Sunday, February 22, 2015

Marseille's churches hold some surprising touches

Notre-Dame de la Garde, la bonne mère
You wouldn't guess it by the number of photographs of churches I take, but I am rather ambivalent about houses of worship. The gawdier the church, the more I roll my eyes. However, I am inexplicably drawn to entering nearly every eglise I come across, and in France, nearly every village has a church with an unlocked door. The city of Marseille has lots of churches, and so on our recent visit there, my sister and I dutifully peeked inside nearly each one we passed. And we found some pleasant surprises.

Notre-Dame de la Garde

Walking up to Notre-Dame de la Garde
Probably the best known of Marseille's churches is Notre-Dame de la Garde. Perched high on a hill, it is the city's premiere landmark. We enjoyed the walk to this church and we admired the views from the terrace surrounding the cathedral.

The Neo-Byzantine was in built in the 1800s on the site of another church of the same name. The limestone from Florence, Italy, used in its construction is subject to atmospheric corrosion, and extensive work has been done to maintain the limestone, along with mosaics damaged by candle smoke and the bullets fired during the liberation of Marseille at the end of World War II.

Notre-Dame de la Garde is built on the foundations of a 16th-century fort.
A 27-foot statue of Madonna and Child, made of bronze
gilded with gold leaf, sits atop the square bell tower at
Notre-Dame de la Garde.
Colorful interior of Notre-Dame de la Garde
The boats and planes hanging from the ceiling in
Notre-Dame de la Garde are a refreshing touch.
Bullet holes on an exterior wall of Notre-Dame de la Garde, courtesy
of the liberation of Marseille.

Heavenly view of Marseille from Notre-Dame de la Garde

Sainte Marie Majeure

This enormous cathedral, also known as La Nouvelle Major (or just La Major) was conceived by Prince Louis Napoleon Bonapart in order to get on the good side of the Catholics. Its distinct green and white striped stones (one website calls them "snazzy") foreshadow its grandiose interior: a mix of Romanesque, Byzantine and Gothic styles.

Sainte Marie Majeure, "La Major," is a huge cathedral at the edge of
Marseille's Old Port

Interior of Sainte Marie Majeure

A replica of Sainte Marie Majeure is constructed of matchsticks

A portion of the large creche at Sainte Marie Majeure

Saint Ferréol les Augustins

This church, likened by some to a wedding cake, is built on marshy ground at the Old Port. The building dates back to the 15th century, but it has been mostly rebuilt. Its façade was built in the late 19th century.

Saint Ferréol les Augustins

Abbaye Saint-Victor

Legend says that Christain monk and theologian John Cassian founded two his-and-her abbeys back in 415. If true, Abbaye Saint-Victor would have been the men's church. Although Cassian probably didn't found the original Abbaye Saint-Victor, its roots date back to the fifth century. The original structure is long gone, destroyed by the Saracens in the 8th or 9th century. It was rebuilt a few centuries later and has a long history, which I won't attempt to tell here. (The churche's website has more details, if you're interested.) 

Its dark, heavy history is reflected in its interior, dank but refreshingly simple.

Abbaye Saint-Victor

Abbaye Saint-Victor

Église Saint-Vincent-de-Paul

Known as Les Réformés, architects of this Roman Catholic church took inspiration from the Reims and Amiens cathedrals.

Église Saint-Vincent-de-Paul

Église Saint-Vincent-de-Paul

Le Temple Protestant

I didn't go inside, but I appreciate the simplicity of Marseille's Protestant temple. It took just 14 months to build this austere church, located on rue Grignan. It was completed in 1824.

Unadorned pediment on Marseille's Protestant Temple on rue Grignan

Exterior detail of Le Temple Protestant

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Ambling around Marseille's Vieux Port

Sailboats in Marseille's Vieux Port

The old port, or vieux port, has been the heart of Marseille for 26 centuries. Through the ages, the city has had several names: Massalia (Greek), Massilia (Roman) and Masiho (Medieval). Since the port was essential to the city's economy and safety, two forts were built to keep watch: Fort Saint-Nicolas and Fort Saint-Jean.

