amphorae history museum marseille smallMarseille's museum and gallery scene has gone through huge changes and it's now among the best in Europe. Here we list the main ones and report on the latest shows.

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We've focussed here on the larger museums, but there are very many smaller galleries and exhibition spaces around Marseille with a lively line-up of shows.

2013 was a remarkable record year for museums in Marseille, when the city was at the centre of the MP2013 European Capital of Culture programme.

Dramatic new, starchitect-designed spaces opened: Kengo Kuma's FRAC PACA, Stefano Boeri's Villa Méditerranée the rooftop Tour Panorama and, most spectacularly, Rudy Ricciotti's MuCEM (Musée des civilisations de l'Europe et de la Méditerranée), Marseille's flagship museum celebrating European and Mediterranean civilisations.

Other museums which had been closed for refurbishment reopened their doors. They include the magnificently renovated Musée des Beaux Arts (Museum of Fine Arts) at the Palais Longchamp; the elegant Musée Cantini and the stunningly expanded Musée d'Histoire de Marseille (The Museum of Marseille History), now one of the largest history museums in Europe.

The Chateau BorelyThe Château Borély, a restored 18th century bastide, or country house, pictured, brings together the collections of the Musée de la Faïence (Museum of Earthernware), the Musée de la Mode (Museum of Fashion) and the Musée du vieux Marseille (Museum of Old Marseille).

As if all that weren't enough, the Musée Regards de Provence reopened in a new base, itself a fascinating historical building in its own right. And an exciting modern art gallery opened on the roof terrace of Le Corbusier's apartment block, the Radiant City.

Unsurprisingly attendances soared. Once something of a cultural desert, Marseille is now set to become a major destination for anyone interested in art.

And it's hoped to carry on the momentum with a forthcoming programme of exciting new shows.

Here are some dates for your diary. Note that this is not a complete list. And Marseille's museums are fond of changing these plans at short notice, so you should always double-check exhibition dates with the venues first.

Until 24 September: Le Banquet de Marseille à Rome looks at rituals of banqueting from ancient times to the present day. At the Vieille Charité.

Until 24 September: Based in Marseille, the Cirva (Centre international de recherche sur le verre et les arts plastiques) is an experimental centre for artists, architects and sculptors working with glass. Une Maison de Verre (A House of Glass) showcases some of the impressive and innovative results. At the Musée Cantini.

Until 8 January 2018: To tie in with the hip-hop exhibition at the [mac] (below), the MuCEM has a show of graffiti and street art from around the Mediterranean.

Until 14 January 2018: A major exhibition traces the history of hip-hop, from early block parties in the Bronx to its "Golden Age" in Marseille in the 1990s. At the [mac] Museum of Modern Art.

Below is a summary of the main museums in Marseille. Some are reviewed in greater detail elsewhere on the site (click on the links to read the full descriptions).

Insider tip for the museums of MarseilleA number of French museums offer free admission on the first Sunday of every month. In Marseille this free entrance has now been extended to include full access to temporary exhibitions.

Watch out, too, for occasional late-night openings (nocturnes), when entry is also free. This happens systematically once a year in mid-May on the Nuit des Musées (European Night of the Museums), when a number of venues remain open until very late, often offering special events as well.

To avoid the crowds and long queues for popular shows, turn up around 12 noon. The lunch hour is sacred for many French visitors!

Many museums are closed on certain days of the week, mostly Mondays (though the MuCEM is closed on Tuesdays and some private museums such as the Musée Regards de Provence are open every day). As hours can vary throughout the year, please check the links to the individual museum websites for these details.

 

The Musée des Beaux Arts

The recently restored Musée des Beaux Arts (Museum of Fine Art) is located in the left wing of the Palais Longchamp, a magnificent Second Empire building designed by Henri-Jacques Espérandieu, the architect of Notre Dame de la Garde. The right wing of the Palais Longchamp houses the city's Museum of Natural History.

The multi-million €uro restoration project installed air-conditioning, improved lighting and heating and a lift / elevator for disabled access. However everyone else can expect to climb plenty of steps to access the imposing entrance.

The Palais Longchamp, MarseilleThe first exhibition in the freshly renovated Musée des Beaux Arts was Le Grand Atelier du Midi, a large and prestigious show of work by major artists drawn to Provence. Click here to read more about Le Grand Atelier du Midi.

