Marseille is the second largest city in France, and its largest coastal town.
Cave paintings discovered near Marseille date to 27,000 and 19,000 BC. The first permanent Greek settlement (Massalia) dates from 600 BC. At its height in the 4th century BC, the walled city was a major trading center, connecting other ports with its overland routes that reached as far as the Baltic Sea. The city allied with the Roman Republic and remained independent until the rise of Julius Caesar who seized it in 49 BC. In the first century AD, Christianity came to Massalia as the catacombs above the city would indicate. Many believe that Mary Magdalen evangelized here with her brother Lazarus.
The city was sacked in the late 700s and did not regain its power again until the 10th century. As did most of the port towns along the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Massalia passed back and forth under the control of its latest conqueror. In 1482 it was incorporated into France. In 1536, it became a naval base. In the late 1600s, with the strengthening of the defenses and two castles built to defend the harbor, Marseille was once again a major trading port. Through the 1700s, the city continued to grow, despite another plague that killed over 100,000 and in 1792 they sent their men to defend the revolutionary government. The song they sang as they marched to Paris, La Marseillaise, is now the French national anthem. The city was badly damaged during WWII. Today, the port is still the cities major source of income.
The city has its own culture. Part French, part Algerian, it is like no other city in France. The food is French with a Mediterranean twist. Must see sites in the city center include the Vieux Port (Old Port) guarded by the massive Fort Saint-Nicolas and Fort Saint-Jean. Here you will find many cafes and the daily fish market. The Abbey of Saint-Victor is one of the oldest places of Christian worship in Europe. Centre de la Vieille Charité, built as an alms (poor) house, is now home to two museums, a bookstore and café. Other sites include the baroque Hotel de Ville, and the Romano-Byzantine Cathedral of Sainte-Marie-Majeure. Outside the city center is the Basilica of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde, and its commanding views of the city. Palais Longchamp is home to the Museum of Fine Arts and the Natural History Museum. The islands in the bay include Château d'If, a setting from the Count of Monte Cristo.
Marseille is the gateway to everything Provencal. In a day you can reach Avignon and its Palais des Papes, Van Goghs charming Arles, Aix-en-Provence, Nimes and its Roman-era Arenes de Nimes, the fishing village of Cassis, hilltop towns or the wines of chateauneuf du pape. Shore Excursioneer has unique and selected Cruise Excursions in Marseille to help you see and sample all of the highlights during your day in Provence!