Marseille, France’s port city in the southern tip of the country, is a city like no other. Starkly different from Paris in look and feel, it is a delicious boiling cauldron of cultures and colors, thanks to maritime trade bringing in people from different parts of the Mediterranean. With strains of North Africa woven in it’s rich tapestry of life, Marseille is a city of immigrants and thus their colorful stories are splashed across walls as murals. People of all colors and races mingle with natural ease and their mirth is conspicuously manifested as public art. The street art in Marseille is dazzling and stunning, to say the least and the theme is as myriad as it’s population. From immigration issues plaguing Europe to flashes of veiled faces splattered across walls (a gesture against islamophobia) to simply graphic cartoons of humans and animals, Marseille Street Art has it all. We found some common themes such as the multicolored woman’s face and a fanged cartoon appearing again and again as well as walls with elaborate murals that simply took our breath away. The other thing to notice was that many stores and businesses had murals on their walls, advertising their business. So without further ado, here is a guide to some of the best Marseille street art that I could find for you in the three days that I spend there.
Marseille Street Art Tour #1 Le Panier
Le Panier in the 2nd Arrondissement, is the old town of Marseille and it’s epicenter. A must visit for anyone stopping by, this is the go to neighborhood for good food, local shops, main attractions such as the Cathedral de la Major (the second oldest church in Europe) and of course some amazing murals that it’s lanes and buildings have to offer. Start your mural hunt near La Vielle Charite from Place Des Pistoles (plaza with lots of outdoor cafes) where you will be greeted with a giant mural of a fisherman selling sardines, that is quite the symbol of Marseille (first photo above). Then onward from crumbling walls and store fronts and shutters to nooks and crannies, you will find murals sneaking up on you from everywhere. Gleaming in the fading light of the sun as it sets over the old port, these murals make the gritty streets come alive with color and represent a slice of Marseille’s social life. The variety and use of colors is simply mind boggling.
Some of the notable streets to spot murals are rue de Petit-Puits (where you will also spot a Japanese restaurant with colorful art adorning its brick red exterior), the street leading to Cathedral de la Major, rue de Poirier, rue Beauregard, rue du Refuge, rue Puits Baussenque, rue Sainte Francoise, Montee des Accoules, rue Fontaine de Caylus, rue Baussenque, rue des Honneurs, rue Michel Salvarelli, rue des Cordelles, rue du Panier, rue Saint Antoine, Place de Lorette, intersection of rue de la Charite and rue de la Vieille Tour. Don’t be shy to explore steps leading to open courtyards or giving way to a narrow alley since they are lined with a dazzling array of murals. As you keep on going, you will find yourself making a full circle around the plaza as we did. Being a small neighborhood with tiny streets, the murals are not that difficult to hunt down provided you are curious enough to comb the area intrepidly to quench your mural thirst. Le Panier is a bustling neighborhood and safe to explore, so no worries at all.
Marseille Street Art Tour #2 Cours Julien
If your eyes have popped out at the sight of the murals at Le Panier, wait till you see what awaits you at Cours Julien, one of the most culturally hip neighborhood of Marseille, which is also thankfully devoid of any tourists. Use Oogie, the famous rainbow mural shuttered restaurant at 55 Cours Julien as your marker and turn either left or right the large stone plaza adjacent to it, to be greeted by one mural alley after another! Same goes for the other side of the street as well. Rows and rows of murals will meet your eye, with varied themes, ranging from Indian deities adorning the Indian restaurants (there is a bustling street lined with ethnic eateries and is known as rue des 3 Rois) to beautiful Mexican street art (courtesy, a Mexican restaurant)and many others in between. Not only are the walls crammed with murals, but also the store facades have beautiful street art on them, especially the restaurants. While walking along one these alleys, I chanced upon this incredibly moving mural depicting the refugee crisis in Europe where a bunch of “monsters” are weeping reading the news of the little Kurdish boy Alan Kurdi who died on Sep 2015 while seeking safe passage through the Mediterranean, with his lifeless body washed up on the Turkish shore. This is an allegory on the loss of humanity and how we humans have turned into cruel monsters by turning a blind eye to the most vulnerable. This residential neighborhood, far from the maddening tourist crowds, gives a true glimpse of the life of locals in Marseille, chatting and dining and setting up shop (we went in the evening when the restaurants were getting ready for business) with different nationalities and ethnicities mingling with ease, laughter and over food. Also there are lots of cute local boutiques in these mural alleys and are totally worth checking out and purchasing from, rather than spending your money at tacky touristy souvenir stores.
We also found a rainbow flight of steps near the Notre Dame du Mont subway station that was stunning and led to even more murals as we walked up. Oh, and can you spot Breaking Bad’s Heisenberg/Walter White in this maze of colors? Scroll down to find it.
I hope you enjoyed this visual treat of Marseille street art tour. The dazzling array of murals in Le Panier and Cours Julien stand testimony to the color in the lives of those who call Marseille their home, irrespective of race, ethnicity and belief. These murals depict their hopes, joys and aspirations.
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