The Musée des Beaux Arts is currently hosting works from its own large permanent collection of European and, specifically, provençal art from the 16th to 19th centuries.

Some 200 pieces are on display, notably David's 1780 painting of Saint Roch praying to the Virgin Mary for relief from the terrible plague which swept Provence half a century earlier.

Where: Musée des Beaux Arts, 7 rue Edouard Stephan, 13004 Marseille.

How to get there: Metro line 1 or tram line 2. In both cases the stop is Cinq Avenues Longchamp.

 

The Musée d'Histoire de Marseille

Founded in 600 BC, Marseille is the oldest city in France, a fact celebrated in the Musée d'Histoire de Marseille (The Museum of Marseille History).

Closed for several years for refurbishment and expansion, it reopened its doors in 2013 and is now one of the best museums in the city.

The exhibits are a mix of multimedia displays and objects discovered during archeological digs around Marseille. Pictured top left: Roman amphora.

Among the attractions are the "world's largest flotilla of ancient ships" and vestiges of the fifth century Malaval church. Read our full guide to the Musée d'Histoire de Marseille

Where: Musée d'Histoire de Marseille, Square Belsunce (by the Centre Bourse shopping mall), 13001 Marseille.

How to get there: Metro line 1 (stop: Vieux Port) or tram line 2 or 3 (stop: Belsunce Alcazar).

The MuCEM

Designed by the Provence-based architect Rudy Ricciotti, the dramatic and spectacular MuCEM (Musée des civilisations de l'Europe et de la Méditerranée, or the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations) is Marseille's new star attraction. Read our full guide to the MuCEM

Where: The MuCEM sits to the north of the Old Port, just beyond the Fort Saint Jean, on the spur of land known as the J4 Esplanade.

How to get there: You can walk there in five-ten minutes from the Old Port. The museum is a somewhat further walk from the nearest Metro (stop: Vieux Port or Joliette) or tram line 2 or 3 (stop: République/Dames or Joliette).

The Villa Méditerranée

Formerly - and more prosaically - known as the CeReM, this futuristic and spectacular building is a cultural centre with the rather vague brief to "build a place dedicated to peace and solidarity and... represent a modern and optimistic idea of the future of the Mediterranean people."

To this end, it hosts exhibitions, conferences and debates with Mediterranean themes. Read our full guide to the Villa Méditerranée

Where: The Villa Méditerranée sits to the north of the Old Port, just beyond the Fort Saint Jean, on the spur of land known as the J4 Esplanade.

How to get there: You can walk there in five-ten minutes from the Old Port. The museum is a somewhat further walk from the nearest Metro (stop: Vieux Port or Joliette) or tram line 2 or 3 (stop: République/Dames or Joliette).

The Vieille Charité

The Vieille Charite MarseilleIn the heart of the Panier, or Old Town, the Vieille Charité, pictured, houses the Musée des Arts Africains, Oceaniens et Amérindiens (MAAOA) an eclectic array of ethnographic art, and the Musée d'Archéologie Méditerranéenne (Museum of Mediterranean Archeology), a fine collection of ancient Greek, Roman, Etruscan and Egyptian artefacts.

There are also substantial and regular visiting exhibitions. Read our full guide to the Vieille Charité

Where: Centre de la Vieille Charité, 2 rue de la Charité, 13002 Marseille. Tel: (+33) 4 91 91 26 45.

The FRAC PACA

The full name of this new museum designed by the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma is the Fonds Régional de l'Art Contemporain Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur.

The FRAC PACA MarseilleOpened in 2013, it hosts contemporary art from the region. Read our full guide to the FRAC PACA

Where: 20 boulevard de Dunkerque, 13002 Marseille.

How to get there: In the Joliette district, near Marseille's port area, the FRAC can be reached by Metro line 2 or tram line 2 or 3. In both cases the stop is Joliette.

The Tour Panorama / LA FRICHE LA BELLE DE MAI

The Tour Panorama, or Panorama Tower, is another new gallery space, of 4,000 square metres / 43,000 square feet dedicated to temporary exhibitions of modern art and live theatre shows in La Friche la Belle de Mai, a buzzing cultural centre and complex of artists' studios to the north of the city.

