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Walk One - La Panier

Let's discover Marseille's old secrets.....

Walk up to the top of 'the basket' to see the place of the windmills

and then have lunch at the Bar of 13 Coins!

The Greeks arrived here 2600 years ago, and Marseille has been a major port since then. The small natural harbour above was a safe place for sailing ships as they brought cargo from all over the Mediterranean and the world.

Waves of immigrants have arrived here when conditions in Africa. the Middle East and Asia were dangerous, and when poverty forced people to find a better life. This has made Marseille into a cosmopolitan city with many different cultures. The highest number of immigrants have come from Algeria, across the Mediterranean. Marseille has about 100 different small communities, each with its own flavour and culture. 

Marseille has a reputation of being a dangerous city, with areas of poverty and ethnic disturbances - and in these parts the danger can be real. The northern areas have the most problems. La Panier, to the north of the old port, used to be a very poor area, but has become a tourist destination and is now quite safe to walk. Exercise caution wherever you walk!

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Small and some medium cruise ships can dock at the Joliette pier, just north of the Old Port (left of the photo above). Large ships dock at the Leon Gourret cruise port, about 6 km/4 miles north of the main part of the city.The latter is in an industrial area, so it is necessary to take the shuttle to the interesting part of town. Shuttle buses stop close to the middle of the north side of the harbour, the left side in the photo above.

The natural harbour was why the original town began, and modern Marseille still faces towards the Vieux Port (old port). Two forts were built to protect the port, one on either side of the mouth.

Walk One - the Panier

Step 1 - The Old Port to Place des Moulins

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La Panier is the original district of Marseille, built on the little rise of land to the north of the old port. This is where the Greek and Roman town (called Massalia) was built, and it continued to be important through the Middle Ages.

"La Panier" means 'the basket' - a large basket that women used to hold their shopping and was often carried on the back.


In the 1800's the area was run-down and rough with sailors and fishermen residents - and then ethnic groups from Italy, Africa and Asia added their stamp on it.

Today it is home to people from all over the world - with restaurants and small shops to interest you.

Begin this walk beside the harbour, on the north side. This is where the shuttle bus will drop you if you come from the distant cruise port. Here are the little tourist trains that go on two routes - one through the Panier district and the other the area across the harbour on the south side. There are big apartment buildings along the harbour on the north side - with restaurants along the ground-floor arcades, and loggias on the top floor (open areas covered by a roof). 

Walk towards the end of the harbour until you come to the city hall (beside). This is a lovely Baroque building with flags flying. Go past it and turn left.

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Ahead is the InterContinental Marseille Hotel Dieu. For more than 800 years this building was the main hospital in Marseille. The first building was built in 1188, and the hospital was added to over the centuries. In 2003 the site began a major restoration, becoming a lavish five-star hotel. 

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La Panier is on a small hill, and there are stairs to the top through the narrow streets. If you find stairs difficult, take the little train from the harbour to La Panier.

As you come to the street below the big hotel, turn left. Ahead you will see the old church - Notre Dame of Accoules (beside left). It was originally built on the site of a temple to Minerva. Nuns occupied it from 1033. It was destroyed several times and rebuilt , and all that remains today of the original is the bell tower. It is one of the oldest and most important buildings in Marseille, because the bell tower rang the alarm in the ancient city.

Cross the street, and you will see stairs at the end of the tall fence around the church. Walk up the stairs past the old bell tower, and when the street/path levels out a bit, take the stairs on your right. This second path with stairs is called Rue des Moulins - or Street of the Windmills, and it opens out onto the Place des Moulins. Where are the windmills, you may ask? Originally there were about 15, here on the top of the hill - built in the 1500's to grind grain - and for food production in the city in case of siege. 


The top of one windmill can be seen above the school after you enter the square (beside left). If you walk into the small space behind the school, perhaps you can still see the base of it (I am not sure whether it still can be seen or whether it has been built into the building). The other is at the far right hand corner of the square. Under the square is a huge 12,000 square metres cistern - water for the city.

Step 2 - Place des Moulins to the Bar of 13 Coins

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As you leave Place des Moulins, go down the street on the right-hand end of the square to the first street, and turn left onto Rue du Panier. This is the 'main street' in the district, crossing the small hill from one side to the other. This is a wonderful street to take time - there are great little stores with ancient store fronts, the paint crumbling on the signs. Watch for the street art - with everything from print graffiti to elegant murals.

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In about 3 short blocks you will come to a square with trees and outdoor restaurants. Have some ice cream at the shop as you come into the square....Turn right here and walk through the square - there is interesting street art towards the end, including the lovely one with a fisherman and the old port (beside left).

At the very end of the square is La Vieille Charité (The Old Charity, built in the 1600's to house the city's beggars and vagrants to keep them off the streets of Marseille. It was built in a rectangle with windows facing in, and a chapel (right) in the center. It was, in reality, a prison, so the poor were not seen on the streets. At one time there were over 1000 people housed here. They had workshops to teach people a trade and children were placed as servants. By the end of the 1800's, the building was used in a number of different ways, and it was restored in 1980. It now houses the Mediterranean Archeology Museum, which is worth a visit.

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At the end of the square in front of the Old Charity a street angles across the open area, outlined by concrete posts. Follow this to the left, walking beside the street art.

As you enter another small square - there is a small alley on your right that often has an art display. Kitty-corner from where you enter this square is the Bar des 13 Coins, a historic place to eat and drink. As for the name - 'coins' means 'corners' and obviously there aren't 13 corners here. Apparently 200 years ago it had a Swiss owner who named it Bar des 13 Cantons, or counties in Switzerland. Back in the hands of a Frenchman, in the Provençal language a 'canton' is a 'corner' which in French is 'coin'.... if you follow that!

