Discover Marseille: 20 Fun Facts about France’s Oldest City

Nestled on the Mediterranean coast, Marseille is a city that has captivated visitors for centuries. Known for its stunning beaches, rich history, and vibrant culture, Marseille is one of the most exciting and dynamic cities in France. From the ancient Greeks to modern-day artists and musicians, Marseille has been home to a diverse range of cultures and influences that have shaped its unique character. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at some of the fun and surprising facts about Marseille, from its ancient origins to its modern-day attractions. So whether you’re planning a trip to Marseille or simply want to learn more about this fascinating city, join us as we explore the magic of Marseille!

Ready to Explore Marseille? Start with these 20 Fascinating Fun Facts!

Whether you’re planning a trip to Marseille or simply want to learn more about this fascinating city, here are some fun facts that you may not know:

  1. Marseille is one of the oldest cities in Europe, having been founded by the Greeks around 600 BC. The city was originally called Massalia and played an important role in the ancient world as a major center for trade and commerce.
  2. Marseille is famous for its beautiful coastline, which stretches for over 57 kilometers and includes some of the most stunning beaches in France. The Calanques, a series of limestone cliffs and coves, are particularly popular with visitors.
  3. Marseille is also famous for its street art, which can be found all over the city, particularly in the Cours Julien neighborhood. The city has a vibrant arts scene and is home to numerous galleries and cultural institutions.
  4. Marseille has a unique dialect of French, known as Marseillese or Marseillais, which is influenced by the city’s history and its diverse population. The dialect is famous for its distinctive accent and slang.
  5. The city has a rich tradition of music, with its vibrant hip-hop and rap scenes being particularly notable. Marseille is also famous for its folk music, including the traditional Provencal genre known as “chanson.”
  6. Marseille is home to numerous cultural institutions, including the Marseille History Museum, the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations, and the MuCEM (Museum of Civilisations from Europe and the Mediterranean). The city also hosts numerous festivals and cultural events throughout the year, including the Marseille Jazz Festival and the Marseille International Documentary Film Festival.
  7. Marseille is a city of contrasts, with both ancient history and modern architecture. The famous Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica, which overlooks the city, is one of Marseille’s most famous landmarks. The city is also home to modern architectural marvels like the CMA CGM Tower, one of the tallest buildings in France.
  8. Marseille has a rich culinary tradition, with dishes like “aïoli,” “pistou,” and “bouillabaisse” being popular in the region. The city is also famous for its pastis, an anise-flavored liqueur that is a popular aperitif in France.
  9. Marseille has a strong soccer culture and is home to one of the most successful soccer clubs in France, Olympique de Marseille. The city is also known for its love of rugby and hosts the annual Orange Velodrome Tournament.
  10. Marseille has been the setting for numerous films, including “The French Connection” and “Love Actually.” The city’s unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty has made it a popular destination for filmmakers and tourists alike.
  11. Marseille is known as the “phocaean city” due to its Greek origins. The Greek word “phocaean” means “of the seals”, and it’s said that the Greeks who founded Marseille chose the site because of the abundance of seals in the area.
  12. The famous French writer Alexandre Dumas was born in Villers-Cotterêts, but his father was a general who was stationed in Marseille for a time. Dumas spent his childhood in Marseille and is said to have been inspired by the city’s history and culture in his writing.
  13. Marseille is home to the world’s largest commercial port, handling over 100 million tons of cargo every year. The port is a major hub for trade between Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.
  14. The Marseille soap, or savon de Marseille, is a traditional soap that has been made in the city for over 600 years. The soap is made from vegetable oil and is said to be particularly gentle and moisturizing.
  15. Marseille is also known for its unique local dishes, such as the “panisse”, a chickpea fritter, and the “navettes”, a type of sweet bread flavored with orange blossom.
  16. The Old Port of Marseille, or Vieux-Port, has been a trading hub since ancient times. Today, it’s a popular destination for tourists and locals alike, with its picturesque waterfront and lively market.
  17. Marseille is home to the iconic Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica, a Catholic basilica that overlooks the city from its perch on a hill. The basilica is known for its stunning views and its statue of the Virgin Mary, which is said to protect the city.
  18. Marseille has a rich history of immigration, with people from all over the world coming to the city to start new lives. Today, the city is home to a vibrant and diverse population, with people from North Africa, Asia, and beyond.
  19. The Calanques National Park, a stunning stretch of cliffs, coves, and beaches, is located just outside of Marseille. The park is a popular destination for hikers, climbers, and beach-goers.
  20. Marseille has a long tradition of soccer, with the local team, Olympique de Marseille, winning numerous national and international titles over the years. The team’s passionate fans, known as the “Marseille Ultras”, are known for their colorful and boisterous support of the team.

