Vieux Port Marseille is the city’s most significant tourist attraction, and it has been the Marseille’s harbor from the city’s foundation.
In fact, Vieux-Port (“Old Harbor” in English) is the location from where the city expanded out of, as the ancient Greeks — who came here 600 BC to establish a city — dropped their anchors and made their camp first within the old harbor.
Old harbor was Marseille’s center of maritime commerce up to the 9th century, and the harbor district was also a manufacturing center during the Middle Ages, for rope (from hemp), among other things, to be used by the local seafarers…
…and this tradition is why the main route in Marseille is called “Canebière“, a word derived from “cannabis”.
PHOTO: A view to Marseille Vieux-Port harbor district from Notre Dame de la Garde church.
PHOTO: The vieux port Marseille, as seen from Quai des Belges, from the start to the Canebière. Left of the picture, you can find ships that will take you to tour the Chateau d’If (within Frioul archipelago), famous from Alexandre Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo“.
PHOTO: Within the entrance to the old harbor, there are two historic fortresses, of which the pictured Fort Saint Jean was built by orders of King Louis XIV, from 1660.
PHOTO: The other fortress near the entrance to the old harbor is Fort Saint Nicolas, built around Saint Nicolas chapel, at the same time (1660) that the Fort Saint Jean (on opposite side of the harbor entrance) was built.
PHOTO: Le Marsellois restaurant ship (www.lemarseillois.com) is a popular dining place within the old harbor. The ship’s white and blue flag is the official flag of Marseille.
PHOTO: One way to tour the city of Marseille is to take the (pictured) “Petits Trains de Marseille” (www.petit-train-marseille.com) minitrains, which depart from the old harbor, near the Hotel de Ville city hall. You can use the minitrains to get to, for example, Notre Dame de la Garde…as the walking route to the church, going uphill, can be exhausting.
PHOTO: View towards Notre Dame de la Garde church from the Vieux-Port.
In addition to being a commercially significant harbor, the Vieux-Port was also militarily significant.
In this regard, the harbor had a central role from 15th to 17th centuries…
…as kings Louis XII and Louis XIII started construction works in the harbor, to build quays for military ships and a shipyard to build galleons.
During the 17th century, after a rebellion against the crown by the Marseillaise population, King Louis XIV had the St Jean and St Nicolas fortresses built to the entrance of the old harbor, and at the same time, a major arsenal and parts of the royal navy were relocated to the city.
In the light of historical record books, the old harbor’s capacity in 1854 was around 1,000-1,200 ships, with about 18,000 commercial ships visiting the port annually.
Vieux port Marseille’s position as a commercial harbor practically ended when steamships were taken into use, as they could not sail into the harbor, due to its depth limit of only 6 meters (20 feet).
This is why a new port, Port Moderne, was built to Marseille towards the late 19th century.
Today, that newer port forms a part of the modern ‘Grand Port Maritime de Marseille’ (www.marseille-port.fr) harbor complex, which is significant even in European terms, especially as a port for oil trading.
- a yacht marina, and as
- a terminal for ferries making tours to the nearby islands…
…including ferries to the If island (where the famous Chateau d’If is located).
Vieux-Port is also one of the major event venues in Marseille, including being a center for New Year’s celebrations in the city.