Marseille is a city in the south of France known for its Mediterranean coastline and its rich history as a trade center.
Now, Marseille is a bustling metropolis. Its arrondissements have distinct personalities influenced by different waves of immigrants who came to France via Marseille. The collision of old and new is especially apparent in the architecture, where one can find 17th-century forts commissioned by the French monarchy alongside a contemporary museum overlooking the water. The duality between the two structures is symbolic of the city’s own identity. Like Paris, Marseille has a strong western tradition. The main souvenirs tourists buy are Provencal herbs, lavender sachets and famous marseillaise soaps, made almost purely out of olive oil. Our tour guide remarked that an older French woman said she’d used marseillaise soap as a cheap alternative to toothpaste during World War II. At the same time, it’s impossible to ignore the culture brought from other countries along the Mediterranean. Hole-in-the-wall epiceries reveal goods that are impossible to find at a Parisian Monoprix: shea butter in bulk, Turkish Delight and Indian curries. It’s in places like those where one might be tempted to wonder whether they’re in France or a North African bazaar, but rest assured, these cultures have a place and history in Marseille and in France as much as Louis XIV.
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