About Marseille Cultural scene

Marseille, the second-largest city in France, is not just famous for its beautiful beaches and stunning natural beauty. It is also renowned for its thriving cultural scene. This city has a rich and complex history that has created a melting pot of different cultures, resulting in a unique and diverse cultural landscape.

1. Museums and Galleries

Marseille is home to a range of museums and galleries that cater to every taste. The city’s flagship museum is the MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations), which explores the history, art, and culture of the Mediterranean region. The museum is housed in a striking contemporary building that contrasts with the ancient Fort Saint-Jean on which it sits.

Other museums and galleries include the Musée d’Histoire de Marseille, which chronicles the city’s history and heritage, and the FRAC (Regional Fund for Contemporary Art), which hosts exhibitions of contemporary art from local and international artists.

2. Street Art

Marseille is known for its vibrant street art scene, with numerous murals and artworks adorning buildings and walls throughout the city. The Cours Julien neighborhood is particularly famous for its street art, with works by local and international artists. Other notable areas for street art include the La Plaine neighborhood, the Panier district, and the Old Port.

3. Festivals and Events

Marseille hosts a variety of cultural events and festivals throughout the year. The Marseille Jazz Festival is one of the city’s most popular events, bringing together jazz musicians from around the world. The Fiesta des Suds is a popular music festival that features a range of music genres, from pop to world music. The Marseille International Documentary Film Festival is another major event that showcases the best in documentary filmmaking from around the world.

4. Theater and Performance

Theater and performance are also an important part of Marseille’s cultural scene. The Théâtre National de Marseille is a major venue for contemporary theater and dance performances. The Opéra de Marseille, with its grand interior and impressive stage, hosts a range of operatic productions throughout the year. The Ballet National de Marseille is another major institution that presents contemporary dance performances.

5. Food and Drink

Marseille’s cuisine is a reflection of its diverse cultural heritage. The city’s location on the Mediterranean Sea means that seafood plays a major role in the local cuisine. The most famous dish from Marseille is bouillabaisse, a fish stew that’s typically made with a variety of fish, shellfish, and aromatic herbs. Other popular dishes include ratatouille, a vegetable stew, and panisse, a chickpea fritter.

Marseille is also known for its pastis, an anise-flavored liqueur that’s a favorite among locals. The drink is typically served with a side of water and ice cubes, which are added to dilute the strong anise flavor.

Want to explore Marseille on a budget?

Visiting Marseille on a budget is definitely possible, as there are many affordable ways to experience the city’s beauty and culture. 

Here are some tips for saving money while visiting Marseille

  1. Use public transportation: Marseille has an efficient and affordable public transportation system, including buses, trams, and a metro. Using public transportation instead of taxis or renting a car can save you a lot of money.
  2. Explore on foot: Marseille is a city that’s best explored on foot, with many of its attractions and landmarks located within walking distance of each other. Walking around the city is not only a great way to save money, but it also allows you to experience the city’s culture and atmosphere up close.
  3. Visit free attractions: Marseille has many free attractions, including beaches, parks, and museums. The MuCEM, for example, offers free admission to its permanent exhibitions on the first Sunday of every month.
  4. Eat like a local: Marseille has many affordable and delicious street food options, such as panisse, socca, and pizza. Eating like a local can save you money and give you a taste of the city’s unique cuisine.
  5. Look for deals and discounts: Many attractions, restaurants, and shops in Marseille offer discounts and deals, especially during the off-season. Be sure to research and compare prices to find the best deals.

