Marseille Sightseeing

La Vielle Charité

La Vielle Charité was built as an almshouse for the poor between 1671 and 1749. There are four ranges of arcaded galleries at a height of 3 storeys that face an interior courtyard and a chapel fronted by a portico with classic columns. It’s built in the Baroque style out of pink and yellow sandstone. Today, La Vielle Charité is the home of a couple of museums, a research library of archeological documents, a school of advanced studies in the social sciences, offices, and temporary exhibit space.

I didn’t explore any of the museums but instead enjoyed walking around the site, taking pictures of its impressive architecture.

Cathedrale de la Major

Le Cathedrale de la Major was built from 1852-1896. Its foundation stone was laid by Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon III). The site that the church was built on has been the the site of Marseille cathedrals since the 5th century. In fact the remains of an older and much smaller cathedral, one dating to the 12th century, still stands beside the newer one. They are referred to as the “New Major” and the “Old Major.”

The beautiful exterior of the church is a highlight.

A lovely doorway.

There were some interesting flags to examine.

There were a few beautiful stained glass panels inside the church that I enjoyed seeing.

A view of the church from the water.

The old chapel.

Palais du Pharo

The Palais du Pharo was built under the orders of Napoleon III for his wife, Empress Eugénie de Montijo. It’s a beautiful palace with a sweet piece of real estate – it’s located at the foot of the harbour entrance, just beyond Fort Saint Nicolas, and has one of the best views of the sunset in the city.

As is the case with many stories of impressive palaces built for kings and emperors, Napoleon III never actually stayed here. After his death Empress Eugénie gave the Palais to the city of Marseille. It then became a school of medicine in 1904.

Neil and I went up to the Palais du Pharo to watch the sunset one night, and I took some pictures of the building and the surrounding cityscape while it was magically lit up by the fading sun.

Fort Saint Nicolas with Le MUCEM and Cathedrale de la Grande.

Vieux Port.

Abbey of Saint Victor

The Abbey of Saint Victor is one of the oldest sites in Marseille. Saint Victor was a Roman soldier turned martyr, executed in this location by the Romans in 290 or 302. A monastery was founded here in the early 5th century, and the first church was built in 440. The monastery was destroyed by invaders in the early 11th century but then rebuilt. When its abbot, Guillaceme Grimoard, became pope in 1361, he enlarged the church and built high walls around it – which is the building that remains today.

The Abbey became one of the most prestigious and powerful religious centres in the south of France until it began to decline in importance in the 16th century.

During the French Revolution the treasures were stripped from the church, the relics burned, and the church became a warehouse, a prison, and a barracks.

Saint Paul and the dragon greets you over the entrance. (Although it does look more lizard-like here).

Today, the church is beautiful because of its simplicity. When you’re inside, you can almost imagine what it would have felt like to be a worshipper in the medieval ages.

The ceilings are tall, the church is dark and sombre, and it smells a little earthy. That might have been because it was pouring rain outside.

One of my favourite parts of the Abbey was the Apocalypse Tapestry.

I don’t know what it says to me that my favourite part of visiting an ancient church is the depictions of hellfire, but there you go.

Some relics held in the museum. (I think relics are a little creepy).

There’s an impressive crypt to explore in the lower levels.

The Black Madonna is stored in the crypt.

The Abbey looks very much the same today as it did in medieval times.

History Museum of Marseille

I spent hours at the amazing city museum. Here are a few of the highlights.

The museum has the remains of a few ancient shipwrecks, including that of this Greek boat that dates from the 6th century B.C.E., the same time that Marseille was founded by the ancient Greeks.


A fragment of ancient Greek pottery from the same period.

Also, it’s good to know that the tradition of graffiti artwork in Marseille has a long history. This also dates to the 6th century B.C.E.

I’m jumping through several exhibits and periods of time here to the Marseille plague of 1720. Check out these costumes that the doctors wore!

Marie-Thérèse Charlotte of France, the eldest daughter of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, drank from this glass. She married the Duke of Angoulème, hence her title of Duchess. I didn’t know this at the time I took the picture (exploring museum exhibits in another language can be tough), I just thought the case for the glass was pretty. My love of history takes me to some strange places!