There's always something going on at La Friche. For example one recent exhibition at the Tour Panorama - now ended - was dedicated to the architect Rudy Ricciotti, whose important work includes the MuCEM and the Pavillon Noir in Aix en Provence. The first major show to explore his vision, it focussed on Ricciotti's pioneering and experimental use of concrete.

Where: La Tour Panorama, 41 rue Jobin, 13003 Marseille (pedestrian access only) or 12 rue François Simon,13003 Marseille (by car, though parking is limited). Website for La Friche la Belle de Mai

How to get there: Bus 49 or 52 (stop: Belle de Mai la Friche). In the evenings bus 582 runs between the Friche and the Canebière until midnight. If you're walking, it's about ten minutes from Marseille Saint Charles train and bus station.

 

 

The Musée Regards de Provence

The Musée Regards de Provence is the new permanent base of the Fondation Regards de Provence, an organisation for the promotion of provençal art and culture which organises a lively and constantly changing series of temporary exhibitions.

The Fondation Regards de Provence at the Station Sanitaire MarseilleA permanent installation also commemorates the building's previous life as a sanitary station where, in times gone by, passengers arriving in Marseille went through a disinfection process in a bid to limit epidemics. Read our full guide to the Musée Regards de Provence

Where: The Musée Regards de Provence, allée Regards de Provence, rue Vaudoyer, 13002 Marseille. Tel: (+33) 4 91 42 51 50.

How to get there: The Musée Regards de Provence sits to the north of the Old Port, just beyond the Fort Saint Jean, near the spur of land known as the J4 Esplanade and the Cathedral.

You can walk there in five-ten minutes from the Old Port. Alternatively, take bus 82 or 60. The museum is a somewhat further walk from the nearest Metro (stop: Vieux Port or Joliette) or tram line 2 or 3 (stop: République/Dames or Joliette).

The Château Borély

The Château Borély is a restored 18th century bastide, or country house, which brings together the collections of the Musée de la Faïence (Museum of Earthernware), the Musée de la Mode (Museum of Fashion) and the Musée du vieux Marseille (Museum of Old Marseille), all set in a 17 hectare / 42 acre landscaped park. Read our full guide to the Château and Parc Borély

Where: The Château and Parc Borély, 134 avenue Clot-Bey, 13008 Marseille.

How to get there: Bus no. 83 from the Old Port (stop: Parc Borély). Or Metro line 2 (stop: Rond-Pont du Prado), then bus no. 19, 44 or 83.

The Mémorial de la Marseillaise

This museum celebrates - what else? - the Marseillaise, France's revolutionary national anthem which, paradoxically, was composed in Strasbourg by a royalist. Read our full guide to the Mémorial de la Marseillaise

Where: Mémorial de la Marseillaise, 23-25 rue Thubaneau, 13001 Marseille. Tel: (+33) 4 91 91 91 96.

 

The Musée de la Marine et de l'Economie de Marseille (The Maritime Museum)

The history of Marseille is deeply bound up with its maritime past and this is the place to explore it. The museum is housed in two long corridors along the side of the large central hall of the Bourse, or Chamber of Commerce (peer into it to catch a glimpse of its elaborate moulded ceiling).

On display along the corridors are some superb models of sailing and steam ships, nautical maps and engravings and early diving bells and other equipment from the 1930s, when the likes of Jacques Cousteau were pioneering scuba diving along the Mediterranean coast. The signage is in French only.

Where: Musée de la Marine et de l'Economie de Marseille, Palais de la Bourse, 13221 Marseille. Tel: (+33) 4 91 39 33 21. Website for the Musée de la Marine.

The Musée Cantini

The Musee Cantini MarseilleHoused in a 17th century hôtel particulier in the city centre, the Cantini Museum, pictured, contains a small but discerning collection of 20th century art. It also hosts major temporary exhibitions. Read our full guide to the Musée Cantini

Where: 19 rue Grignan, 13006 Marseille. Tel: (+33) 4 91 54 77 75

The Musée de la Moto (The Motorcycle Museum)

Over 150 motorbikes are on show in the Musée de la Moto, an educational and enjoyable museum dedicated entirely to the art of speed, from early prototypes dating back to the end of the 19th century to futuristic racing machines. Read our full guide to the Musée de la Moto

Where: Musée Cantini, 18 traverse Saint Paul, 13013 Marseille. Tel: (+33) 4 91 55 48 43. Fax: (+33) 4 91 55 48 46.

