Old Port (Vieux Port)
The Old Port is the hub of Marseilles, lined by its quais, filled with fishing boats and yachts, and surrounded by small streets teeming with seafood restaurants and shops. The Quai des Belges, at the end of the port, hosts a fish market, every morning of the week, that has a life of its own. The wide quais are popular places for leisurely strolling, and the many terrace cafés opposite provide handy "rest stops" for when you're tired of walking. You can even make a "loop" of the Old Port, walking around three sides and taking the little ferryboat across from one side to the other.
The Old Port inlet was used as a landing site by the Phocaeans in 600 BC, and remained the center of maritime activity until the 19th century, when the modern port was built to handle the large steamships. The quais, so popular as promenades today, were built by kings Louis XII and Louis XIII.
The old Town Hall (Hôtel de Ville) faces the Quai du Port on the north side of the Old Port, and just behind is the 16th-century Maison Diamantée that houses the Museum of Old Marseilles. The Roman Docks Museum is a couple of blocks behind the Quai du Port, and the Quartier Panier is up the hill on this side.
The La Major Cathedrals are northwest of the Old Port, near the Gare Maritime.
Near the northeast corner is the Bourse (stock exchange), the archaeological Garden of Ruins and the city's central "mall", the "Centre Bourse". The Historical Museum of Marseilles is beside the Garden of Ruins, actually inside the"Centre Bourse".
Restaurants line most of the south side (Quai de Rive Neuve), and a whole section of streets adjacent to the quai. The city's Opera is in this section, and the Théâtre National, "Le Criée" is located about half way down the quai, facing the port.
The Old Port is filled mainly with small fishing boats and small sailboats, not the large yachts you'll see on the "playgrounds" of the Cote d'Azur. Tied to the quai in front of the Hôtel de Ville is the old barquentine "Le Marseillois". It looks authentic, but weary of its long sea voyages of the past. It now has a very good restaurant inside its wooden hull, with a quite reasonable 170 F menu, and a 90 F weekday lunch. When we were there last, two lovely old gaff ketches were tied up beside "Le Marseillois": the white-hulled "Alliance" and the "Le Don du Vent".
The Panier district is like the medieval villages of Beyond. From the Old Port, Le Panier is visible as a hill of tightly-packed old houses behind the north side of the Quai du Port, behind the Hôtel de Ville. Just a few minutes walk takes you up step-streets of brick and stone, to the Place de Moulins at the top. This area certainly isn't the richest of Marseilles, but it has been under gradual renovation for the past five years or so, and you'll see more refurbished old buildings than completely run-down ones.
This is a "quartier" with both character and pride. There's a large open area beside the Rue Panier, with a view into the domed chapelle of the "Vieille Charité, and on the corner is an Office de Tourisme with information and documentation.
The Old Charity Cultural Center (Vieille Charité) has beautiful three-tiered arched balconies surrounding the lovely domed Chapel in the center. The Mediterranean Archaeology museum is inside here, along with a small café, a good bookstore and a few other small, discrete galleries and shops.
The 17th-century Canebiére avenue runs from the end of the old port through the center of the city to the Square de Stalingrad (where it continues on as Bvd de la Liberation). La Canebiére was grand during the Second Empire (the time of Napoleon III's rule from 1852-1870, when the fine old buildings lining the avenue were built. Today, most of the lustre is gone, although the bustle and activity at the bottom part is reminiscent of the older Canebiére that symbolized Marseilles and helped make it famous.
The name Canebière came from the Provençal word canèbe (hemp), for the rope factory that was once here. During the Middle Ages, hemp fields (chènevières) in the drained marshes at the end of the Old Port produced the hemp. The local factory wove the hemp into rope for rigging the sailing ships using the port.
The many streets running off from La Canebiére are the best shopping areas, like Rue St. Férréol and Rue de Rome. The Cantini Museum is at the bottom this area, of to the right about six blocks.
About half way up La Canebiére, on the right, is the Place du Marché des Capucins, with a daily produce market.
Place Général-de-Gaulle, at the end near the old port and opposite the Borse, is a popular meeting place for the locals. The ground floor of the stock exchange building houses the Chamber of Commerce and the Marseilles Maritime and Commercial Museum.
South of the Port and Garde Hill
The area immediately south of the Old Port was built during the reign of Louis XIV, who had started the expansion of Marseilles in 1660. The docks, that had been here since 1488, were walled and enlarged in 1666, with accommodation for 20,000 people, mainly seamen and galley slaves. The old dockyards were pulled down in 1780, and the area completely rebuilt into its current form of large rectangular buildings.
The Pharo Park is on the low hill at the far end of the old port, about a 20-minute walk along the Quai de Rive Neuve and Bvd C. Livon.
The Basilique St-Victor stands near the southwest corner of the Old Port, by the Fort St-Nicolas. It's a reasonable walk from the old port, and not far from the Pharo Park.
The spectacular Notre-Dame de la Garde is visible from just about everywhere, including from the autoroute if you drive down from Aix. It sits on top of the Garde Hill with a fantastic view of Marseilles, the ports, the islands, and the hills to the north and east. It's a few blocks south of the port, with a serious up-hill climb, so car or bus cold be considered.
Borély Park is about 4 km south of the Old Port, accessible by car or by the number 83 bus. Botanical Gardens are located at the east end of the park.
Longchamp District - Quartier Longchamp
This area, centered around the Palais Longchamp is about 2 km northwest of the Old Port. From the Square de Stalingrad at the top of La Canebiére, Bvd Longchamp runs through an area of business and residential apartment buildings (not very interesting) to the Palais Longchamp.
The Palais Longchamp with its magnificent entrance, contains the Fine Arts Museum and the Natural History Museum. There's also an aquarium in the basement. The rest of this wonderful Longchamp Park has an observatory, playgrounds, and acres of walks.
The Grobet-Labadié Museum is across the Place H. Dunant in front of the Palais Longchamp.
This is the area around the main railway station, northwest of the Old Port. It's easy to get to, just a few minutes walk from the Old Port and La Canebière. It's not a great tourist area, but train stations are always interesting: it's wonderful to walk inside a building and see TGVs parked there. There's also a nice view from the top of the station steps over the city of Marseilles.
The area around the station is mostly apartments, schools, universities and other large buildings. Two blocks in front of the station, at the Place J. Guesde, is the Arc de Triomphe.