Artistic Marseille: The 2013 European Capital of Culture

The European Union recently named the Southern France city of Marseille as the European Capital of Culture for 2013, a title that’s well deserved. As culturally diverse as it is industrially active, the Provençal city serves as a major French port in the Mediterranean. There are so many attractions to enjoy in Marseille and Provence that the wise traveller will treat themselves to one of the great accommodations available in the area and proceed on their explorations at a leisurely pace.

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First and second photo by: Selden Vestrit

In recent times the city has gone through a gradual but significant revitalization. Its public art scene has benefited from significant government funding, much of which goes into a wide range of festivals, exhibitions and art venues. Described by the New York Times as a grand project to “expand on its existing artistic landscape and dream of what it could become,” this support of public creativity enabled Marseille to capure its title of the Capital of Culture.

While Paris remains France’s top attraction, Marseille has much to recommend it. If you desire a local, crisp rosé wine served with authentic bouillabaisse, it has  an impressive list of Michelin Star restaurants. To feel the pulse of the city, take a walk down the famous Old Port early in the evening and attend a rousing fish auction. Sports are embraced with a fervor here – especially soccer. If you have the chance, watch an unforgettable match at the Stade Velodrome. The local team, Olympique de Marseille, has a fierce rivalry with Paris Saint-Germain. The contest between them is dubbed Le Classique,  also known as Derby de France.

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Photo by: Ophelia photos (Flickr)

Marseille’s contemporary art scene is vibrant. The city’s Museum of Contemporary Art houses one of the world’s most interesting permanent collections of artworks created after the 1950s. Many city galleries are putting on special exhibitions to celebrate the city’s designation as Cultural Capital, including the well-established Galerie of Marseille. You can find a list of the 10 best contemporary art galleries in Marseille at the Culture Trip blog.

Musée des beaux-arts de Marseille, or the Museum of Fine Arts, has long been the best-known art venue in the city. Housing a fine collection of great French and Italian painting masterpieces, as well as many excellent temporary exhibitions, the museum is unrivalled in scale or grandeur. Its stunning sculpture selection is led by the famous artists Auguste Rodin and Pierre Paul Puget. The museum is housed in the Palais Longchamp, an impressive palace that is a city landmark.

Cezanne-studio-2An important part of Marseille’s cultural heritage belongs to Paul Cézanne, the prolific, late 19th-century, post-impressionist painter and perhaps Provence’s best-known artist. One of Cézanne’s most famous works is a seascape, depicting the bay of Marseille as seen from the village of L’Estaque. The painter lived in the small fishing village for a number of years. The village also attracted the likes of  Pierre-Auguste Renoir, a leader of the Impressionist movement, and Georges Braque, who helped develop the Cubist style along with Pablo Picasso. You can actually visit Paul Cézanne’s studio in Aix-en-Provence,  30 km north of Marseille.

The city also offers a diverse selection of architectural styles. The Marseille Cathedral, the Sainte Marie Majeure, an imposing Roman Catholic cathedral overlooking the Old Port, is worth a visit. More famous, however, is the soaring Notre Dame de la Garde. Located on a steep hill, the basilica’s tower marks the highest point in the city.  Check out this album of Marseille, including a view of the Cathedral, at an NYU student’s travel blog. Another historic landmark is the Unite d’Habitation, the archetypical residential housing designed by the famous Le Corbusier.

Whether its cuisine, art or architecture, Marseille, the European Capital of Culture, will thrill and satiate all the senses.

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