The Port of Marseille is one of the busiest ports on the Mediterranean Sea. It lies to the west of the French Riviera on the Gulf of Lion about 135 kilometers west of Cannes and some 200 nautical miles northeast of Barcelona in Spain. The Port of Marseille is capital of France's fast-growing Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur region and an important commercial center. In 2005, over 826 thousand people lived in the Port of Marseille, and more than 1.3 million lived in the metropolitan area.
The Port of Marseille is the biggest contributor to the local economy, as it has been for centuries, and its New Port is an important seaport for containerized cargoes. Connected to the River Rhone by canal, the Port of Marseille has access to the nation's inland waterway network. Container giant CMA CGM is based in Marseille, as is Comex, a major sub-sea engineering and hydraulic systems company. The Port of Marseille is France's busiest oil port.
Fishing is important, and other important industries in the Port of Marseille include shipbuilding and petroleum refining. Manufacturers in the Port of Marseille area produce chemicals, building materials, glass, soap, plastics, textiles, olive oil, sugar, and processed foods. More recently, the Port of Marseille economy has been shifting toward the service sector and to high-tech activities.
Underwater cave paintings from the Paleolithic period testify to the presence of human in the Port of Marseille area for anywhere from 19,000 BC to 27,000 BC. Archaeological digs near the city's rail station discovered brick buildings from the Neolithic period at around 6,000 BC. Clearly, the Port of Marseille has long been a magnet for people who love the climate and the rich fisheries.
The modern Port of Marseille is France's oldest city. Founded by Greeks from Phocaea in 600 BC, it was a trading port called Massalia. One of Western Europe's first Greek ports, the Greek colony soon had a population of over one thousand residents. As the Etruscan, Carthaginian, and Celtic cultures grew in power, Massalia sought protection from the growing Roman Republic.
The new relationship with Rome brought prosperity to the Port of Marseille during the 5th Century BC, as it was a gateway for Roman goods and wine to the inhabitants of inland Gaul and a supplier of slaves and products from Gaul to Rome.
Massalia remained independent until Julius Caesar came to power in 49 BC. The future Port of Marseille had allied itself with Pompey and lost its independence when Pompey lost the civil war. The Romans called the town Massilia and replaced the earlier Greek settlement with Roman buildings.
The Port of Marseille had much influence in the area. Massalians established trading posts inland and on the coasts from Spain to Monaco. Massalians established the modern cities of Arles, Antibes, and Nice, and they left coins throughout France and the Alps. Seamen from Massalia (the Port of Marseille) visited Germany, Britain, and Gaul to the north and Africa to the south during the 4th Century BC.
It is said that Mary Magdalen brought Christianity to the Port of Marseille, and the records of Roman martyrs and catacombs above the harbor show that it was an early Christian city. The diocese of Marseille was established in the 1st Century AD.
As the Roman Empire failed, the Visigoths took control of the Port of Marseille. In the middle 6th Century, the Carolingian Franks gained power. Emperor Charlemagne granted civic power to the town, assuring its position as an important seaport.
In the 10th Century, the Counts of Provence took new interest in the development of the Port of Marseille, and the city re-established its importance and its wealth.
From 1348 until 1361, people of the Port of Marseille were assaulted by the Black Death, with 60% of the population succumbing to the terrible disease and the local economy brought to its knees. The 1432 sacking of the Port of Marseille by the Kingdom of Aragon brought further declines.
From 1447 until 1453, the Count of Province Rene of Anjou, King of Sicily and Duke of Anjou, made the Port of Marseille France's second most fortified settlement, after only Paris. Rene founded the Corporation of Fishermen, and he used the Port of Marseille as a strategic base in his efforts to recapture the Kingdom of Sicily. During this period, trade in the Port of Marseille thrived, and Guilds were born, establishing power for the city's merchants.
United with Provence in 1481, the Port of Marseille was incorporated into France in 1482. In the early 16th Century, King Francois I visited the seaport, and the Chateau d'If was constructed on the Ile d'If soon after his visit to protect the Port of Marseille from threatening Spanish and Roman forces. Nonetheless, the Port of Marseille was besieged by the Holy Roman Empire a few years later. In the late 16th Century, the Black Death returned to the Port of Marseille, inspiring the construction of the hospital Hotel-Dieu.
In the 17th Century, the Port of Marseille joined the Fronde movement that attempted to prevent the growing absolute power of the French monarchy. In 1660, King Louis XIV led his army into the Port of Marseille to put down a local uprising, and he built two new forts above the Port of Marseille harbor to prevent further rebellions, assembled a large fleet, and built an arsenal in the harbor.
During the 18th Century, the Port of Marseille became the main Mediterranean military port for France. Its defenses were improved, and commerce continued to grow. In 1720, the Black Death made one last appearance in the Great Plague of Marseille, killing 100 thousand people.
In 1792, the Port of Marseille contributed 500 volunteers to defend France's revolutionary government. The song they sang on their way to Paris, now called La Marseillaise, is now the country's national anthem. As the post-revolution Reign of Terror washed away the spirit of democracy in France, the Port of Marseille again rebelled against the central power. It was quickly suppressed and became "the city without a name."
The 19th Century brought new prosperity and growth to the Port of Marseille. As Napoleon's French Empire grew after 1830, the acquisition of Algeria made the Port of Marseille an even more important seaport. During a maritime blockade of French ports directed against Napoleon, the Port of Marseille's commerce all but disappeared. The Port of Marseille then became bitterly opposed to Napoleon, calling for restoration of the monarchy. Defeat of the Barbary pirates and opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 brought increased trade. The Port of Marseille maintained its position as the "port of the Empire" through the first half of the 20th Century.
Axis powers bombed the Port of Marseille in 1940 during World War II, and German Nazis occupied the seaport from 1942 until 1944. The Port of Marseille was a busy center for the French Resistance movement. In an effort to thwart the resistance, the Germans demolished much of the city's old quarter. German mines in the Port of Marseille created more damage in 1944. After the war, huge reparations were provided by East and West Germany and Italy to compensate for those killed or left homeless by the destruction.
The post-war Port of Marseille went about the business of rebuilding and re-development of its port and industrial complexes. After 1950, the Port of Marseille became an entry point for more than a million immigrants to France. In 1962, many settlers from Algeria returned to France through the Port of Marseille, and the city still has a colorful French-African quarter.
The oil crisis of 1973 and a general economic slowdown brought the modern problems of poverty and crime to the Port of Marseille. The central areas, particularly those areas near the old port, lost population and industry. The city has worked to alleviate these problems, and funds provided by the European Union have helped the Port of Marseille develop an economic sector based on oil refining, services, and high technology. The Port of Marseille continues to be an important economic center for southern France, although the city of Lyon is now a serious rival.