Aviva Directory » Local & Global » Europe » France » Cities & Towns » Marseilles

The French city of Marseille, which is sometimes spelled Marseilles, is the main city of the province of Provence and the capital of the department of Bouches-du-Rhome and region of Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur. It is the oldest city in France.

Situated on the south coast of France, Marseille was founded around 600 BC as a Greek colony called Massalia and was independent and commercially successful. During the Second Punic War, which went on from 218 to 201 BC, Marseille allied with the Roman Republic against Carthage. After the Roman Siege of Massilia in 49 BC, and lost its independence.

Marseille grew and thrived as a Roman city and became a center of Christianity during the Western Roman Empire. The city was captured during the 5th century AD but managed to keep its status as a prime maritime trading hub. It became part of the County of Provence in the 10th century, regaining much of its wealth and trading power.

The 14th century brought the Black Death, which was likely one of the first places to become infected due to their busy port. More than 15,000 people in the city died of the plague, which struck several times between 1348 until 1361

The 15th century saw the sack of the city by the Aragonese each served to wallop the city with economic downturns. It recovered, and by 1437, the city was prospering once again. In the 1480s, Marseille became part of France, but the city clung fiercely to its independence and culture.

During the 18th century, Marseille's port was fortified, and it became more important as France's leading military port in the Mediterranean. But in 1720, the bubonic plague, this time known as the Great Plague of Marseille, a continuation of the Black Death, entered the country at Marseille from the Levant. The ship made stops in the Lebanon, Smyrna, Tripoli, and Cyprus, which was raging with the plague. a Turkish passenger was the first to die from this one, with several crew members dying shortly afterwards, as well as the ship's surgeon. The ship was denied entry to the port of Livorno, so it made its way to Marseille. The ship was quarantined immediately, but due to pressure from merchants in the city who were waiting for the cotton and silk which was onboard, the quarantine was lifted. A few days later, the plague broke out all over the city. More than 50,000 of the city's 90,000 residents died in the first two years of this outbreak. In an attempt to stop the spread, a law was passed making it illegal to communicate between Marseille and the rest of Provence. That law carried with it the death penalty. To help enforce the law, the Mur de la Peste, or plague wall, was built. It was constructed of dry stone, 70 cm thick and 2 m tall and was approximately 27 km long. Parts of the wall still stand.

In 1789, the French Revolution began. The majority of the population of Marseille were enthusiastic about the cause and, displaying the city's independent character once again, sent 500 citizens to Paris to help defend the revolutionary government. The rallying call to revolution which they sang as they marched from Marseille to Paris would later be known as "La Marseillaise." That song is now France's national anthem.

During World War II, Marseille was bombed by the German and Italian army (1940) and the allies (1943), the only city to be bombed by both sides. It was occupied by the Nazis in November of 1942. During the Roundup of Marseille, from January 22-24 1943, between 2,000 and 6,000 Jews were rounded up in the Marseille and held in detention camps, then deported to occupied Poland to be killed. This roundup was assisted b the French police, who helped check the documents of more than 40,000 people to ascertain who was Jewish and would have to go. The Germans began in the Old Port and troops moved from house to house checking documents. Then they evicted the non-Jewish residents from the Old Port and sealed it off from the rest of the city. In February, the Germans set explosives all over the Old Port and blew the area up, one block at a time, destroying more than 1,500 buildings. The badly damaged city would be rebuilt in the 1950s, funded by reparations from Germany. The Allies liberated the city on August 29, 1944.



Recommended Resources

Search for Marseilles on Google or Bing