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North Meets South: Diversity in Marseille

Just three hours from Paris by train lies Marseille, an unusual French city
warmed by the Mediterranean sun and flavored by a distinctly North African feel.
Marseille is Frances biggest port city and has served for centuries as a gateway
between Europe and the Maghreb (Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco). While all of
France has a large percentage of Maghrebi immigrants and their descendants,
Marseilles population is especially diverse. The citys vibrant blend of cultures
makes it unlike any other place in France.
Le Panier
The oldest neighborhood in Marseille, le Panier, is also its most charming. Its a
vibrant collection of homes, restaurants, art galleries, people, and cultures. At the
Atelier Arterra, visitors can watch painters add color to hand-made nativity
miniatures known as santons. Le Glacier du Roi features beautiful ice cream
desserts, keeping with the French adage that presentation is half of the taste. At
her store, Adjanas, a Togolese woman named Adjara Nassiki sells her own line
of unique, colorful clothing for women that has been described as a mix of
cultures.
Jared Rutman, a Californian who interned in Marseille, got lost in le Panier on
the way to visit an old, blind woman. Watching the Marseillais (a term for the
local people) playing ptanque and taking their lunches slowly at outdoor cafs,
he marveled that this was real life for those people. When at last he found the
womans house, to Jareds surprise, she gave him a tour of the area. You tell me
what street were on, and Ill tell you which way to turn, she said. Then she
showed him landmarks like her favorite grocery store and the bar where she
always goes to drink with her friends. Marseille became a real place for me,
Jared remembered.
A Detour to Algeria
Bordered by tiny tea shops and oriental bakeries, a market called the March des
Capucins (more commonly known as March de Noailles, after its metro stop) is
the first place visitors should go to experience the blending of cultures that is
Marseille. The booths stretching along the rue Longue des Capucins offer every

exotic spice and herb you can imagine. Native Marseillais and native Algerians
alike agree that this market, which also sells produce, fish, spicy sausage, North
African pastilla, oriental flatbread, and French baguettes, seems to come straight
out of North Africa. Its vegetables are the cheapest, its mid-morning sales are
promising, and its popularity never wanesthe market is always bustling with
French, Africans, and tourists alike.
Street Art
Especially around the cours Julien, a neighborhood that the citys tourism
website calls famous for its artists, rebels, musicians, and bobos [hipsters], a
stroll through Marseilles streets can be like a trip to a museuma street art
museum.
Last July, to celebrate its street art, the cours Julien hosted Marseilles first street
art festival. Spectators flocked to the sixth arrondissement to see performances
by professional street artists, who were invited to create new works of art using
spray paint, stencils, collage, wire, and photo projections. Between 6:30 and
midnight one evening, nine different galleries spiced up their street-art
exhibitions with music, dancing, and drinks. This event was typical of Marseilles
vibrant nightlife, and further street art festivals are sure to come.
Atelier Juxtapoz provides a two-hour walking tour through Marseille with a guide
who specializes in art history. The tour is geared toward youth ages ten and up, as
are Juxtapozs graffiti workshops, which allow youth to collaborate on a new
piece of street art.
Synthesis
Its hard to be in Marseille and not feel like youre on vacation. Throughout the
year, average temperatures range from 45 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. In southern
fashion, the atmosphere of Marseille is more relaxed than that of Paris, and the
beaches are always full. But aside from the pull of its coastal location, Marseille
attracts visitors with its promise of a rich blend of cultures and a glimpse into
what happens when North Africa meets France.