Water brings life, and in the case of Marseilles, this statement takes on a new dimension, since it was water that made the city what it is today.
The Palais Longchamp was built here in the 19th century to commemorate the arrival of water in Marseilles. The occasion certainly deserved an impressive tribute: completing the Marseilles Canal, which brought to the city the waters of the River Durance, took fifteen years of engineering work and was a milestone of progress for a thirsty, unsanitary city.
The grandiose palace is surrounded by allegorical figures that refer to fertility and life and the gardens include a landscape of artificial pools and waterfalls. The centrepiece? The Chateau d’Eau, or Water Castle.
These days, this watery site is one of the city’s focal points in terms of culture: the east and west wings of the palace are the Fine Art Museum and Natural History Museum respectively. The grounds, which once contained a zoo, still feature a formal French garden and a more picturesque English garden with important botanical specimens. There is also an observatory, from where the Stephan’s Quintet galaxy group was discovered in the 19th century.
Just like a wave that spreads from a drop that has fallen on a lake’s surface, the city itself has grown. The observatory, built outside the city, is now surrounded by it on all sides.
Marseilles, which lies on a natural harbour, has long been France’s most important port, and its history as a major Mediterranean trading centre goes back to ancient times, when it was known as Massalia.
This city, which gave its name to France’s national anthem, can only be understood through water.