How to get there: Bus 32, 32b or 38.

 

 

The Préau des Accoules Children's Museum

A museum and temporary exhibition space designed especially for children and housed in a lovely old vaulted building in the Old Town. Read our full guide to the Préau des Accoules Children's Museum

Where: Préau des Accoules Children's Museum, 29 montée des Accoules, 13002 Marseille. Tel: (+33) 4 91 91 52 06.

How to get there: Metro line 1 (stop: Vieux Port), then a short walk.

The Musée Grobet-Labadié

Grobet Ladadie Museum MarseilleThis elegant house, pictured, just opposite the Palais Longchamp once belonged to a wealthy merchant. The collection recreates the intimate and comfortable atmosphere of his home, with tapestries, wood-carvings, musical instruments, chinaware and paintings; even a sedan chair. Website for the Grobet-Labadié Museum.

Where: Musée Grobet-Labadié, 140 boulevard Longchamp, 13004 Marseille. tel (+33) 4 91 62 21 82.

How to get there: Metro line 1 (stop: Cinq Avenues Longchamp), tram line 2 or bus 81.

The Musée d'Art Contemporain [mac] (The Museum of Modern Art)

Somewhat outside the city centre and a little complicated to find, the [mac] covers modern art from the 1960s to the present day. It has some excellent shows, however, such one devoted to Andy Warhol which was a great popular success.

The most recent exhibitions celebrated the Chilean-born, American-based artist, architect and film-maker Alfredo Jaar and Korea's Cody Choi, both in their first major show at a French museum.

Where: Musée d'Art Contemporain [mac], 69 avenue de Haïfa, 13008 Marseille. Website for [mac] Marseille.

How to get there: Metro (line 2, stop: Rond-Pont du Prado), then bus 23 or 45.

The Maison des cinématographies de la Méditerranée (The House of Mediterranean Cinemas)

The Château de la Buzine was immortalised by Marcel Pagnol in his novella My Mother's Castle. Refurbished and renamed The House of Mediterranean Cinemas, it re-opened to the public in 2011. Inside, a modern mediatheque includes a 300-seat screening room, which shows films from all the various Mediterranean countries, as well as an exhibition space and a library. Read more about the Château de la Buzine

Where: Maison des cinématographies de la Méditerranée, Château de la Buzine, traverse de la Buzine 13011 Marseille.

How to get there: Metro line 1 (stop: Castellane), then bus 50 (stop: La Sablière La Ravelle), then bus 51 (direction: La Reyarde).

 

 

The Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle de Marseille (The Museum of Natural History)

Housed in the Palais Longchamp, in the right-hand one of the two huge wings, the Natural History Museum has four sections, devoted to prehistory and evolution, osteology (that's skeletons and skulls to you), the flora and fauna of Provence and a "safari room" featuring over 300 exotic (stuffed) animals. The left wing of the Palais Longchamp houses the city's Museum of Fine Art.

If you speak French, you might enquire about the regular "noctural safaris," evenings when groups are guided around by a storyteller. Note that much of the signage and explanations is in French only. The Natural History Museum also hosts temporary exhibitions.

Where: Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle, boulevard du Jardin Zoologique, 13004 Marseille. Website for the Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle

How to get there: Metro line 1 (stop: Cinq Avenues Longchamp), tram line 2 or 3 or bus 81.

The Maison de l'Artisanat et des Métiers d'Art

Housed in a beautiful late 18th century warehouse just off the Old Port, the Maison de l'Artisanat et des Métiers d'Art is a space dedicated to local artisans, artists and craft workers. It also hosts temporary exhibitions.

Recent shows at the Maison de l'Artisanat et des Métiers d'Art have included exhibitions on chocolate, Savon de Marseille, the fascinating story of soap manufacturing in the city, L'Art des Plis, the art of pleating and crafts in Egypt.

Where: Maison de l'Artisanat et des Métiers d'Art, 21 cours d'Estienne d'Orves, 13001 Marseille. Tel: (+33) 4 91 54 80 54. Website for the Maison de l'Artisanat et des Métiers d'Art

The Mémorial des Camps de la Mort (The Death Camps Memorial)

Marseille was a centre of resistance during the Second World War. On the fringes of the Old Town, which was raided and partly razed by the Nazis in January 1943, this museum, located in a former gun emplacement, honours its victims and heroes.

