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For 2,600 years, Marseille’s historic port has been the beating heart of the city. The Vieux-Port is still located where the ancient Greek market once stood. Nowadays, it is one of Marseille’s most popular neighbourhoods. Since extensive renovations were carried out, virtually the entire area is a pedestrian zone. The atmosphere is inviting and pleasant, thanks in part to the dozens of cafés and restaurants.
In the mid-19th century, the Vieux-Port could accommodate 1,000 boats at the same time. But port activities began to decline steadily due to the advent of the steamboat, for which the port was too shallow. The final blow was struck during World War II when the port was almost completely destroyed. The city of Marseille, however, quickly restored it to its former glory. Although the port is no longer used for commercial shipping, pleasure yachts take pride of place in the dock here.
Marseille is proud to call itself the oldest city in France. And it seems as if the older, the livelier. This is certainly true of the old port, which plays an important role in the city’s social and cultural life and where the day and evening entertainment doesn’t end at the eateries along the water. A short walk away is the brand-new MuCEM museum and medieval Fort Saint-Jean. The City Hall, Saint-Victor Abbey and the spectacular-looking Villa Méditerranée are also close by. The latter houses a cultural museum that was appropriately designed by Italian architect Stefano Boeri in the shape of the letter C. The port itself is perfect for relaxing after a museum visit or simply for strolling and people watching from a sunny outdoor café.
Marseille was once an important trading centre for cannabis. In the past, this plant was known for qualities quite different than today, namely for its strong fibres which were perfect for making ship’s rope. The street, which runs from the Saint-Vincent-de-Paul church (also known as Les Réformés) to the old port, got its name from this trade: La Canebière. It continues to be the lifeline of the city. Like the port, La Canebière is undergoing a major renovation to return it to its former grandeur.