Ferris Wheel at Marseille's Vieux Port

Fort Saint-Jean was built to guard Marseille's port

Ferry boats have been shuttling les Marseillais and visitors
across the port since 1880. Today's boats are eco-friendly and free. 

With our hotel perfectly positioned a five-minute walk from the port, my sister and I start our first day in Marseille eagerly exploring the blocks on the north side of the port.

We check our map to figure out what this magnificent building near the town hall could be. Turns out Hôtel Dieu is a former hospital. Now it's a five-star hotel.

Shapely shrubs in front of Hôtel Dieu in Marseille
Just around the corner is Place Daviel, named for Jacques Daviel, the oculist who performed the first cataract surgery in 1745. (But, of course, you probably already knew that.)

Des Accoules Church in Place Daviel

Cheerful building front in Marseille

Giggling students in Place des Augustines

A former poor house, la Vieille Charité is an imposing building that now houses a museum and cultural center. The idea for building a "workhouse for beggars" was conceived in 1622, but it took more than a century to complete. When imprisoning the poor fell out of favor, the building was turned first into an asylum, then later into barracks for the French Foreign Legion. After WWII, squatters and impoverished families moved in, but eventually were rehoused elsewhere. In the 1960s la Vieille Charité was pretty rundown, but the Minister of Culture stepped in and restored the building to its former ... well, I guess one could call it "glory,"

The Baroque-style arcade and chapel of La Vieille Charité were designed
by renown artist/architect/engineer Pierre Puget.

My sister suddenly remembers that she forgot to bring her umbrella,
near la Halle Puget in Marseille

View from the steps of Église Saint-Laurent in Marseille,
near the entrance to MuCEM

Our first day exploration of Marseille includes a visit to the city's newest museum, the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations.

One of the galleries in Marseille's Musée des civilisations de l'Europe
 et de la Méditerranée (MuCEM)
Marseille is justifiably proud of MuCEM. According to the museum's website, "Never before has a museum been exclusively dedicated to the cultures of the Mediterranean, despite their richness and diversity in terms of history and civilisation."
An ornate wagon used to transport olive oil is on display at MuCEM.

One of the more whimsical displays in a special exhibition of food at MuCEM

More about Marseille will be coming soon on Away to Live. If you don't want to miss a thing, subscribe by putting your email address in the box to the right at the top of this post.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Marseille's water castle and 'wild' animals

Henry Espérandieu, architect of Notre-Dame de la Garde, designed
Palais Longchamp, "the most striking building built in Marseille
during the Second Empire."

Marseille's beautiful Palais Longchamp was built not for royalty, but for water. Constructed in the 19th century to celebrate the construction of the Canal de Marseille, the ornate castle and its fountain are known as the château d'eau.

The monumental fountain in the middle of the colonnade
of Palais Longchamp is by Jules Cavelier.

Detail of ceiling in the colonnade of Palais Longchamp in Marseille

Remants of the original aquaduct that brought water from the Durance River to the city are still visible at the palace, which houses le Musée des Beaux-Arts and le Musée d'Histoire Naturelle. The surrounding Parc Longchamp is one of France's jardins remarquables. The park contains an observatory and the Funny Zoo.

Château d'eau

Statue in Parc Longchamp in Marseille

Twenty-five years after the Marseille Zoo closed its cages, the former tenants ... or rather, brightly colored fiberglass cousins ... returned to Parc Longchamp.

Some are housed inside cages of the old zoo, which opened in 1898 and closed in 1987; others free-range graze throughout the 17-hectare park behind Palais Longchamp.

The zoo's website calls Funny Zoo "un come-back historique." The free permanent exhibition features 110 life-size animals. There's an educational component too: The park has partnered with the city's Natural History Museum to teach children about biodiversity and animal preservation.

Animals that have escaped from the Funny Zoo also can be spotted in other parts of Marseille.

Le Lion de Marseille, designed by Stéphan Muntaner,
is located at the city's Hôtel de Ville.

Artist Luc Dubost designed this upside-down cerf,
located near Jardin du Pharo in Marseille.

Giraffa Camelopardalis, designed by Sowat,
loiters along La Carnebière.

For more information about Palais Longchamp, visit Marseille's tourism website here.