Looking back at Marseille from the ferry, I can see the waterfront and giant cruise ships that hint at the city’s past glories.
Once the gateway to France’s colonies in Africa and Asia, with its harbor surrounded by grand hotels, the city fell into decline when flying took over from shipping, reviving only with the birth of the high speed TGV rail link from Paris in 2001. High on the skyline is the church of Notre Dame de la Garde, topped by a gilded statue of the Madonna and Child that watches over the city and has welcomed waves of immigrants through that same port.
“A lot of people talk about Marseille as a multicultural city, but that is not true,” says Andrés Jaschek, who works for a local cultural organisation. “Marseille is a place with three or four nationalities which have made the city their own but multiculturalism is something else.” Andrés arrived 12 years ago from Argentina and does social work in the northern districts, so he knows the reality perfectly well.
“It’s a city that works in communities,” he says. “There’s the Algerians, all those who came from the Comoros Islands and the Moroccan immigrants. Naturally, they look after each other and this creates bonds among the different nationalities, but the city is still a mix of all of them.”
As well as all of the above, there are the Italians who arrived a generation ago and their children, who already think like locals. Then there are the Parisians, who are starting to buy summer residences – thanks to the TGV. Despite all of this, Marseille still changes course slowly, like one of those cruise ships that make the port such a lively place.
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