In another piece here, I mentioned my surprise upon finding Marseille to be a city in which the water seemed like more of an afterthought than an attraction. If anything, the water was a place to dock your boat—not the main attraction of popular beaches full of lounging tourists, as I had imagined it would be.
At first, I was baffled by how small a role the Mediterranean coastside location seemed to play in the city. For a city that appears deceptively close to Saint-Tropez, Cannes, and Nice on the map, it struck me as odd that its tourism and its culture didn’t appear to revolve around the water.
It didn’t take long to figure out that the waterfront location of the city shows itself in different ways. Marseille may not be the beachy city I was expecting, but its Old Port is perhaps the most popular tourist destination. While walking around here, I couldn’t escape the smell of fish. The aromas of cooked fish, raw fish, even rotting fish were so omnipresent that you couldn’t forget for an instant that you were near the water.
The Palais Longchamp, built over a century and a half ago, isn’t just a palace. It, too, is a reflection of how deep water runs in Marseille’s culture. In fact, it features a breathtaking fountain known as the “water castle,” and was built in honor of a successful canal. As the Marseille Office de Tourisme et des Congres states about the Palais Longchamp, “they created a huge water tower to the glory of precious water.”
Yes, the English there is a bit clumsy. But just listen to that sentence for a moment. Water tower. Glory. Precious water. Even in that repetition, we hear what truly matters. Water.
And so it turns out Marseille does revolve around its water, just not in the way I expected. It’s French and Mediterranean, but different.