For more tips on how to save money while visiting Marseille, check out this blog post

Discovering the Beauty of Marseille: Three Days of Exploration

Marseille, the second-largest city in France, is a vibrant and culturally rich destination that offers visitors a unique blend of old-world charm and modern flair. From its picturesque harbor and ancient landmarks to its vibrant street art and contemporary museums, Marseille has something to offer everyone. Here is a three-day itinerary for exploring the beauty of Marseille:

Day 1: Old Port and Le Panier

On your first day, start by exploring Marseille’s Old Port, which has been the heart of the city for more than 2,600 years. Walk along the Quai des Belges and enjoy the view of the harbor and the iconic Fort Saint-Nicolas. Stop by the fish market to see the catch of the day and enjoy a coffee or a snack at one of the cafes in the area.

From the Old Port, make your way to Le Panier, Marseille’s oldest neighborhood. This charming neighborhood is full of narrow streets, colorful buildings, and a variety of shops and restaurants. Visit the Vieille Charité, a former almshouse that now houses a museum and cultural center, and take a stroll through the narrow streets of the neighborhood to see the street art and graffiti.

Day 2: MuCEM and Calanques National Park

On your second day, visit the MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations), located on the waterfront between the Old Port and the Fort Saint-Jean. The museum explores the history, art, and culture of the Mediterranean region and has a striking contemporary building that contrasts with the ancient fort.

In the afternoon, take a trip to the Calanques National Park, a beautiful nature reserve located just outside Marseille. The park is famous for its stunning limestone cliffs, turquoise waters, and diverse wildlife. You can hike or take a boat tour to explore the park, and enjoy the stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea.

Day 3: Notre-Dame de la Garde and Cours Julien

On your final day, visit Notre-Dame de la Garde, a beautiful basilica located on a hill overlooking Marseille. The basilica is a symbol of Marseille and offers stunning views of the city and the surrounding sea. Take a walk around the hill to enjoy the views and see the beautiful mosaics on the exterior of the basilica.

In the afternoon, head to Cours Julien, a vibrant neighborhood known for its street art, cafes, and shops. Explore the colorful streets and stop by the markets and boutiques to pick up some unique souvenirs. Enjoy a coffee or a drink at one of the trendy cafes in the area and soak up the atmosphere of this creative and dynamic neighborhood.

Bonus tip: Self-guided walking tour

Another budget friendly option to explore Marseille is to do a self-guided walking tour and scavenger hunt.

Explore the beautiful city of Marseille in this self-guided walking tour and scavenger hunt. 

The interactive and engaging tour of Marseille is perfect for all ages and is an ideal way to explore the city’s rich history, culture, and hidden treasures. The tour is designed to offer a fun-filled experience as you learn fascinating facts about Marseille, solve riddles and most importantly, enjoy yourself! It is perfect for families, friends, and solo travelers who are looking for a unique and exciting way to discover the city.

As you embark on your tour, you’ll be swept away by the city’s enchanting beauty. Take a stroll through the picturesque streets of Marseille and be transported back in time to the medieval era. You’ll discover some of the city’s most iconic landmarks, such as the Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica, the Vieux-Port, and the Palais Longchamp. These historic buildings are stunning examples of the city’s rich architectural heritage and are sure to leave you in awe. So, take a deep breath and immerse yourself in the beauty and history of this charming city.

But the tour is not just about sightseeing; as you wander through the streets, you’ll be solving riddles and answering questions that will lead you to discover hidden gems. You’ll also learn about the history and culture of Marseille. The tour is self-guided, so you can start and finish it at your own pace, take as many breaks as you like, and enjoy the city’s many delights. The tour is designed to be completed in around 2 hours, but you can take as long as you like to finish it. So, grab your walking shoes, and get ready for a unique and exciting adventure through the heart of Marseille!

In conclusion, Marseille is a city of contrasts and surprises, with a rich history, diverse culture, and stunning natural beauty. Whether you’re interested in exploring ancient history, indulging in culinary delights, or simply soaking up the Mediterranean sun, Marseille has something for everyone.


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