History of Marseille

Mother Earth Travel > France > Marseille > History

Marseille celebrated its 2600th birthday before the year 2000. It is therefore the oldest town in France. The legend surrounding the origins of the town go back to 600 B.C. Greek sailors coming from Phocaea (Asia Minor) chose to focus their activity in the Lacydon creek - the present location of the Vieux Port. The day they arrived, the leader of the Greeks, Protis made a visit to the Ligure tribe, which had settled there. It just so happened that on that very day, Gyptis, daughter of King Naan was to be married. Gyptis chose Protis as her husband above a number of other suitors - he had also fallen head over heels for her - and thus, Massalia was founded.

Massalia quickly became a successful city thanks to the commercial talent of the Greeks. Trading posts were set up all along the Mediterranean coast, in particular at Agde, Arles and Le Brusc. Massalia's history is one of turbulence and uncertainty. Initially the city went into decline when it was taken over by Rome. Her fleet, treasure and trading posts became the property of Caesar. After the invasions she became a port which was favourable to commercial activity. In the eleventh century, the city began to expand. A vast boatyard came under construction but Marseille quickly fell under the control of Charles d'Anjou. The town also opposed Louis XIV, and was conquered once again. The Fort Saint Nicolas and the Fort Saint Jean were both built. At that time, Massalia was under the control of Colbert who developed the city's infrastructure. Business prospered om an international scale.

Periods of prosperity alternate with times of crisis, and just when Massalia had become a truly international port it was hit by a plague. The Great Plague was a major event during the eighteenth century. The origins of the epidemic were a ship ' Le Grand Saint Antoine. Quarantine was not sufficient, and the plague swept through the town. In May 1720 Marseille was cut off from the rest of Provence. The parliament in Aix forbade any communication with Marseille ' upon pain of death. However the plague continued to spread all the same ' to Aix, Apt, Arles, Toulon, and soon the whole of France was touched by it. The city was not completely wiped out, but it had lost half its population. The revolution was eagerly received. It was in 1792 that the war song, sung by the army of the Rhine and composed by Rouget de Lisle - known as La Marseillaise - became an anthem. Marseille then rebelled against the 'Convention'. As a result she became 'the town with no name' for a few months.

The town was also involved in World War II. At the time she was under the jurisdiction of the central power and districts such as Panier were destroyed. Once the war was over, the port became an important thoroughfare, and the city built hospitals and the metropolitan network.

Today excavations which have been carried out in the Vieux Port area and in the Centre Bourse, have revealed many vestiges of the past. They reveal that this city is a place with an extremely rich and varied history.