Quick access:
Go directly to content (Alt 1)Go directly to second-level navigation (Alt 3)Go directly to first-level navigation (Alt 2)


Photo-Essay Marseille

By Caroline Lessire

MARSEILLE

Marseille is said to be unique, extreme, marginal; people describe it as poor, dangerous, cosmopolitan; they delight in its Provençal accent, glorify its rebellious spirit and vilify the corrupt workings of this city, which is also used as a laboratory for testing dicey policies.

Some, on the other hand, take pains to point out how ordinary it has become, having lost its standing as a world city at least since the decline of its shipping and industrial activity, when it had to be bailed out by the state  in the 1970s. Today, most transportation to and from Marseille no longer connects it to Algiers, Tangiers or Bastia, but to Paris – as with a provincial city – which it is too. It doesn’t even really serve as the main hub of a region in which Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, Fos-sur-Mer and Vitrolles also figure prominently.

For those who have got to know the city, Marseille cannot be summed up either in the clichés about it or in the "ordinariness" plenty of pundits now ascribe to it. Its political neglect and stark inequalities, its long history of trade and immigration, the omnipresence of the sea, the sunshine and the local accent will not suffice to explain its workings or its ever-renewed powers of attraction. Marseille is exhausting chaos, blinding sunlight, a traditional hat shop next to a fast-food restaurant, men walking down the street in swimming trunks, neighbourhoods that hardly communicate with each other at all, loudmouthed troublemakers , traffic that knows no rules, schools that look like pools, an unfathomable mystery.

But what undeniably sets Marseille apart from all other Western cities of comparable size and situation is that the bourgeois and upper-middle class that left for the suburbs in the 1960s never returned to its inner city. In the heart of the city, people of various classes and origins not only still mix, still shop at the same markets, still see and talk to one another in the street, but they even live in the same building. How much longer though? At what cost and in what conditions? These are questions now facing the denizens of Marseille with mounting urgency since the tragedy of 5 November 2018, when three buildings collapsed and eight people died, causing an unprecedented housing crisis as well as a crisis of political representation and trust in the local powers that be.
 
