Marseille is the second largest city in France. Such a dynamic port city founded by the Greeks and always been a multicultural pot from its establishment until nowadays. Marseille has this reputation of being rough and gritty and I have to admit, as most of the port cities I’ve seen, yes it is. Putting aside its tough face Marseille really is a beautiful Mediterranean gem and its prettiness mostly comes from narrow alleyways and colorful facades rather than prestigious and contemporary buildings. You would need at least two full days to take in as much as Marseille can offer and if you stay longer go a bit further and reach Les Calanques – rocky inlets gashed by the seas of the ice age resulting in a spectacular coastline. But this is for nature lovers, here we are talking about the man-made environment.
CMA CGM HEADQUARTERS |ZAHA HADID|
The Headquarters for the French shipping company CMA CGM is Zaha Hadid’s first built tower (2011). The tower stands at the centre of the city’s regeneration project called Euroméditerranée, which is located in the northern part of Marseille. It’s definitely the tallest building in Marseille with its 33-storey structure wrapped by a fully glazed facade with a darker central part running up to the top.
Tour CMA CGM, 4 Quai d’Arenc, 13002 Marseille
FRAC |KENGO KUMA|
FRAC is a contemporary art centre designed by the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. It is one of the cultural buildings completed when Marseille was elected as European Capital of Culture in 2013. What will make you stop you’re passing by it is its chequered facade made of opaque glass rectangles arranged in different angles.
20 Boulevard de Dunkerque, 13002 Marseille
LES DOCKS DE LA JOLIETTE |5+1AA ARCHITECTES|
The Docks is an emblematic complex made of four warehouses in the port of Marseille. So rich in history and so meaningful for the city that its industrial architecture has been preserved, renovated and new functions have been given to it. Now Les Docks de la Joliette is a big covered market that hosts in the ground floor independent local boutiques and restaurants/cafés. The highlight of the renovation project are the four courtyards all treated in a different aesthetical way following different themes. Studio 5+1 AA created a sort of urban interiors decorated with different installations, plants, lights and colours.
20 Boulevard de Dunkerque, 13002 Marseille
MUCEM |RUDY RICCIOTTI|
The MUCEM was opened in 2013 as another of the several cultural buildings that opened to celebrate Marseille as a European Capital of Culture. Located in the historic Fort St-Jean which guards the entrance to the Vieux Port. Its design was the object of an architectural competition which resulted in general surprise when names as Zaha Hadid, Steven Holl and Rem Koolhaas were put aside in favour of an almost-unknown local architect: Rudy Ricciotti. The architecture he created is spectacular, with a see-through concrete patterned structure that encloses a glazed cube. This inner box is wrapped with free and open to the public circulation routes made of passages and ramps that connect the different levels. Well, this promenade architecturale is simply extraordinary thanks to the brilliant light and shadow effect created by the intricate metallic beams and columns structure and the outer cut out concrete veil.
7 Promenade Robert Laffont, 13002 Marseille
VILLA MÉDITERRANÉE |STEFANO BOERI|
Villa Mediterranee is another public building next to the MUCEM that hosts research, documentation and projects regarding the condition of the Mediterranean sea. The Italian architect Stefano Boeri designed a cantilevered exhibition floor and an underwater conference space for this waterfront building that embraces the Mediterranean sea.
Espl. J4, 13002 Marseille
MUSÉE DE L’ARCHÉOLOGIE MÉDITERRANÉENNE
In the heart of the so-called Le Paniera charity shelter was built by a local architect Pierre Buget. He designed the stunning arched sienna-stone courtyard that now houses Musée de l’archéologie méditerranéenne. It’s free to enter and a great place to enjoy the current exhibition or just chilling out.
2 Rue de la Charité, 13001 Marseille
RUE DU PANIER
Le Panier is one of Marseille’s oldest quarters and surely the cutest. In the ancient Greek times when Marseille was known as Massilia this was the site of the agora – the marketplace -, hence its name Le Panier, which literally means “the basket“. For centuries, Le Panier was the first stop for the many immigrants arriving at Marseille’s harbor and the district in which they settled in one of its many colorful buildings. Just take your time walking up and down the steep alleyways, it’s worthy to see them all! I would say this is the Montmartre of Marseille with its sloping streets and artsy vibes.
VIEUX PORT PAVILION |NORMAN FOSTER|
The Pavilion, realized by Foster + Partners in Marseille’s harbor, is a simple canopy of highly reflective stainless steel, open on all sides and supported by slender pillars. It’s a minimal addition to the Vieux Port thanks to the really thin structure that can be used as a civic space for performances, events or markets.
29 Quai des Belges, 13001 Marseille
I added Gare Saint Charles mainly for the breathtaking view over Notre Dame de la Garde.
NOTRE DAME DE LA GARDE
It doesn’t really matter where you are in Marseille, you will always see the domed Romano-Byzantine basilica, Notre Dame de la Garde. Located in Marseille’s highest point it boasts a killer 360-degree views over the entire city and those charming terracotta roofs.
Rue Fort du Sanctuaire, 13281 Marseille
VALLON DES AUFFES
Walk along the coastline and you’ll get a mesmerizing view of a different part of Marseille. Vallon des Auffes is a fishing cove packed with boats and it is one of the best spots I’ve found in this city. La Porte d’Orient is a monument for the victims of the First World War. You can definitely take an awesome photo from here during the sunset!
UNITÉ D’HABITATION |LE CORBUSIER|
There are entire books dedicated to this housing unit which explain how and why l’unité d’habitation was so revolutionary at the time it was built. I’ll just summarize the main concept behind it but if you go to Marseille join the guided tour and you’ll get to know so much more. In 1952 the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier redefined urban living with the completion of this vertical 337-apartment garden city also known as La Cité Radieuse. After the Second World War the need for housing was a top priority and Le Corbusier focused on defining a new way of communal living by creating a vertical city in which the inhabitants could live, shop, play, be healthy, gather together. He thought of accommodating around 1600 residents spreading them vertically among eighteen floors creating both private and public spaces within the same building. Still today you can find these communal areas throughout the building, one story houses different shops, another one a hotel and restaurant, an entire floor hosts a kindergarten. The roof becomes a terrace that has a running track, a gym and a shallow pool. This was a highly innovative response to the post-war residential building need. The creation of a city within the city optimized for all the needs of its residents. Plus l’unité d’habitation is also one of the first examples of Brutalist architecture and surely the most influential of all time.
280 Boulevard Michelet, 13008 Marseille
Now a couple of things I want to ask you.
First of all, have you been in Marseille? If so let me know writing a comment down here. I want to know what you think of it.
And if you know the city maybe you even know other interesting or remarkable places that I should add?
I collected here everything regarding architecture to visit that you wouldn’t normally find in an ordinary travel guide. My intention is to make it useful for all the architecture lovers out there so if you have suggestions just write me and let me know.
Lastly it would be very much appreciated if you can share it with anyone you think may be interested in having a look at this guide.
All the photography images are taken with