Step 3 - The Bar of 13 Coins back to the old port

Leave the 13 Coins and walk down the stairs from the square to the street below.

Turn left and walk to the street art  painting of King Kong in Marseille, and turn right. (Should that be gone, the end of the first block).....

Turn right, and in a short block you are in front of the Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure, known as Cathédrale la Major.

This is an enormous building built in the Byzantine-Roman Revival style in the late 1800's (below left). 

It was built next to the remains of La Vieille (old) Major, the 12th-century church it replaced. Parts of that old church were demolished to build the new cathedral (below right)

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After you have admired the church and the views of the ocean and docks, walk away from the church entrance. Ahead you will see stairs down to the highway, but before you go down - have a look at the street art on the building facing you. I can't find the story of the big painting on top, but on the bottom right is a small stylistic picture of La Panier in the middle ages, with the windmills on the top of the hill.

Go down the stairs and cross the street. A couple of fascinating modern buildings are ahead.

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The first is the Villa Méditerranée. The building is an interesting design, with a cantilever that comes out 130 feet over the sea pool. It has not, however, been very successful - it was estimated that it would cost 20 million Euros to build, and finally cost 73 million. After that, the upkeep has been high, and recently the roof had leaks which are to be fixed in 2019. Also, limits were placed on the number of people that it would handle, as there were problems with evacuation in case of emergency. It is interesting to see, and the angles make great photos!

The second is The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations (MuCEM). It is a square building, but on all sides and the roof are lacy walls. These are made of concrete, and the sun makes patterns on the walls and floors of the building. You can, of course, visit the museum - but even if you don't go into the actual museum part, it appears that you can walk inside of the lacy outer shell - which goes up to the top story on a ramp. There is a restaurant on the roof, with great views.

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From the roof of the MuCEM, there is a narrow walkway over to the other part of the museum, the old Fort of Saint Jean.  It was a fortress from ancient times, and what you see was built in 1660 by Louis XIV. It was used as a prison in the 1700's, and during WWII the Germans used it as an ammunition depot, and when Marseille was liberated the ammunition was exploded, destroying many buildings in the area.

You can wander around this large area and see the dry gardens, the tower and the structures that have access.

Then walk across the second overhead path, over the highway and to the old church on the headland.

You can see the two walkways in the photo beside.

As you walk across the second overhead pedestrian bridge. the ancient Church of St. Laurent is ahead. It was originally built in the 1200's, with some changes and updating in the 1700's. It is in the simple Romanesque-Provençal style - you can go inside and admire the simplistic grandeur. The church survived the explosions at the fort across the street in 1944 - most surrounding buildings did not.

Walk around to the back of the church, and follow this street past the bell tower, straight for a couple of blocks and around a curve - and then on your left is a square called Place de Lenche.

I have led you to Place de Lenche for a simple reason. Yes, there are cafes where you can sit out under the trees and have lunch and a glass of wine - but this square is famous for its view. I will let you discover it!

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Go down the stairs towards the harbour, and you are close to being back where you started.

I hope you enjoy La Panier - there is a variety of things to see. One of my favourites must be the colourful graffiti...... supposedly it comes from the local hip-hop culture.

The Transporter Bridge

The Transporter Bridge is a fascinating bit of the history of the Old Port. It was opened in 1905 to take people and carriages and cars across the mouth of the port. It was an amazing structure, built 20 years after the Eiffel Tower when tall steel structures were in vogue. As you can see in the photo, the pylons were beside the forts on either side of the port entrance.

I had never heard of transporter bridges, so had to research - and found there were quite a few of these in Europe and America. The Marseille bridge was one of the first and largest. The main span was 165 metres (540 feet) and the pylons were 80 metres (260 feet) tall. The tallest sailing ships could go beneath the connecting platform. A carriage ran along the underside of the platform, with cables down to the transporter. A tourist could climb stairs to the top deck or take an elevator to a restaurant and souvenir shop with great views. In the top picture you can see the stairs going up on each end - scary......)

The transporter bridge was closed by the 1930's

'due to the lack of means to maintain it'. 


WW II History of the Area

Marseille was, of course, part of Vichy France during the war - under the control of the German army but helped by the French Vichy government. In Marseille on the 22nd to the 24th of January, 1943, a 'round up' took place by German and French police. 30,000 people were displaced, and 2000 Jewish people were separated and sent to death camps.

The narrow winding streets of La Panier were considered to hide people dangerous to the regime, but the round up was not confined to this area - all the residential areas of the city were invaded, except for the wealthy neighbourhoods. After  the 24th, most areas were systematically destroyed.

You can now see where the buildings built after 1945 are - the City Hall was the only building facing the harbour that was left standing, as well as the Diamond House behind it.


The picture above right shows the area between Cathédrale la Major (in the background) and the tower of the Church of St. Laurent, with the port buildings above and left - before the destruction. The photo was taken from the north end of the transporter bridge. The churches were left standing and everything else destroyed. The Germans also dynamited the transporter towers to fall across the mouth of the port to prevent ships entering. The north tower fell into the bay but the south tower didn't fall at this time.

The Battle of Marseille took place on August 21 to 28, 1944. Marseille was liberated by the Free French Forces, helped by the Allied Forces. 

The Marseille Walk 2 can be simply a continuation of Walk 1. The distances are not too great. There are some shortcuts, mentioned in the Walk 2 part.

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