  • A little traditional fishing haven © Caroline Lessire
    Away from the agitation of the city centre, the Vallon des Auffes is a little traditional fishing haven and one of Marseille’s most emblematic areas. Wedged between two cliffs, the only thing that betrays the image of a place where time appears to have stood still for centuries are the modern buildings just visible in the background.
  • Locals ans tourists at the sea © Caroline Lessire
    Next to the Porte de L'Orient, locals and tourists alike can be seen relaxing on tiny rock ledges by the sea. Offering a gateway to the shoreline, these rocky slabs as well as Marseille’s various beaches are places that can be enjoyed by all of the city’s residents.
  • A car parked in the middle of a traffic island. © Caroline Lessire
    A car parked in the middle of a traffic island – a typical sight in Marseille, where parking is a local sport that appears to defy rules.
  • Noailles in Marseille © Caroline Lessire
    Nicknamed “the belly of Marseille”, Noailles is a rich, vibrant and culturally mixed area full of shops and market stalls, North African grocery stores and cafés, hairdressers, cosmetics shops and West African handicrafts. Its fruit and vegetable market was temporarily moved as part of a plan to renovate the city centre. Though welcomed by local residents, there are concerns the redevelopment will eventually force local people out of this much-loved district in the heart of Marseille – as has happened in other poor areas of the city.
  • A woman with her dogs watches the street activity in the city centre. © Caroline Lessire
    A woman with her dogs watches the street activity in the city centre.
  • A young couple from the Belle de Mai district enjoy the afternoon at their window. © Caroline Lessire
    A young couple from the Belle de Mai district enjoy the afternoon at their window.
  • Cours Julien / La Plaine © Caroline Lessire
    Cours Julien / La Plaine. Known as “the creative district”, La Plaine is what locals call Place Jean Jaurès, close to Cours Julien. If historically the area was full of gardeners and antique dealers, it now also has numerous bookstores, cafés, markets and a children’s playground. The area is full of graffiti, which adds to the neighbourhood’s creative vibe (this is an image of Keny Arkana, a famous and politically engaged singer from Marseille). Since mid-October 2018, demonstrations have been taking place in La Plaine against the city’s regeneration plans.
  • People buy organic products from a local market. © Caroline Lessire
    Cours Julien. People buy organic products from a local market.
  • Cité radieuse - Le Corbusier © Caroline Lessire
    Some 70 years after it was built, "La Cité Radieuse" or Maison du Fada (the madman’s house), designed by architect Le Corbusier, continues to fascinate. Created to “bring happiness” to its inhabitants, the building included a school, a library and a 21-room hotel-restaurant. This city inside a city allowed families to build real communities and is a testament to France’s post-WWII's urban social policy.
  • View of the city from Notre Dame de la Garde. © Caroline Lessire
    View of the city from Notre Dame de la Garde. Part lighthouse, part fortress, part sacred place of pilgrimage, “La Bonne Mère” (The Good Mother) dominates and protects the city. For centuries, fishermen would come here and hang model boats from the walls and ceilings asking for protection.
  • Fishermen in the Old Port. © Caroline Lessire
    Fishermen in the Old Port. At the Quai de la Fraternité, the last professional fishermen are still hard at work. From early morning until midday, these fishermen come straight from a night of fishing to sell the fruits of their labour at the port.
  • Fishermen in the Old Port. © Caroline Lessire
    Though most tourists prefer just to watch the spectacle, hopefully local traders and shoppers remain faithful customers. Four years ago, new European regulations required fishmongers to label their catch with their Latin names as well as the method and location the fish were caught at – a measure that outrages the fishermen who feel the regulation is excessive.
  • A young woman, who recently registered as self-employed © Caroline Lessire
    This young woman, who recently registered as self-employed, decided to develop her business at the Old Port and, like the older generation, sell her fish at the Quai de la Fraternité.
  • Marseille Fos Port © Caroline Lessire
    Marseille Fos Port is the main trade seaport of France. Going from La Joliette to l'Estaque, it covers an area as big as the city of Paris and generates 45,000 jobs. Thanks to its geostrategic positioning and its quadrimodality (road, rail, river and pipelines), it is the southern gateway to Europe. Also providing ship-repair activities, the port complies with international standards pertaining to passenger, cruise and ferry activities. Over 2.4 million passengers transited through the port of Marseille Fos in 2018.
  • Family members say goodbye to each other before embarking on a ferry bound for North Africa. © Caroline Lessire
