Marseille was known to the ancient Greeks and Romans as Massalia. It was an important European trading centre and remains the main commercial port of the French Republic. Marseille is now France’s largest city on the Mediterranean coast and the largest port for commerce, freight and cruise ships. The city was European Capital of Culture in 2013 and European Capital of Sport in 2017.
The town was originally founded circa 600 BC as the Greek colony of Massalia and populated by settlers from Phocaea (modern Foça, Turkey). It became the proeminent Greek town in the region of southern Gaul. The city-state sided with the Roman Republic against Carthage during the Second Punic War (218-201 BC), retaining its independence and commercial empire throughout the western Mediterranean even as Rome expanded into Western Europe and North Africa. However, the city lost its independence following the Roman Siege of Massilia in 49 BC, during Caesar’s Civil War, in which Massalia sided with the exiled faction at war with Julius Caesar.
Marseille continued to prosper as a Roman city, becoming an early center of Christianity during the Western Roman Empire. The city maintained its position as a premier maritime trading hub even after its capture by the Visigoths in the 5th century AD, although the city went into decline following the sack of 739 AD by the forces of Charles Martel. It became part of the County of Provence during the 10th century, although its renewed prosperity was curtailed by the Black Death of the 14th century and sack of the city by the Crown of Aragon in 1423. The city’s fortunes rebounded with the ambitious building projects of René of Anjou, Count of Provence, who strengthened the city’s fortifications during the mid-15th century. During the 16th century the city hosted a naval fleet with the combined forces of the Franco-Ottoman alliance, which threatened the ports and navies of Genoa and the Holy Roman Empire.
Marseille lost a significant portion of its population during the Great Plague of Marseille in 1720, but the population had recovered by mid century. In 1792 the city became a focal point of the French Revolution and was the birthplace of France’s national anthem, La Marseillaise. The Industrial Revolution and establishment of the French Empire during the 19th century allowed for further expansion of the city, although it was occupied by the German Wehrmacht in November 1942 and subsequently heavily damaged during World War II. The city has since become a major center for immigrant communities from former French colonies, such as French Algeria.
The port is also an important arrival base for millions of people each year, with 2.4 million including 890,100 from cruise ships. With its beaches, history, architecture and culture (24 museums and 42 theatres), Marseille is one of the most visited cities in France, with 4.1 million visitors in 2012.
Because of its pre-eminence as a Mediterranean port, Marseille has always been one of the main gateways into France. This has attracted many immigrants and made Marseille a cosmopolitan melting pot. By the end of the 18th century about half the population originated from elsewhere in Provence mostly and also from southern France.
Economic conditions and political unrest in Europe and the rest of the world brought several other waves of immigrants during the 20th century: Greeks and Italians started arriving at the end of the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century, up to 40% of the city’s population was of Italian origin; Russians in 1917; Armenians in 1915 and 1923; Vietnamese in the 1920s, 1954 and after 1975; Corsicans during the 1920s and 1930s; Spanish after 1936; North Africans (both Arab and Berber) in the inter-war period; Sub-Saharan Africans after 1945; the pieds-noirs from the former French Algeria in 1962; and then from Comoros. In 2006, it was reported that 70,000 city residents were considered to be of Maghrebi origin, mostly from Algeria. The second largest group in Marseille in terms of single nationalities were from the Comoros, amounting to some 45,000 people.
Currently, over one third of the population of Marseille can trace their roots back to Italy. Marseille also has the second-largest Corsican and Armenian populations of France. Other significant communities include Maghrebis, Turks, Comorians, Chinese, and Vietnamese.
Since 2013 immigrants from Eastern Europe travel to work in the city of Marseille, attracted by better job opportunities and the good climate of this Mediterranean city. The main nationalities are Romanians and Poles.
The major religious communities in Marseille include:
Roman Catholic (620,000)
Armenian Apostolic (80,000)
Eastern Orthodox (15,000)
This is a 5mn video as I walked in town: https://youtu.be/JKJIYGe4s_Y
There are lots to see 😉