Saturday, February 14, 2015

Ambling around Marseille's Vieux Port

Sailboats in Marseille's Vieux Port

The old port, or vieux port, has been the heart of Marseille for 26 centuries. Through the ages, the city has had several names: Massalia (Greek), Massilia (Roman) and Masiho (Medieval). Since the port was essential to the city's economy and safety, two forts were built to keep watch: Fort Saint-Nicolas and Fort Saint-Jean.

Ferris Wheel at Marseille's Vieux Port

Fort Saint-Jean was built to guard Marseille's port

Ferry boats have been shuttling les Marseillais and visitors
across the port since 1880. Today's boats are eco-friendly and free. 

With our hotel perfectly positioned a five-minute walk from the port, my sister and I start our first day in Marseille eagerly exploring the blocks on the north side of the port.

We check our map to figure out what this magnificent building near the town hall could be. Turns out Hôtel Dieu is a former hospital. Now it's a five-star hotel.

Shapely shrubs in front of Hôtel Dieu in Marseille
Just around the corner is Place Daviel, named for Jacques Daviel, the oculist who performed the first cataract surgery in 1745. (But, of course, you probably already knew that.)

Des Accoules Church in Place Daviel

Cheerful building front in Marseille

Giggling students in Place des Augustines

A former poor house, la Vieille Charité is an imposing building that now houses a museum and cultural center. The idea for building a "workhouse for beggars" was conceived in 1622, but it took more than a century to complete. When imprisoning the poor fell out of favor, the building was turned first into an asylum, then later into barracks for the French Foreign Legion. After WWII, squatters and impoverished families moved in, but eventually were rehoused elsewhere. In the 1960s la Vieille Charité was pretty rundown, but the Minister of Culture stepped in and restored the building to its former ... well, I guess one could call it "glory,"

The Baroque-style arcade and chapel of La Vieille Charité were designed
by renown artist/architect/engineer Pierre Puget.

My sister suddenly remembers that she forgot to bring her umbrella,
near la Halle Puget in Marseille

View from the steps of Église Saint-Laurent in Marseille,
near the entrance to MuCEM

Our first day exploration of Marseille includes a visit to the city's newest museum, the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations.

One of the galleries in Marseille's Musée des civilisations de l'Europe
 et de la Méditerranée (MuCEM)
Marseille is justifiably proud of MuCEM. According to the museum's website, "Never before has a museum been exclusively dedicated to the cultures of the Mediterranean, despite their richness and diversity in terms of history and civilisation."
An ornate wagon used to transport olive oil is on display at MuCEM.

One of the more whimsical displays in a special exhibition of food at MuCEM

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