    Family members say goodbye to each other before embarking on a ferry bound for North Africa.
  • MuCEM in Marseille © Caroline Lessire
    MuCEM. After being nominated as European Capital of Culture in 2013, a number of new museums were built in Marseille, including the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations and Villa Méditerranée. Now reopened, this building work meant the Old Port was closed to the public for a long time. The regeneration of the city also involved redesigning the La Joliette district which now has, for example, a new shopping centre. While this has helped improve the image of the city, some point out that this accelerated gentrification process – particularly through the Euromed project – leads to an influx of more affluent newcomers that forces the city’s poorer and more working-class residents further out of the city centre.
  • One of the city’s oldest areas © Caroline Lessire
    A charming warren of steep and narrow streets, Le Panier is one of the city’s oldest areas and where, historically, newcomers would settle on arrival (in the 1940s, the neighbourhood was home to some 50,000 people from a whole range of backgrounds and ethnicities). These days, Le Panier is a well-known tourist destination full of expensive cafés and boutiques. The district’s older residents now face rising land values and house prices due to its proximity to the MuCEM but also to the boom in tourism following the success of the TV series Plus Belle La Vie that is set in the neighbourhood.
  • A woman watches the city from a bus window. © Caroline Lessire
    A woman watches the city from a bus window. Transport links between the north and the south of the city are still very limited, which makes it difficult to reach the city centre from the northern districts.
  • Children play in the streets of the Belle de Mai district. © Caroline Lessire
    Children play in the streets of the Belle de Mai district. Here, they run after an invisible ball.
  • Men exit the mosque in the Belsunce district after the Friday prayer. © Caroline Lessire
    Men exit the mosque in the Belsunce district after the Friday prayer.
  • People chat outside together on a quiet afternoon. © Caroline Lessire
    People chat outside together on a quiet afternoon. Working class and cosmopolitan, Belsunce is located next to Le Panier, the city centre and the Old Port.
  • La Friche de la Belle de Mai. © Caroline Lessire
    La Friche de la Belle de Mai. A cultural and creative hub, La Friche is located in the heart of the working-class Belle de Mai district. This space, that is freely open to the public, includes a playground and sports area, concert halls, shared gardens, a bookstore, a nursery, and a training centre.
  • Portrait of the owner of a shoe repair shop. © Caroline Lessire
    Chaussures Aimé. Portrait of the owner of a shoe repair shop specialising in larger sizes that has operated in the Belsunce district for more than 30 years.
  • Pétanque Championship at Borély Park. © Caroline Lessire
    Pétanque Championship at Borély Park. The Mondial la Marseillaise à Pétanque is held every year in July. The competition, which is mixed and open to all, takes place at Borély Park and about twenty other sites around Marseille. For the 57th edition, 12,000 players came from all over France and twenty different countries to compete for the trophy. Many come with family or friends to watch the competition in a relaxed atmosphere. Champions rub shoulders with fans, amateurs and players of all ages and all walks of life.
  • The scooters of Marseille. © Caroline Lessire
    The scooters of Marseille. A feeling of freedom for this teenager on a sunny afternoon after the beach. What would the city be without its urban bikers?
  • Rami players enjoying the area’s peace and tranquillity. © Caroline Lessire
    A short walk from the new Museum of Contemporary Art, in the city’s south far from the city centre, you won’t see any modern art but passionate rami players enjoying the area’s peace and tranquillity.
  • Plage des Catalans. © Caroline Lessire
    Plage des Catalans. Marseille has several beaches: Catalans, Prophètes, Corbières and Pointe-Rouge. Here, at la Plage des Catalans people enjoy the sea, the warmth of the evening sun and spending time with friends and family. These places offer the chance for all kinds of people to mix together, but there are plans to privatise sections of the beach which community groups have objected to on the grounds that access to the coastline should be free and open to all.
  • Young people at La Plage des Catalans. © Caroline Lessire
    Young people at La Plage des Catalans.
  • Plage des Catalans. © Caroline Lessire
    Plage des Catalans. Marseille has several beaches: Catalans, Prophètes, Corbières and Pointe-Rouge. Here, at la Plage des Catalans people enjoy the sea, the warmth of the evening sun and spending time with friends and family. These places offer the chance for all kinds of people to mix together, but there are plans to privatise sections of the beach which community groups have objected to on the grounds that access to the coastline should be free and open to all.
