Old Port (Vieux Port)
The Old Port is the hub of Marseilles, lined by its quais, filled with fishing boats and yachts, and surrounded by small streets teeming with seafood restaurants and shops. The Quai des Belges, at the end of the port, hosts a fish market, every morning of the week, that has a life of its own. The wide quais are popular places for leisurely strolling, and the many terrace cafés opposite provide handy "rest stops" for when you're tired of walking. You can even make a "loop" of the Old Port, walking around three sides and taking the little ferryboat across from one side to the other.
The Old Port inlet was used as a landing site by the Phocaeans in 600 BC, and remained the center of maritime activity until the 19th century, when the modern port was built to handle the large steamships. The quais, so popular as promenades today, were built by kings Louis XII and Louis XIII.
The old Town Hall (Hotel de Ville) faces the Quai du Port on the north side of the Old Port, and just behind is the 16th-century Maison Diamantée that houses the Museum of Old Marseilles. The Roman Docks Museum is a couple of blocks behind the Quai du Port, and the Quartier Panier is up the hill on this side.
The La Major Cathedrals are northwest of the Old Port, near the Gare Maritime.
Near the northeast corner is the Bourse (stock exchange), the archaeological Garden of Ruins and the city's central "mall", the "Centre Bourse". The Historical Museum of Marseilles is beside the Garden of Ruins, actually inside the"Centre Bourse".
Restaurants line most of the south side (Quai de Rive Neuve), and a whole section of streets adjacent to the quai. The city's Opera is in this section, and the Théâtre National, "Le Criée" is located about half way down the quai, facing the port.
The Old Port is filled mainly with small fishing boats and small sailboats, not the large yachts you'll see on the "playgrounds" of the Cote d'Azur. Tied to the quai in front of the Hôtel de Ville is the old barquentine "Le Marseillois". It looks authentic, but weary of its long sea voyages of the past. It now has a very good restaurant inside its wooden hull, with a quite reasonable 170 F menu, and a 90 F weekday lunch. When we were there last, two lovely old gaff ketches were tied up beside "Le Marseillois": the white-hulled "Alliance" and the "Le Don du Vent".
A picturesque little ferry crosses the Old Port, between the Hôtel-de-Ville and the Place des Huiles, made famous by Marcel Pagnol's stories. In the movie Fanny it looks about the same, although it was steam-driven then. That's the Hotel de Ville on the far side right [our photo].