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G + 13 : From Cassis to Marseille - Hello from the Tethys Sea

Updated: Jul 30, 2023


This Calanque has become Port-Miou. It is deal for hiding during a Mistral


Last day of sailing along the Ligurian coast. We are going to enjoy the calanques today, the deep valleys carved into the lime stone plate during the last ice age. Now they are partially flooded and form beautiful natural harbours. There are several of them on the way from Cassis to Marseille. The coast is part of a natural park.

There are six major Calanques from Cassis to Marseille. Some end in Pebble Beaches


Paddle boats are everywhere. People enjoy exploring the little caves that acidic rain carved. Must have taken the paddlers an hour to get here from Cassis. I guess nobody is aware that they paddle along the old floor of the Tethys Sea. It closed when the African plate pushed north and clashed with Europe. The Mediterranean is its leftover.

Watching the Sediments of these mighty Limestone Formation is fascinating


At 4 pm, we lifted anchor and left the calanques. Off to Marseille. Sailing into the old harbor is spectacular. The well-fortified entrance is visible last minute. The old Greek town to the left, Notre Dame de la Garde on the hill to the right. The harbor has a surface of 25 hectares and offers 3’500 berth. With a natural depth of 6 meters, it was unique in antiquity. It could accommodate any type of Greek or Roman ship.

The Harbor Entrance is well hidden and protected. Louis XIV must have spent a fortune on these Vauban Style Fortifications


Caesar was never particularly fond of Marseille who sided with his political enemies. He built Forum Julii (Frejus) as an alternative. His son Augustus went a step further and placed the Roman Fleet into Frejus. But Marseille's port was too convenient to ignore. It was big, deep and did not silt. Marseille continued to survive – until today.

The famous Chateau d'If - well known from Alexandre Dumas' "The Count of Montecristo"


During the early Middle Ages, Marseille resumed the role it played during Greek and Roman time. It again became the entrepot connecting Rhone Valley and Western Europe to the Mediterranean where trade resumed with the crusades. When Marseille became French in 1481, the French King recognized its strategic value. It would become the nexus to Lyon which they planned to make the biggest trade fair in Europe. Also, it was chosen as naval base for the French galleys. France had 30 of them. The port was fortified and a new wharf on the south was built. The decaying old Greek town got a new lease of life. It became Marseille’s residential quarter – it still is today. Walking around the narrow streets full of small shops and restaurants is a must. It is beautiful.

Under the French Kings, Marseille expanded, was fortified and got a new wharf


Marseille is France’s biggest commercial port on the Mediterranean. By the middle of the 19th century, more than 1’000 ships visited daily. The age of steam was a challenge though.

Marseille was an busy Entrepôt for Olive Oil trading and Soap making in 19th Century


The old port was not deep enough to accommodate steam boats. A new port had to be built. Today, to the west of the old port. it is a major departing points for cruise boats. There are always three or four cruise ships taking or disembarking passengers.

Marseille's old Port is now used by more than 3'000 leisure boats, mostly sail boats


During the second World War, large parts of Marseille’s old port were destroyed. The town was less lucky than Toulon which was liberated by the Free French Forces within days of the landing on 15 August 1944. Marseille and Toulon were strategically important for the Allied Forces after the Wehrmacht destroyed all Channel harbours. Sadly, the German army held out to the 28th of August and was able to do significant damage.

The old Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) surrounded by modern residential Buildings from the 60s


But it looked worse than it was. Repair teams went into action and with the help of people from Marseille rebuilt the essential parts within weeks. By October, Toulon and Marseille were able to supply 1/3 of the tonnage the Allied Forces needed to push to the Rhein.

The the Battle of Marseille took place from 21 - 28 August 1944.


The destroyed quays and shipyards had to be replaced though. The project was well done. Old and new buildings blend nicely. Since many of the new buildings lining the old port are residential, the area remains lively and is full of brasseries and sea food restaurants. Stroll around in the evening and you will be surprised how many people are on the streets.

People having Dinner in the old "Greek" Town of Marseille - it is rather charming


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