  • Aperitif time. With its superb views and wonderful light, the Old Port in an inviting spot for tourists and locals alike. © Caroline Lessire
    Aperitif time. With its superb views and wonderful light, the Old Port in an inviting spot for tourists and locals alike.
  • Abel runs a tea room in the Belsunce district. There are three shops in his street that he’s particularly fond of. His autistic son was always supported by locals and doctors in the neighbourhood. © Caroline Lessire
    Abel - café proprietor
    Abel runs a tea room in the Belsunce district. There are three shops in his street that he’s particularly fond of. His autistic son was always supported by locals and doctors in the neighbourhood.
  • Abel is a modest, grateful person. He’s standing beside an olive tree he got from the Compagnie. The Compagnie, which is located right next to his tea room, is a very special place that does creative social outreach work with people in the neighbourhood and is forging lasting ties to the city’s residents and associations. © Caroline Lessire
    Abel is a modest, grateful person. He’s standing beside an olive tree he got from the Compagnie. The Compagnie, which is located right next to his tea room, is a very special place that does creative social outreach work with people in the neighbourhood and is forging lasting ties to the city’s residents and associations.
  • “You're free when you live in peace,” he says, “in harmony with those around you.” Hence the name of his establishment, Café de la Paix, right across from his olive tree, an enduring symbol of peace. © Caroline Lessire
    “You're free when you live in peace,” he says, “in harmony with those around you.” Hence the name of his establishment, Café de la Paix, right across from his olive tree, an enduring symbol of peace.
  • Valérie (aka Betty), museum attendant at Palais Longchamp © Caroline Lessire
    Valérie (aka Betty), museum attendant at Palais Longchamp
  • Valérie (aka Betty), museum attendant at Palais Longchamp © Caroline Lessire
    “You're free if you do what you like while respecting others.”
  • The pensioner Francis is standing in front of Porte d'Orient , holding a flag. © Caroline Lessire
    Francis is a pensioner. He is rather quiet and pensive, but his sad, gentle eyes say a lot. For more than twenty years he has been going to the Porte d'Orient every year on 27 June and 5 July to commemorate the victims of the 1962 Oran massacre in Algeria. “It's important not to forget. To raise awareness and call attention to the grief of the victims’ families. That's why I'm here – and that’s why I’ve been coming here all these years.”
  • The pensioner Francis is standing in front of Porte d'Orient, holding a rolled-up flag and looking into the camera. © Caroline Lessire
    Francis adds that he’s French and that he loves France. In 1962 he arrived in Marseille, right here at the Porte d'Orient, at the port of Marseille, and has lived on this continent, which he loves, ever since. However, he feels that various countries have grown a bit self-indulgent in Europe, so “we need to watch out, for the sake of the future”. Freedom, as he sees it, goes hand in hand with an awareness and due acknowledgment of the past. To achieve peace of mind, we need to be capable of acknowledging what came before.
  • Pensioner Gisèle und optician Stéphane are sitting at the table of the optician's shop. © Caroline Lessire
    For Gisèle, Nadia and Stéphane, residents of the working-class district of Belle de Mai, freedom comes with work.
  • The optician Nadia at her workplace © Caroline Lessire
    All three of them are – or, in Gisèle’s case, were – real workhorses and regret that the work-based economy has become an economy of idleness, which creates problems in the neighbourhood and undermines peaceful coexistence.
  • Gisèle explains something, laughing. © Caroline Lessire
    People used to work together, which forged ties between them.
  • Gisèle and Nadia talking to each other © Caroline Lessire
    All three of them observe that a change in the prevailing mind-set has taken place over the past two decades in their neighbourhood.
  • Gisèle is sitting at the optician's and speaks about something. © Caroline Lessire
    A lack of jobs, prospects and interaction between the various segments of the local population has taken a heavy toll on their savoir vivre and peaceful coexistence, resulting in a generally inconsiderate treatment of one another.
  • Stéphane explains something. © Caroline Lessire
    Not only that, but Stéphane has been assaulted by local youths three times over the past two years, which would have been inconceivable ten years ago.
  • Portrait of Hélène at the harbour, the sea in the background. © Caroline Lessire
    Hélène is a hardworking fisherwoman with plenty of personality.
  • The fisherwomen Hélène in front of the table covered with fish, speaking to a customer. © Caroline Lessire
    When a caterer asks for octopus, she tells him, “There’s still none to be had.”
  • Hélène docks with her fishing cutter at the harbour, while some men are standing at the quay. © Caroline Lessire
