Tag: visit provence

Marseille, Resilient After All

Admittedly, my old view of Marseille came from mob and war stories in books, on TV and movies.

Now after visiting the city, I’m impressed. To me Marseille’s story is one of resilience. It shows how perseverance conquers adversity.

Marseille’s Story: Prehistory and Ancient Massalia

Marseille’s StoryThe earliest settlements in the area, now know as Marseille, date back to the Paleolithic period (60,000 BC). Residents lived along the Marseille basin which was about the size of the current city. The location was ideal for all types of sea activities. It was protected on the opposite side from the strong northerly wind, Les Mistral, by a range of tall mountains.

Around 600 BC the Phocaeans, Greeks from Asia Minor, arrived in the area to be close to their trading partner, Gaul. They named the city “Massalia.”

Marseille’s Story

Remains of Greek temple

A popular legend is that Massalia was a wedding gift from the Gallic king, Nannos, to his daughter upon her marriage to a Greek sailor. The story supports the belief that the nations were peaceful at that time. We do know the blending of the two cultures resulted in the introduction of olive oil, wine, ceramics and Grecian gods into the Gaelic world.

Marseille’s Story

From 600 BC to 49 BC the independent Greek city of Massalia grew into a prestigious seaport. Its sea trade, its infrastructure and its political system dominated the trade routes. They distributed goods along the coasts of Gaul to Iberia.

Marseille’s Story

Model of early Massalia

Marseille’s Story: The Roman City

Caesar captured Massalia in 49 BC. Artifacts unearthed at a site where the History Museum now stands attest to the Roman influence on the town. Massalia’s habits and customs, however, remained strongly Greek. Even the language.

Marseille’s Story

Marseille’s Story: Sacked, Ravaged, Back on Track

From the Roman age through medieval times, the city that became Marseille saw great prosperity and near-total destruction. The Visigoths captured Marseille and the Franks sacked it. In the early 10th century, Marseille experienced a revival as part of a Provençal territory which was divided in two. Arles and Marseille were the capitals.

During the twelfth century, Marseille was an independent republic with strong trade relations and naval prowess. A currency of its own boosted the city’s stature as well.

Marseille’s Story: A French Center of Commerce

Marseille’s StoryMarseille maintained political autonomy until it was absorbed into the Kingdom of France in 1481 along with Provence. Through years of religious wars and changes in French rulers, Marseille maintained its role as a major center of commerce and a vital port for defense. The city had an arsenal and fleets of warships.

Marseille’s Story

Fort Saint John

Under Louis XIV, Marseille was given “free port” status. To affirm his political power, the king ordered a new urban plan for the city. The size of Marseille went from 65 hectares to 195. Straight streets lined with mansions appeared, including the Canebière that leads to the Old Port. The new city had a fort and a new town hall.

The Great Plague

Thought to be carried from Central Asia through ship crews, the Great Plague of 1720 devastated Marseille. Over 30,000 out of the city’s population of 90,000 died from the outbreak.

Marseille’s Story

Marseille’s Story: The Revolution

The people of Marseille supported the Revolution sending hundreds of men north to Paris to fight. Along the way the rebellious marchers sang a song that is now the French national anthem, La Marseillaise.

Marseille’s Story

Troops from Marseille as depicted on the Arch de Triomphe in Paris

Marseille’s Story: Boom Time and Gangs

The middle of the nineteenth century was a “boom” time for Marseille. The port became a maritime hub for the rest of the world. Trade with the Far East and major shipping lines boosted the creation of a modern culture. At the same time, prosperity cut a deep wedge between the already divided city. The rich against the working class.

Marseille’s Story

Refugees, expelled or fleeing from their countries after WWI, brought droves of Italians, Corsicans, Germans, Armenians and Spaniards to Marseille in search of work. The world of gangsters and the underground grew under leaders such as Carbone and Spirito.

Marseille’s Story

Paul Carbone (top) and François Spirito

Marseille’s Story: Modern War and Destruction

The image of Marseille as a den of violence, drugs and crime is persistent in the eyes of many. Big screen movies and TV series, still today, such as “Marseille” help perpetuate the city’s reputation. Marseille is the second largest city in France today, so an element of such activity can be expected.

It’s how Marseille survived the apocalypse during World War II that is nearly incomprehensible.

Marseilles’ Story

German troops seal off the Old Port quarter of Marseille, the harbour side community.

The Old Port and surrounding districts were bombed and destroyed. The Germans, the Vichy government, the Militia and the French Popular Party actively suppressed the people. In January, 1943, more than 2,000 Marseillais were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. 

Like a phoenix, Marseille thrives. 

Marseille has an enduring charm. The metropolitan area of 1.5 million people consists of a melange of people of all races, creeds and nationalities. It is a place of huge economic, social and cultural significance to France. Marseille is proud and it shows.

Marseille’s Story

For more about Marseille:

The Doors and Windows of Marseille

Marseille is for Foodies

Marseille: A Stormy Past. A Brilliant Future.