This is a “circle repeater” from 1787. The information at the museum read that “this exceptional instrument, conceived by Jean-Charles de Borda and realized by Lenoir. In 1790, the Assembly decided to create a universal measurement, the metre, defined as the ten millionths of a quarter of a meridian. The measurement of the meridian is entrusted to two astronomers, Delambre and Mechain. Between 1792 and 1799 they measure the arc of the meridian between Dunkirk and Barcelona. They perform this measurement by triangulation, thanks to this repeating circle. by extrapolating the results of their measurements. they can calculate the length of one. Of the four instruments used during this expedition, only this copy has survived.”

I don’t really understand this, but it sounds pretty cool. And I’m sure Neil and his friend Michael will find it fascinating. This is for you, guys! I thought it was just a cool old telescope.

Astronomical lenses from the 17th and 18th century. They were used at the observatory in Le Panier, close to where our apartment was located!

The white flag of the German surrender. “This flag was handed over to the city of Marseille by the Allied military authorities on September 4, 1944. The panel on which it is displayed was made from the wood of a German vessel.”

A coat from 1920 that I would totally wear today.

Mostly so I could pair it with these shoes.

This fellow and his fancy pantalons amused me.

There was so much to see in this museum. Definitely check it out if you’re in the area.

Musée du Savon

Marseille takes its soap seriously, so I decided to learn more about it by coming to the Museum of Soap!

My French is terrible, but I know enough that I can buy a ticket and half translate some of the exhibit descriptions. I wasn’t able to keep up with the French instructions for how to work this machine, as demonstrated by the woman working there, but that’s okay. I try to be polite and respectful, as I think one should be whether or not you know the local language.

At this point the woman went to deal with an English-speaking customer. She asked him, in French, if he would like to buy a ticket for the museum. “TRY to speak English,” he replied snarkily. As if it was on her, the French woman, to speak his language, even though he was the visitor. I couldn’t believe it. No attempt at even cursory politeness. His tone seemed to imply that she was inferior because she didn’t speak English. I wish I had turned to him and said, either in French of English, “TRY not to be a dick” but, unfortunately, these great comebacks only come to me later. I was too shocked in the moment by his rudeness to stick up for her, and I regret that. Hopefully I’ll be quicker and wittier next time.

The customer service people in France have been nothing but kind and polite to me, even when I struggle with their language. There is a myth that French people are rude to English speakers, but I didn’t see that. What I saw, instead, was why English-speaking tourists get the reputation they do.

Neil and I saw this later in Germany when we went on a German tour in Nuremberg. The other English-only speakers took their audioguides and buggered off on their own throughout the rest of the site, leaving our guide somewhat exasperated – she didn’t want them being on their own in case they got hurt, or in case they broke something. Neil and I were the only English-speakers who stayed with the group. I think that even if you don’t know the language and you have your own audio guide, it’s common courtesy to stick with the rest of the group and go at the pace that the guide wants to lead you on. But anyway, I digress. Let’s focus instead on the colourful Marseille soap!

It all smelled really nice, too!

Soap… for cats?

I guess it could be a thing?

An 18th century bathtub.

Not sure I’d want to sit in that.

An 18th century washing machine.

Le Palais de Justice

Neil and I came across the Marseille courthouse while looking for an art store.

Fish and Boats

The Fish Market in Vieux Port happens every day, but Friday morning is the best day to go see it. The fish are so fresh, some of them are still slapping around on the tables.


It’s also fun to walk by the marina at night, to see the boats all lit up.

All right, this concludes my Marseille posts. I think I can safely say that I have blogged more about Marseille than any other blogger out there.

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3 Replies to “Marseille Sightseeing”

  1. Gladys Grey says:

    Fascinating stories and pictures. thank you Leah

  2. Don Grey says:

    Darn, Leah. That’s only 10 great posts about Marseilles. I learned a great deal and enjoyed reading your blog. I look forward to what is to come in the cities that follow. Well done!

  3. Leah says:

    Thank you very much! 🙂 I’m glad you are enjoying the posts!

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