    This is the first year they’ve netted so little octopus and cuttlefish, because of ocean currents and industrial overfishing.
  • The fisherwomen Hélène with her catch of fish inbetween her customers. © Caroline Lessire
    When asked what freedom is, she says, “First and foremost, there is none if directives impose a fine when the name of the fish for sale isn’t given in Latin.”
  • Fishnames and abbreviations are standing on a price list - in French and Latin. © Caroline Lessire
    She points to the price list. For a few years now, EU legislation has required fishmongers to state the names of all their seafood in Latin, and to specify where and how each species was caught. Marseille’s fishermen are up in arms about this directive.
  • Héléne pulls an octopus from a net. © Caroline Lessire
    One of them was recently fined. “The port used to be full of fishermen,” says Hélène. “Look how few of us are left now. No wonder!”
  • A teenage mechanic in the Belle de Mai district © Caroline Lessire
    A teenage mechanic in the Belle de Mai district: “I feel good when I’m sitting on my moped. Apart from that, I don't know, go ask further up, over there where the people are cultivated and do some stuff with art.”
  • Portrait of Justine at the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle in Marseille © Caroline Lessire
    Justine (28), deputy director of Marseille’s museum of natural history: “To me, freedom means being able to change your mind at any time. A moment of fulfilment in which you feel you’re living like a human being, being content to have a choice. When I feel free, I’m quite conscious of feeling my body in space, how I’m going to alter the equilibrium of my surroundings in a fraction of a second. Where am I going to go? How am I going to get there? Nobody knows that or needs to know that, not even me. When I go to work at the museum, I leave my family members and friends, in other words I’m far away from my family, but I put myself to the test as a human being, acting on the convictions that I’m proud of. Marseille represents a fresh start, a sort of clean slate: the city is a challenge. Freedom means taking responsibility for moments of regret. Freedom is the luxury of surprising and impressing yourself and others.”
  • Michelle and Pascale, teachers at the Centre Léo Lagrange © Caroline Lessire
    Michelle and Pascale work at the Centre Léo Lagrange, a non-profit association for political education.
  • Michelle and Pascale, teachers at the Centre Léo Lagrange © Caroline Lessire
    Through their campaigns, their Political Education Movement seeks to develop critical thinking, an appreciation for social coexistence, a sense of responsibility and, above all, a sense of the public interest, the common good.
  • Michelle and Pascale, teachers at the Centre Léo Lagrange © Caroline Lessire
    Michelle and Pascale feel this last point is a problem: people in the neighbourhood are taking too many liberties, which has ultimately led to a lack of respect for others.
  • Michelle and Pascale, teachers at the Centre Léo Lagrange © Caroline Lessire
    A general state of inconsiderateness that has eroded good-neighbourly relations.
  • Capoeira dancers performs a backflip on the pavement. © Caroline Lessire
    Natureza (32), capoeira dancer: “The four elements – earth, fire, air and water – are free elements that can't be cooped up. Like the mind, which, regardless of your situation, can be free from the body or enslaved to it.”
  • A capoeira dancer makes a frontflip. © Caroline Lessire
    “Nelson Mandela is a good example, with his powerful and necessary ideas. I certainly think of him because of what my country, Brazil, is going through these days.”
  • Two capoeria dancers in motion. © Caroline Lessire
    “Capoeira is, for me, an art and a brilliant expression of freedom.”
  • Two capoeira dancers © Caroline Lessire
    Natureza (32), capoeira dancer
  • Capoeira dancer Natureza © Caroline Lessire
    Natureza (32), capoeira dancer
  • Four capoeira dancers on the pavement © Caroline Lessire
    Capoeira dancers
  • Portrait of Paul Giovanonni in a park. © Caroline Lessire
    Paul is a Corsican pensioner. He started out as a skilled worker in the building trade, an occupation he’s very proud of.
  • Paul Giovanonni between two men in a park © Caroline Lessire
    “I operated machines on all the big building sites, here and elsewhere, I know them all!” He smiles and says, “I’m 85 years young, but I look 70, don’t I?!”
  • Paul Giovanonni shows his Transpass Métropole, a public transport ticket in Marseille © Caroline Lessire
    He retired at 55. He’d worked long enough, and thanks to a comfortable pension, he now enjoys life in Saint Loup. Like other people in Marseille, he believes freedom can be attained by working. Young people need to reinvent work.
  • Portrait of Remi, wearing sunglasses. © Caroline Lessire
    Remi, security guard: “Freedom of speech is very important to me. I know it's a bit of a cliché, but that’s the first thing that comes to mind. Freedom of speech is not respected in France, even though it’s a democratic country.”

Top