Van Gogh's Trail

France Chapter 1: On Van Gogh’s Trail

Van Gogh

France Chapter 1: The First Visit

 Geoffrey’s Citroen now has a name: “Ales (pronounced Alice) the Cat”. Named for a village near here– Ales. And “Cat” –because her little diesel engine “purrs” like a cat.

It’s proper that Ales the Cat has a name. We are dependent on each other for the next few days. Besides, I’m growing quite found of her. Geoffrey was so right to have a luggage rack on Ales’ roof. She’s easy to find in a parking lot. Especially when I keep forgetting she’s silver.

The road trip

Ales and I started out early this morning on Van Gogh’s trail heading for St. Remy de Provence  It was a beautiful, sunny day with light wind and temperatures in the high 70’s. Our planned stops along the way to St. Remy were the towns of Remoulins and Beaucaire.

Remoulins

I’m not certain why I chose to stop in Remoulins. However, I did find a cemetery to visit while i was passing through. I’ve seen cemeteries along my trip that looked interesting, so stopping in Remoulins gave me a chance to check one out. To me, it’s interesting to see how different cultures honor their ancestors. In Remoulin and other areas of Provence, the deceased are buried above ground in family plots. Most grave stones date back many centuries. Each grave in Remoulin is adorned with elaborate porcelain flower displays and family memorabilia.

Beaucaire

Moving onto Beaucaire, the scenery definitely changed. The older part of town where tourist visit is centered around a busy canal. Marine traffic is active, mostly for pleasure boats, and cafes and restaurants cater to transients and locals. Often boats are moored in the marinas for winter for travelers touring the western Mediterranean.

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Finding the way

1  If you’re wondering how I find my way around, it is relatively easy. I have a Michelin Atlas of France which I found in the apartment. I know the main ways in and out if Uzes. So with a couple of stops at petrol stations along the way to ask directions, I got along fine on this trip.

Note: Both petrol stations had female attendants. Neither spoke English. I simple pointed where I was going on the map and they totally understood what I wanted. They gave me perfect directions.

Not to be sexist, but a man giving directions would have described every landmark along the way. The females just drew straight lines from one turn to another. Simple.

Another guide for finding your way on the roadways is “round-abouts.”I’m not kidding, there are round-abouts every two miles or so along the highways. That means there are frequent directions on signs that point your way.

When you get into a city, there are clearly marked signs to follow. If you don’t see your destination on the sign, just keep going straight. Soon there will be a sign that says: Autres Directions. Follow that sign. It will lead you to the right road.

If all else fails, ask a woman.

St. Remy de Provence

St. Remy is advertised as the one place you must see if you want to experience Provence. Now that I’ve been there, I’m not too sure. I prefer Uzes.

Nostradamus was born in SVan Goght. Remy and Doctor Albert Schweitzer was “hospitalized” here in 1917-18 when he wrote The Decay and the Restoration of Civilization and Civilization and Ethics, part of his philosophical study of civilization.

Most importantly St. Remy is where the artist, Van Gogh, lived from 1889-90 in the asylum at Saint Paul-de-Mausolean

Driving into St. Remy, an almost “spiritual” feeling came over me. There was something different about the countryside . It felt like a movie set.

The road into the city is lined with white-banded “plane” trees, like those leading out if Uzes. But they go on for miles and miles. Ancient stuccoed farm houses and buildings are close to the road with lush farmlands spreading deep behind them.

Van Gogh

The historic district of St. Remy is set in a circle. Ales and I found a parking place in the public lot that was close to the entrance of town. After depositing almost $5 in the meter, I looked for the tourist office. Before I had gotten very far, the menu special at a charming cafe caught my eye– salmon. I stopped for Dejeuner.Van Gogh
Perfectly prepared salmon, risotto with tiny chunks of tomato and scallions, and a glass of rose totally satisfied my hunger.

I skipped the tourist office and took off to explore the shops. Of course.

Van GoghInterestingly, I saw more Americans in St. Remy than anywhere else I’ve traveled in this area. I’m sure its because they’ve

read the publicity about St. Remy being “the place to be” in Provence.

There is definitely a unique atmosphere in St. Remy. It reeks with the flavor of “the rich and famous” and the richness flows through the shops and boutiques — too expensive for my budget.

Some of the architecture even looks rich– more “French” than “provincial” or “provençal.”

Art and architecture

Walking around St. Remy, there were so many times I reminded myself, “Van Gogh was here”, I could imagine how he was inspired. It inspired me.

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In the footsteps of Van Gogh

The creme de la creme of my day was a tour of the asylum at Saint Paul-de-Mausolean, the monastery complex where Van Gogh was voluntarily committed from 1889-90. From here he produced two of his most notable works, “Starry nights” and his self portrait.Van Gogh
Taking the photos below, I was transported to Van Gogh’s day and time. I could imagine how he felt fortunate for all the beauty around him, in spite of his imprisonment.

The entrance, the buildings, the inside, Van Gogh’s Garden, the chapel, the view!

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Van Gogh was released from the hospital at Saint Paul-de-Mausoleann in May 1890 and left for Auvers-sur-Oise, near Paris. He shot himself on 27 July 1890 and died two days later.

Fortunately his art lives on.

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