Next morning, after the trip to the Camargue and Arles I woke up around 9. It was my last full day on the trip, so I wanted to make the most of it. I didn’t get breakfast at the hotel, I just wanted to start early. First I walked towards the Hotel de Ville (i.e. Town Hall) and then a lazy stroll, going upwards to the Pannier
Le Pannier (it means “the basket”) is the oldest neighbourhood of Marseille, situated on a hill on the north part of the old port. It is the location of the ancient Greek colony of Massalia, the first place that was inhabited there. Untill WWII it was like a ghetto of poor people and left-wing sympathizers that was completely destroyed by the Nazi Germans since it was a haven for the resistance. Only 3 buildings of historic value were spared,one being the Hotel de Ville
Initially I walked in parallel tothe north pier, slowly climbing up to the small streets and stairways. I made it to the place de Lenche, a small square surrounded by cafes and theaters. This is the exact location where the ancient greek Agora was situated and now is a popular place for going out. I stoped to have some breakfast in a small cafe, just some coffee and a croissant and some fruit
After breakfast I continued strolling around the area. Initially I wanted to walk a little and head back to the hotel. But I was mesmerized by the beauty of the quartier : small streets, little shops, cafes and restaurants, tables on the outside and tiny squares everywhere, buildings like from another era (actually almost all of the Panier was reconstructed after WWII mostly in an Art Deco style). It was amazing. So I spend some more time there and walked all the way to the Jolette area. There I took a bicycle from the Marseille le Velo bikesharing station and cycled back to the Vieux Port.
After that there was a decision to be made : I could drive up to Avignon, spend some time there and drive back to Marseille, to arrive in the night. Or I could spend the whole day there, visiting other sights in the city such as the Notre Dame de la Garde, the Docks etc. I chose the second option and I think I will never regret it. As much as I would have liked to see another historic city, driving there and back would take 3 hours, maybe more. I prefered to spend that time in Marseille, get more in touch with the spirit of the city.
So I started, first to visit the famous Notre Dame de La Garde. I drove there, climbing up a steep hill since the Basilica is built on the highest natura elevation point inside the city, on the south side of the Vieux Port. There used to be a medieval church there, then a fort and in the 19th century a much larger neobyzantine basilica on levels. Ever since it has been a landmark of Marseille, as it can be seen from almost everywhere. Some locals see the church as a guardian and protector
The climb to the hill is very steep, I guess that’s why is one of the few areas not covered by the bike sharing scheme. The basilica is really big, built on 2 levels, plus one more below for offices, museum, cafeteria, even a restaurant. The view are COMMANDING. I was lucky to have a clear day and was able to observe almost all of the city, the ports, the islands and the coastline.
Inside the church the feeling is a little peculiar. I first visited the crypt, on the lower level which is lowly lit and in a devout atmosphere in the candle light. Then I went upstairs (you can climb from inside the crypt, which I did, or take the external wide stairway or even a lift) in a brightly lit rather large basilica. What amazes are the offerings, hanging from the roof and painted in the wall. There many ships, naturally since Marseille has always been linked to the sea, cars and even a WW I helmet (with a bullet on it that obviously did not penetrate)
After the inside I walked around the church. As mentioned before, the views are wonderful, I took photos up to the city, panoramas, zooms etc. It was a very good.
One could stop at the cafeteria, or even for lunch. I ate just a litle snack, a fruit and a small sandwich. And then contniued on to my exploration, my next target being the Le Corbusier Unite d’ habitation residence in the northern part of the city, near the Velodrome stadium. But that is the next chapter of the story 🙂