Marseille: overrated?

Marseille: overrated?

With much regret I have to say that Marseille was my biggest disappointment from our short Eurotrip. It was one of the cities I’ve been dreaming to visit for ages and after the coquettish small towns we passed through before (Avignon and all those little provencal villages) finally getting to Marseille, I was having really high expectations and thought it was going to be ten times as stylish as all the other cities from Southern France.

I was so disappointed to find an extremely dirty and chaotic city, full of beggars (who weren’t Romanians, as the media insists in denigrating our country’s image). Honestly, it probably was one of the dirtiest cities I set my foot in through all this trip! We were also shouted ugly names at in traffic (we were moving too slow while looking after road signs, as we didn’t know which street to choose) and after all the other little bad experiences while in France, I remained with just a bitter taste about this country and its people (except Nice, but that’s another story for a future article).

We walked from Saint Vincent de Paul Church on La Canebiere Avenue all the way to the old port, then wandered through the old city where I discovered a bunch of cute streets that raised my spirits a little bit and afterwards took a little walk to see some contemporary architecture near the harbour.

The thing about Marseille is that it has a very beautiful architecture. It’s all nice and fun if you never look down at the streets and just focus your sight up on the buildings. Near the old port, there was a tremendous amount of people, mostly tourists, but the place was wonderfully breathing life from all the terraces, the restaurants and the promenades.

I’ve added some images with bits of the dirty streets just so you know I wasn’t exaggerating, but I preferred to focus on the beautiful part of the city. Looking now at the images, it doesn’t even look that bad, but then my memories of all those beggars, the dirt, the terrible smells come up to ruin it all…

And then there was this unexpected surprise. While finding our way out of the city I was looking at the map to see what we’ve missed and if there’s anything worth coming back for one day. And there it was, La Cité Radieuse, a modernist architectural piece by the famous Le Corbusier. Not that I am a fan of him or something (that’s a discussion for another moment), but we’ve studied his works in school and heard of him so much that I had to go visit this particular building that was just a few minutes away, in the southern area of Marseille.

Long story short, it’s a modernist residential housing, based on a principle named Unité d’habitation, developed by Le Corbusier. There are other residential units build on this principle as well, in other parts of the european continent, but apparently this one from Marseille is the most popular. It’s made out of concrete, has 12 stories and it’s build on pilotis, therefore you can freely walk on the ground below the building (except the entrance area). It has 337 units-apartments, but also a bar, an architecture bookshop, a hotel and other facilities. Each apartment unfolds itself on two levels and has quite generous proportions.

I hated the corridors, as they were so dark and the ceiling seemed too low (or they were too wide, messing up with the proportions my mind is used to). But I liked the apartments. Or, at least, the image I pictured of how these apartments were, as I looked at the drawings, the sketches and entered the well and beautifully lit two-stories bar.

It’s very probable that my mind painted a much more beautiful image of those apartments that they really were, but I would try to see how it’s like to live in such a unit. They’re for sure more spacious and interesting than our narrow communist match boxes a.k.a. blocks of flats (I do regret now not visiting one apartment).

And that would be all about my short stay in Marseille. Have you been there? How did you perceive it?

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