Founded by Greek settlers in 600BC, Marseille is the oldest city in France, and today is its second-largest. Shaped by centuries of immigration, the Mediterranean port city has a more alternative feel than its glitzier Riviera neighbours and is the capital of the Provence-Côte d’Azur region.
Following a €1.1bn injection of funds from central government last year, Provence-Côte d’Azur’s economy outpaced that of France as a whole in 2018, growing 3.3 per cent, compared with 1.5 per cent nationally, according to the Banque de France, the country’s central bank.
The region’s service sector grew 3.7 per cent, with a 37 per cent increase in construction job offers for 2018.
Meanwhile, Marseille’s airport, a 27km drive from the city, is launching 21 new routes this year, including Moscow and Tel Aviv, in a drive to become one of France’s largest airports after those in Paris and Nice.
When the Olympic Games come to Paris in 2024, Marseille will host the sailing competition. After a €30m renovation of facilities, the port will be able to accommodate more than 600 boats and 600 sailors at the Roucas-Blanc nautical arena.
The new Olympic marina and village will connect the north and south of the city. The games are expected boost commercial activity in Marseille by 40 per cent.
The French national anthem, though written in Strasbourg in 1792, acquired the name “La Marseillaise” after rebel soldiers from Marseille sang it as they stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris that summer.
Other claims to fame include the modernist Cité Radieuse, a residential development designed after the second world war by Le Corbusier which made the Unesco World Heritage list in 2016.
The Parc National des Calanques, 16km to the south-east of the city, offers an alternative landscape to the city’s seafront promenades, with its wild and rugged footpaths, pebbled beaches and coves ideal for swimming.
Though Marseille has a long history of welcoming refugees and migrants, critics point to social inequality in the city and strong support for the far-right in the recent European elections as evidence that multiculturalism has failed.
Yet diversity remains. For example, the city’s hip-hop scene is considered second only to Paris, producing artists including IAM, Psy4 de la Rime and Fonky Family.
Meanwhile Aix-Marseille Université led national opposition to an increase in tuition fees for non-EU students and is maintaining enrolment fees for foreign students at the same level as those for French students in the 2019-20 academic year.
Homes in Marseille are considerably more affordable than those in other major French cities, at a median of €2,500 per square metre for an apartment. This is 40 per cent cheaper than Bordeaux and at least 70 per cent less than Paris.
At the higher end of the market, estate agents report a 10 per cent increase in selling prices over the past year, with the market for apartments particularly buoyant.
A 20-year urban renewal project part-funded by the EU has modernised 480 hectares between the Joliette and Bougainville metro stations in the north of the city. Seven thousand new homes have already been built, with 2,000 more due by 2020.
Photographs: Dreamstime; Getty Images; Alamy; AFP/Getty Images