David's Diary: Sunday, November 4, 2001

Touring Marseille

Basilique de Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde
Basilique de Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde

The highest point of land in Marseille (154m) is the location of Basilique de Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde. We climbed from the Vieux Port to the Basilique, where we got to enjoy the view of Marseille. We looked back down on the Vieux Port with its landmark fortifications knowing that this was different from any port that we have seen in Vancouver. But while the landscape is different we feel at home in the old port, comfortable in our berth at the SNM (Société Nautique de Marseille) yacht club.

The Basilique has been a military stronghold since the fifteen hundreds, but construction of the basilica did not start until 1853. From that point on it becomes a symbol of Marseille visible from the sea or the land. The church consists of two parts -- a lower church forming the crypt and an upper church dedicated to the Virgin. One interesting difference from other churches that we have visited in Europe is that the upper portion of the basilica had models handing from the ceiling. The majority of models depicted sailing vessels and other forms of transportation such as airplanes.

Marseille Harbour
Marseille Harbour

Before descending back to the harbour we stopped to enjoy the view. Marseille was spread out before our feet and in the lower part of the picture you can see the Vieux Port where we are currently making our home. The size of the commercial port appears much larger than Vancouver, but many familiar elements are the same. We see cruise ships getting ready to sail, enormous cranes ready to unload container ships, and roads to carry goods leading to the port.

Marseille Old Town
Marseille Old Town

After lunch we walk around the Vieux Port and view the fortifications of Fort St. Jean. The fortifications are mostly run down, but behind the walls are modern buildings hidden from view. Many people are taking the same walk as us and as the sun starts to set in the western sky we only have time to visit a few more examples of Marseille.

We visit Romano-Byzantine inspired Cathedral du Marseille and enjoy the tribute to all Commonwealth soldiers who gave their lives in World War I. At that time, Newfoundland was not part of Canada (Newfoundland joined confederation in 1949) so the monument has a both Canada and Newfoundland as separate countries joining the war effort.

We then walk through the Old Town of Marseille. We marvel at the narrow streets as they wind up and down the hills that lead from the old port. Laundry is hung out from the windows and in the late afternoon sunshine people sit on benches in the few squares that provide open space in the old city.

Traditional Boats
Traditional Boats

We finally make our way back to the Vieux Port. Rather than walk around the head of the port, we decide to take the ferry across (something the people of Marseille have been doing since June, 1880). While we are waiting we visit the local docks and Allen gets a glimpse of a traditional sailboat that is being put away for the night. It will be a short ferry ride home, but tomorrow we plan to move on and explore more of the south coast of France.

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