Marseille

This page includes my grandfather's postcards from Marseille. Marseille has a long and complex history and I only have room for some of the highlights here.

Brief History of Marseille

There is evidence of human settlement at Marseille going back about 30,000 years, with paleolithic cave paintings depicting animals and a stencil of a human hand about 27,000 years old. Greeks from Phocaea (modern Foça, Turkey) founded a colony they called Massalia around 600 BCE and it retained its independence until 49 BCE when over-run by the army of Julius Ceasar after supporting 'the wrong side'. It then prospered as a Roman city and maritime trading hub, survived capture by the Visigoths in the 5th century, but went downhill from being sacked by Charles Martel in 739 CE, the affects of the bubonic plague in the 14th century and a further sacking by the Crown of Aragon in 1423.

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Marseille - location in the Mediterranean [1]
Click image for enlarged view

The city's fortunes improved in the 15th century when the city's fortifications were strengthened by René of Anjou. There was a further major loss of population in 1720 in the Great Plague of Marseille which is said to have killed 100,000 people in the city and surrounding area. In 1792 the city became a focal point of the French Revolution. When volunteers from Marseille marched into Paris singing Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle's song - originally called Chant de guerre pour l'Armée du Rhin (War Song for the Army of the Rhine) - it acquired the nickname La Marseillaise. The volunteers must have had good memories as the song has 15 verses plus a chorus.

The Industrial Revolution and establishment of the French Empire during the 19th century allowed for further expansion of the city, which was considered to be the 'port of the French Empire'. After WW1 the city was notorious for its crime networks. The city was bombed by both Italy and Germany during WW2 and occupied by the Germans in 1942 who destroyed the Old Port area in 1943. Reparation funds were used to rebuild the city from 1950 onwards. The city has since become a major centre for immigrant communities from former French colonies, such as French Algeria.

Marseille Postcards

Phare de la Désirade

The unused colour postcard below, from an unknown publisher, shows a view of the 12.8 metre high Phare de la Désirade - a still-operational lighthouse constructed on rocks at Pointe de Pharo at the entrance to the port of Marseille in 1881; it was converted to electricity in 1912. The name 'Desirade' means desire - and is thought to reflect the feelings of seamen returning to port.

Lighthouse
Phare de la Désirade at Marseille

The Corniche

A 'corniche' is a road cut into the edge of a cliff, especially one running along a coast. The unused postcards below, two in colour and one monochrome, all from unknown publishers, shows views of the corniche at Marseille. It runs south from the city for about 3 miles and passes the Prado Beach. Part of the corniche was renamed 'Corniche John F. Kennedy' in 1963 in memory of the assassinated the US President.

Corniche
Panorama de la Corniche - Marseille
Corniche
L'Anse du Prophete (Prophet's Cove) Corniche - Marseille

The postcard below shows the Prado beach. There are now no signs of the large building on the left that was presumably a hotel.

Corniche
Prado Beach - Corniche - Marseille

Fort St Jean and Cathedral

The unused colour postcard from an unknown publisher below shows Fort St. Jean with the Cathedral behind it. The fort was built in 1660 by Louis XIV at the entrance to the old port of Marseille. The site had previously been occupied by the Military Order of the Knights Hospitaller of Saint John, from which the new building got its name. Fort St. Nicholas was built on the opposite side of the port.

The fort was badly damaged in an explosion during WW2 but was repaired between 1967 and 1971. The Cathedral behind the fort can be seen better in the next postcard in the collection.

Fort St Jean
Fort St Jean and Cathedrale - Marseille

The unused colour postcard from an unknown publisher below shows the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Saint Mary Major. A small 12th century cathedral is alongside but the building shown was constructed around 1850. With a capacity of 3,000 seats, it is one of the largest cathedrals in France and is a listed monument.

Cathedrale
Cathedral of Saint Mary Major - Marseille

The image below shows the site from Google Earth with the image dated around 2012. It is apparent that there has been significant land reclamation.

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Fort St Jean and Cathedrale in 2012 [1]
Click image for enlarged view

Bassin de la Joliette

La Joliette is part of the 2nd arrondissement of Marseille and includes the Cathedrale shown on the previous postcard. A little further to the north lie the docks - the location is shown on the image below from Google Earth.

