Marseille and the Med


Named European Capital of Culture 2013, France’s second city and one-time haven of crime and poverty, has bounced back onto the scene with some huge new cultural spaces. Marseille is happy to be rough-around-the-edges, representing the city’s grassroots arts movements and immigrant population.

The Museum of Civilisations of Europe and the Mediterranean (MuCEM) opened June 2013; an ambitious series of galleries, gardens, monuments and performance spaces dedicated to exploring the diversity of Mediterranean cultures. Marseille’s mix of North African and Arab immigrants made it an obvious choice for the site. MuCEM’s landmark building is a spectacular mesh of latticed concrete curling calligraphically around more than 3600 square metres of exhibition space. J4, in the commercial port area of the city, also hosts an auditorium, bookshop, brasserie, restaurant and panoramic terrace.

A wooden pathway links J4 to the historic grandeur of Fort Saint-Jean with its sandy tower looking out to sea. The Fort has been renovated as part of the same project and it includes a carefully curated “Garden of Migration” exploring Marseille’s mesh of cultures. The main building showcases permanent exhibitions. From here a 70m walkway links these cultures to the French mainland in the form of Eglise Saint-Laurent.

Meanwhile Villa Méditerranée is a unique architectural design, part suspended in the sky, part in the sea. The venue also opened last month, housing a meeting point for all Mediterranean cultures, a place of dialogue and debate to confront the biggest issues of racism and immigration. The apce hold exhibition galleries, an auditorium, a cafe and a panoramic viewpoint.