We arrived in Marseille around dinner time and, after checking into our Airbnb, we walked to le Vieux Port to grab some dinner and explore before it got too late. We had picked a restaurant from Yelp but it was closed (contrary to the website), most likely because no one was in Marseille, so we just chose a random Italian restaurant. My French got complimented and I spoke a lovely Franglais medley with the cute waiter. The Ferris Wheel pictured below had no one on it the entire time we were there but it moved constantly, definitely dominating the Old Port. Granted, I bet it’s pretty packed during the summer!
Visiting Chateau d’If from Marseille
The next day we awoke early to purchase tickets for the Frioul If express, which takes you to Chateau d’If. Luckily the ferry goes surprisingly fast and the ride is incredibly short so I didn’t get seasick! We also managed to get the best weather of our trip while at Chateau d’If, which made for some gorgeous pictures.The island itself is incredibly small, as you can see. The fortress was built in 1524 on the orders of King Francis I who figured it would be a strategic
The island itself is incredibly small, as you can see. The fortress was built in 1524 on the orders of King Francis I who figured it would be a strategic defense point. Ironically enough, it never had to fight off an actual attack. The closest it got was when Charles V made plans to invade the port (but ended up scrapping his plans…)
The fortress turned into a prison in the mid 16th century. Over the next two hundred years, over 3500 Huguenots were imprisoned there. Additionally, the prison held a knight accused plotting to take down the monarchy, a Monsieur de Niozelles who failed to take his hat off in the presence of Louis XIV, and Gaston Cremieux, leader of the Paris Commune. Most prisoners were held without trials.
Perhaps more notably, Chateau d’If is the setting of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, where prisoner Edmond Dantes manages to escape his unlawful arrest (one of my favourite novels & the reason I wanted to visit it in the first place). However, no one is known to have escaped from the island fortress in real life.
While there, I learned that prisoners were housed according to their wealth. The wealthier prisoners could pay for better (and even private) cells that had windows and fireplaces, while the poorest were trapped at the bottom in windowless dungeons in groups of up to twenty. And you could definitely see a difference in the cells! The ones on the upper floors were very large and had some windows with lovely views of the water and Marseille that might make being imprisoned there just a tad bit better. And the poor cells were dark, small and low ceilinged. I can’t imagine being stuck in there.
Even if you don’t really have an interest in the subject matter, you should head to Chateau d’If solely because of the beautiful views!
After we took the ferry back with about 50 very loud Spanish middle schoolers, we walked around and found a cute sandwich-bagel place to eat at. While we were eating, we witnessed the last of the nice weather of our Marseille trip.
Visiting Notre Dame de la Garde in Marseille
After stuffing ourselves with bagel sandwiches we stupidly decided to walk all the way up to Notre Dame de la Garde. Yes, that tiny speck of a church you saw at the very top of that very large and steep hill earlier. Not our smartest move. Unless you’re really motivated or super in shape, do not hike the hill. It’s rough. Take the tourist tram that departs from Vieux Port. You won’t regret it. Trust me.
Notre Dame de la Garde is a basilica built in the neo-Byzantine style at Marseille’s highest natural point, 490 ft. It was consecrated in 1864, replacing a church of the same name built in 1214 and restored in the 15th century. The present structure is built on the foundations of a fort that King Francois I built to fend off Charles V’s attack It is a very popular place of pilgrimage for Assumption Day on August 15. While inside, I noticed all the plaques that pilgrims have brought with them from around the world and placed on the walls. It is known as the protector of the city and locals refer to it as la bonne mere. Because it’s so high up, the basilica offers great views of the city as well (if only our weather was nicer)!
I can only imagine what these views look like when it’s not rainy/windy/foggy!
Exhausted after our hike up and down the mountain, we decided just to head back to our Airbnb and take a well-deserved break. That evening, our Airbnb hosts invited us to dine with them which was amazing! We exchanged simplified life stories and fun facts about where we were from and I helped them learn some English! Something I’ll never forget.
The next day, we awoke to rainy and cloudy weather yet again. We started off by going to Cathedrale de la Major (the pretty and sunny picture was taken the day before when it was nice outside!). You can’t see it in the pictures, but off to the right exists the original 12th century church built in the Romanesque style. The present cathedral was built between 1852 and 1896. It was huge and gorgeous inside!
Visiting Marseille’s MUCEM
After some lunch, we hit up MUCEM, the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations. It was inaugurated in 2013 when Marseille was named the European Capital of Culture. The new building (the modern one pictured just below) connects to the 17th century Fort Saint-Jean. The two are connected by that very precarious looking bridge. The museum was really cool! The current exhibition was about shared holy sites. It was really fascinating and I probably spent too long looking at it. I didn’t take any pictures though. There was also a really cute series of 2-3 minute films depicting fictional stories about the 7 wonders of the ancient world. Unfortunately, when we crossed the bridge into the fort, we were disappointed with the lack of stuff open/available to see.