Marseille Planning: Fix It or Leave It

Things have changed dramatically. Mika recalled the mayor who, in the 1990s, said the city needed a plan for improving the quality of life. Plan B was abandoning the city altogether.

Choosing Plan A, Marseille in 1995 instigated the ongoing Euromediterranee project, designed to redevelop the central city. The new museums, debuting to coincide with culture-capital events, are part of Plan A.

An evening view of Marseille’s Vieux Port with the city’s iconic Notre-Dame de la Garde highlighting the scene.

An evening view of Marseille’s Vieux Port with the city’s iconic Notre-Dame de la Garde highlighting the scene.

Our group had already been admiring the revitalized Vieux Port (Old Port) from our windows at the InterContinental Marseille-Hotel Dieu, a deluxe property opened in spring 2013.

Even our hotel is an example of Marseille’s rejuvenation: It was masterfully created within the grand structure of an 18th

Exterior of the InterContinental Marseille-Hotel Dieu, a hotel created from an 18th century hospital.

Exterior of the InterContinental Marseille-Hotel Dieu, a hotel created from an 18th century hospital.

century hospital.

For an overview of the city, we did what any tourist does nowadays, traveling to the hilltop 19th century Notre-Dame de la Garde church, 500 feet above sea level.

From here, we could see a lot more than the Vieux Port, including mountains behind the city and the Mediterranean on the other side.

We got a first distant view of the hottest new thing on the Marseille culture scene, the European and Mediterranean

Marseille’s modern European and Mediterranean Civilizations Museum (referred to everywhere as MuCEM). The structure’s black exterior has a surprisingly light and airy texture when seen up close.

Marseille’s modern European and Mediterranean Civilizations Museum (referred to everywhere as MuCEM). The structure’s black exterior has a surprisingly light and airy texture when seen up close.

Civilizations Museum (MuCEM). The MuCEM’s core is a startlingly modern building overlooking the sea just outside the Vieux Port.

When seen up close later, it was an eye-popping manifestation of this city’s rebirth.

The tres modern MuCEM, which debuted June 7, is linked by bridge, over water, to the 17th century Fort Saint-Jean, now also part of the museum.

A little treat for me was a preview, from our hilltop viewing perch, of the 16th century Chateau d’If, an island fortress associated in modern minds with Alexandre Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo.”

Later, when we visited the island and fortress — both much

smaller than I had imagined from the book — I met a Canadian who said she came to Marseille for two reasons, to eat the bouillabaisse, for which the city is famous, and to visit Chateau d’If because she loved Dumas’ book.

The newly debuted MuCEM building, at left, linked to the historic Fort Saint-Jean, both part of Marseille’s European and Mediterranean Civilizations Museum.

The newly debuted MuCEM building, at left, linked to the historic Fort Saint-Jean, both part of Marseille’s European and Mediterranean Civilizations Museum.

Our group ate bouillabaisse, too — in a very lively late-dining spot on the Vieux Port, I might add — although the flavors were very strong for my taste. I won’t be making it at home.

The irony is that bouillabaisse, expensive to buy in a restaurant, was once the fisherman’s cheap dish, made by tossing unsold fish, scales and all, into a pot of boiling water. Well, that’s how Mika described the process.

At trip’s end, a journalist asked hotelier Cyril Denoix, director of operations, Mama Shelter, how Marseille differs from Paris.

It’s less expensive, he said, and “we have the sea and the sun … and beaches … and people smile a lot.”

Also, he said, because of its location, Marseille is very mixed ethnically, but integrated. “It’s a big mess but it works.”

This article appeared in June 2013 at TravelWeekly.com, the electronic edition of Travel Weekly, a national travel trade journal. It was written by Nadine Godwin, who is the author of Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia, published by The Intrepid Traveler.

Reposted with permission. Copyright 2013 Travel Weekly.

 

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