the project began, and not yet an architect, Espérandieu was eventually given the commission only after a great deal of argument, controversy about rival plans and political upheaval.
From 1849, the Marseille Canal (French: Canal de Marseille ) was carrying water from the Durance River to the city. This itself was a great, 19th century project, involving a total of 160 kilometres of waterways, for which the engineer Franz Major de Montricher was responsible. A water tower was thus planned as part of a permanent commemoration of this feat.
The central fountain is enhanced by a number of statues sculpted by Pierre-Jules Cavelier (1814-1894), one of which represents the Durance River.
Incorporated into Second Empire-style wings of the monument are a Fine Art Museum (French: Musée des beaux-arts ) and a Natural History Museum (French: Muséum d'histoire naturelle ). In the Fine Art Museum, work by French artists exhibited include paintings by Charles Le Brun, Gustave Courbet, Camille Corot, and many others. In the Natural History Museum, one of the halls, the Salle de Provence , specializes in exhibits relating to the flora and fauna of the region. A colonnade links the two museum wings of the complex.
The gardens at the Palace form a large panorama, and one might be forgiven for thinking that royalty would once have walked through them.
So, next time you come off cruise control along the highway as you slow down to drive through a small Midwestern town, its skyline so often dominated by a water tower: just remember that water towers come in all sorts of shapes and sizes... .
(1) Bear in mind also that there are other places in France with the same, or similar, name, some of which are written with a final 's': 'Longchamps'.
(2) Other buildings for which Architect Espérandieu was responsible include Marseille's Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde church, and the Marseille's Cathedral, often known as la Cathédrale de la Major ). Architect Espérandieu died at the early age of 45.
Also worth seeing
In Marseille itself, its numerous visitor attractions include the Old Port (French: Vieux Port), Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde church overlooking the city, and the Saint-Charles Station's grand stairway.
How to get there: Continental Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle ), where car rental is available ; a variety of air connections between Paris and Marseille is also available. The French railroad company SNCF maintains services from Paris to Marseille. (Paris-Marseille: distance: 778 kilometres.) Some services may be withdrawn, without notice. 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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