Marseille. France's second largest city remains an enigma for me. I don't know it well, I admit. Beyond the fact that it is a bit far, logistically speaking, it is also a lot to take in. Within it's limits, a métissage or a mixing of all of the Mediterranean cultures can be found. It is quite the macro-microcosm.
All the better then that there is now a museum right on the shores of the sea to celebrate exactly that. Welcome to the MuCem, the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations. Inaugurated in 2013 as the crowning achievement of Marseille having been named the European Capital of Culture for that year, it's stunning architecture, designed by Rudy Richiotti, was immediately heralded by locals and visitors alike. I was especially taken by the 15,000 square meter lattice work shell of reinforced concrete that wraps around the main exhibition space, called the J4 after the port terminal that had previously occupied this strip of land. While it is imposing, even slightly prison-like from the distance, once inside one feels cradled in a cocoon - even while walking the semi-enclosed pathways between floors and exhibition spaces.
The permanent collection is housed in the Gallery of the Mediterranean on the ground floor. While the museum is purposefully going for an interdisciplinary approach for exploring the historical and cultural cross-fertilisation of this vast region, at times it resembles an untidy cabinet des curiosités. Ancient masterworks are presented next to contemporary art installations and animated films attract the youngest of visitors. The Gallery is quite diverse and it was oddly pleasing to visit a museum where every single step is not over-explained, where you have to become a part of the experience in order to take something out of it.
The same can be said for wandering around the rest of the complex as well. A 115 meter long footbridge (constructed with technology used by Air France) leading from the J4 to the 17th century Fort Saint Jean provides a very literal link between past and present. There one can wander among the lush Garden of Migration with stunning views over Le Vieux Port or take another footbridge to the Panier, the city's oldest neighborhood.
That open connection between what is "the museum" and what is public space is one of the most attractive aspects of the MuCem for me. And each time that I have gone, I have seen nearly equal numbers of museum-goers and locals in the outdoor areas. While I have thoroughly enjoyed several temporary exhibitions there, what I appreciate most is the environment itself. Gérald Passédat, chef of the local 3-star restaurant Le Petit Nice, is running all of the restaurants from the gastronomique La Table (with menus starting at 49€ at lunch and 69€ at dinner) to the Café where I bought an authentic pan bagnat to munch outside, next to a gentleman who was sun-bathing. It is said that the MuCem was constructed from "stone, water and wind" and these elements, along with a shot of culture backed by the gorgeous light of Marseille, are enchanting - just as they must have been for the first visitors to this ancient city so many centuries ago.
7 Promenade Robert Laffont
13002 - Marseille
Tel.: +33 (0)4 84 35 13 13
Open everyday but Tuesday from 11am to 7pm (closing at 6pm in winter)
Friday night late opening at 10pm
Full ticket price: 8€ per person
Family ticket (2 adults and up to five children): 12€
Free on the first Sunday of every month
An essential part of this post? Well, I love when worlds overlap. I will leave you with this video of "Au revoir mon amour" by Dominique A. Not only is the song beautiful but the video is in part filmed at the Mucem and features some of the most exceptional aerial choreography that I have ever seen. Enjoy...
...and have a wonderful weekend!