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La Joliette - aerial view [1]

The postcards below, one in colour and one monochrome, both from unknown publishers, show views of the docks at La Joliette. The postcards shows several trams and many horse-drawn carts. Various goods, including many in barrels and sacks, are on the quayside awaiting transportation with canvas awnings used for protection. There is also a railway line adjacent to the quay. There are steamships and barges in the water but no sailing vessels that I can see.

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Bassins et Quai de La Joliette
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General view of Bassins de La Joliette

The previous card was sent by my grandfather to my great-grandmother Laura Watson (nee Chadwell) and shows it was actually posted in Aden. I believe it is from 1913 but unfortunately the year is not visible.

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Reverse of previous postcard

Quai de la Fraternité

The unused monochrome postcard below, from an unknown publisher, shows views of the Quai de la Fraternité. Looking at the Google Earth image showing La Joliette just up the page, the Quai de la Fraternité is the inlet to the bottom right. A port has existed on the site since antiquity and it has had many names over the years from Quai des Augustins (16th-17th century), Quai Rousseau (1789), Quai Impérial (1807), Quai Monsieur (1814), Quai d'Orléans (1849), Quai Napoléon (1853), Quai de la Fraternité (1871) and Quai des Belges (1915). Since 2013, the Quai de la Fraternité name has once again been officially associated with it.

Like the Bassins de la Joliette, a number of trams can be seen but most of the vehicles are horse-drawn wagons. The street has lamp posts - most probably gas-powered - and there are many small boats alongside the quay. The steam powered boat towards the front left may well be a tug and it looks like there are many sacks - maybe holding coal - in the far left foreground. With magnification, you can see that the bar on the far right has a sign advertising the availability of a telephone.

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Quai de la Fraternité Marseille

The view, at least as far as the buildings are concerned, has changed little since the photo used for the postcard was taken as can be seen from this image from Google Earth.

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Quai de la Fraternité - aerial view [1]

Notre Dame de la Garde

The colour postcards below by an unknown publisher show two views of Notre Dame de la Garde. Literally meaning 'Our Lady of the Guard' it is known to local citizens as la Bonne Mère (French for 'the Good Mother'), and is a Catholic basilica built on the site of an ancient fort overlooking the city. Work began on it in 1853 and continued for forty years, although it was consecrated in an incomplete state in 1864. The basilica is topped by a 37 foot high copper statue of the Madonna and Child that is covered with gold leaf.

The first postcard shows the basilica and the approaches to it, while the second show a funicular railway, known as the 'Ascenseur' built in 1892 to make it easy for worshippers to reach it. Like a number of similar constructions in the UK, there are two cabins with water tanks beneath them to assist movement. Water was pumped up the hill by a steam-powered pump and into the tank under the car at the top. The extra weight acted as ballast and gravity moved it down the track, pulling the other car up as it went. The water was then pumped back up into the other car. Usage reduced over the years as people drove to the top and the Ascenseur closed in 1967 and was demolished. It has been estimated that it transported around 20 million passengers during its lifetime.

Although the ride up the Ascenseur would have been easy, on reaching the top, worshippers still had to negotiate a footbridge built by Gustave Eiffel, that was 100 meters long and 5 meters wide, and subject to strong winds. The image of the footbridge below does not form part of the collection but is believed to be from a postcard of the same era.

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Notre Dame de la Garde
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Ascenseurs at Notre Dame de la Garde
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Footbridge at the top of the Ascenseurs [11]

The second postcard showing the Ascenseurs was sent to my grandmother and posted from my grandfather's ship Morea when he had reached Melbourne, Australia. Again the date is unavailable but he used her maiden name and they married in 1913 so it was before then. Whilst checking dates and names, I noticed that my unmarried grandmother was living at the same address as my paternal great-grandmother who had lost her husband a little while earlier.

Marseille
Reverse of previous postcard

Rond Point du Prado

The postcards below, one colour and one monochrome and by unknown publishers, show two views of captioned 'La Prado, vu du Rond-Point'; both images were taken from about the same position. They show a long tree-lined avenue with trams, a few horse-drawn vehicles and a number of pedestrians.

Despite the fact that there have, until recently at least, been very few 'roundabouts' in France, they were pioneered by the French architect Eugène Hénard (1849-1923) who had them installed in Paris in 1907. Hénard also proposed the 'priority to the right' rule, the building of ring roads, and traffic flow studies; Marseille was clearly in the forefront of this new thinking. The scene has changed beyond all recognition 100 years later as can be seen from the image from Google Earth below the postcards.

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La Prado, vu du Rond-Point
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La Prado, vu du Rond-Point
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Rond Point du Prado from Google Earth [1]

La Fontaine Castellini

The colour postcard below by unknown publishers is captioned 'La Fontaine Cantini'.

The view is of the historic Place Castellane and shows a fountain donated by Jules Cantini which was designed by sculptor André-Joseph Allar. The fountain, completed in 1913, represents three Provençal rivers: the Durance, the Gardon, and the Rhône. It replaced an earlier obelisk and 'lavoir' (a place for washing clothes) erected in 1798 which was moved to Mazargues where it remains today.

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La Fontaine Cantini in Place Castellane

This postcard was actually posted by my grandfather from Sydney but there is no date stamp. The fact that the fountain was only erected in 1913, and the note written by my grandfather, which I think must refer to my grandmother expecting a baby (my father) certainly suggests a date of 1913 for this voyage.

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Postcard message from my grandfather to my grandmother

City Buildings

The mainly monochrome postcards below, all by unknown publishers, show various major buildings in Marseille.

The Hôtel de Ville, or Town Hall, was constructed between 1653 and 1673 - around the time of the Great Fire of London. It is one of the few important buildings in the city not to be destroyed during the German occupation and it is still in use.

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Hôtel de Ville Marseille

The next postcard shows a building on a corner of the Rue de la République. It is actually at the north end of the Quai de la Fraternité as can be seen from the postcard further up the page. Only trams and pedestrians can be seen in this view. Magnifying the image you can see that the building bears a sign saying 'Bar de Samaritaine'. Checking it out in 2022, I found that there still a business of this name in the same location but it seems to have gone downhill somewhat as it was rated 2,072 out of 2,165 restaurants in Marseille on a popular review site. According to the company's website, the business had nothing to do with the famous store in Paris of the same name. It was formerly a department store but became a brewery in 1910 and the name was retained. The image below the postcard shows the view in 2022 from Google Earth.

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Rue de la République Marseille
Marseille
Rue de la République from Google Earth [1]

The next postcard has the caption 'Place de la Bourse'. The building shown is the Palais de la Bourse - the Chamber of Commerce. The open area with the statue has had many names over the years. In 1789 it was Place Necker, from 1793 it was Place de la Liberté from 1803 Place Impériale, from 1814 Place Royale, from 1848 Place de la Revolution, from 1870 Place de la Bourse and from 1970 Place Général de Gaulle in honour of the French President who died that year.

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Place de la Bourse Marseille

As can be seen from the modern image from Google Earth, the open space has lost its grandeur and there is now an underground carpark beneath it.

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Place Charles de Gaulle from Google Earth [1]

The next postcard has the caption 'Porte D'Aix'. Porte d'Aix (also known as the Porte Royale) is a triumphal arch marking the old entry point to the city on the road from Aix-en-Provence. The classical design by Michel-Robert Penchaud was inspired by the triumphal arches of the Roman Empire - particularly the arch at Orange. The Porte d'Aix was initially conceived in 1784 to honour Louis XVI and to commemorate the Peace of Paris that ended the American Revolutionary War but was put on hold during the French Revolution and Napoleonic rule. Following the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1814-15, the project was resumed in 1823, but now to commemorate French victories in the Spanish Expedition, notably at the Battle of Trocadero, August 31, 1823. It was eventually completed in 1839, with a more general theme of victory.

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Porte D'Aix Marseille

The arch is still in its place but it seems has seen better days as the construction was not really up to the standard of the Romans.

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Porte D'Aix Marseille from Google Earth [1]

The next postcard has the caption 'Eglise Les Réformés et Monument des Mobiles'. It is a Roman Catholic church that was dedicated in 1886. Its unusual name comes from the fact that it was built on the site of a demolished convent and the chapel of Reformed Augustinians. It is supposed to have been inspired by the cathedrals at Reims and at Amiens and has the formal name Église Saint-Vincent-de-Paul. The church is currently (2022) under covers and being renovated.

The Monument des Mobiles commemorates those lost in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871.

Marseille
Eglise Les Réformés et Monument des Mobiles Marseille

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