The Death Camps Memorial has been "temporarily" closed for a long while during and following the major building works at the adjacent MuCEM. However it is currently being refurbished and its focus enlarged to cover the history of Marseille during the Second World War.

Meanwhile if you are interested in this subject, there is the excellent and fascinating Memorial Site of the Camp des Milles, just outside Aix en Provence and 29 km / 18 miles north of Marseille. It opened to the public in 2012. Read our full guide to the Site-Mémorial du Camp des Milles

Where: Mémorial des Camps de la Mort, quai de la Tourette, Marseille 13001. Tel: (+33) 4 91 90 73 15.

How to get there: Metro line 1 (stop: Vieux Port) then a short walk

 

 

The Musée des Docks Romains (The Museum of the Roman Docks)

Tucked away in a parking area in a sleepy square just off the Old Port, this little-known museum is a must-see for anyone following the trail of the Romans in Provence. It's far more modest in scale than the Musée d'Histoire de Marseille, of course, but is still worth visiting, especially if you are short of time. As a bonus, admission is free.

The Nazis dynamited the lower part of the Old Town of Marseille in 1943 and, during the restoration of the site after the war, a series of remarkable discoveries were made, not only of artefacts but also of a vast warren of depots, quays, pontoons and all the equipment of a bustling ancient port.

First opened in 1963, this one-room museum celebrating Marseille's marine activity between the sixth century BC, when the city was first settled, and the fourth century AD is designed around a central area showing a patch of the excavations.

Some of the prize findings from them, and from explorations of the many shipwrecks along this stretch of the coast, are exhibited in glass cases all around the edge. The signage is in French only.

Where: Musée des Docks Romains, 28 place Vivaux, Marseille 13002. Tel: (+33 ) 4 91 91 24 62. Website for the Museum of the Roman Docks.

How to get there: Metro line 1 (stop: Vieux Port).

The Musée du Terroir Marseillais

Musee du Terroir MarseillaisA wide-ranging museum of provençal history, culture and traditions, pictured. Read our full guide to the Musée du Terroir marseillais

NewsThe Musée du Terroir Marseillais is currently closed due to lack of financing. However it's still possible to visit it by prior appointment. And crowdfunding campaign is in progress: watch this space for further developments.

Where: Château Gombert, 5 place des Héros, Marseille 13013. Tel: (+33) 4 91 68 14 38.

How to get there: Metro line 1 (direction: La Rose). At the last stop, take bus no. 5.

The J1 Hangar

Currently closed, the J1 Hangar, pictured below, was the first of Marseille's new venues for 2013. This very long, thin space was the upper floor of a huge 6,000 square metre / 64,500 square foot ferry terminal at the heart of the bustling port area (the lower levels remained in use by international shipping).

Extending into the sea, it boasted a visitor centre with a small bar and restaurant, as well as a bookshop, artists' studios, a children's play area and a large gallery.

The J1 Hangar MarseilleAlong the whole of its length, windows offer spectacular views of the bay, port and city. The very long foyer area proved popular with locals as a gathering place.

Its last exhibition in autumn 2013 was a superb show about the radical architect Le Corbusier, the author of Marseille's Radiant City housing development. After then it closed, its fate undecided.

News for the J1 hangar in MarseilleGood news: the J1 will definitely reopen its doors. The not-so-good news: the date when this will happen keeps changing.

The port of Marseille, which owns the pier, has invited applications for long-term projects to utilise the pier. While they are being considered, the city of Marseille has the use of the J1 until the end of 2018.

So far, though, it has failed to do anything with it. After multiple delays and postponements, the latest reports suggest it will not reopen until summer 2017.

The official description of what will be there is also a little vague, but it seems it will combine cultural attractions, a restaurant, business spaces and conference and meeting facilities. Stay tuned for more details as these emerge (if they ever do).

How to get there: The J1 Hangar is a 10-15 minute walk from the Old Port along Marseille's pleasant new waterfront promenade. Bus 35, 55, 49, 82 or 82s. Or Metro line 2 or tram line 2 or 3. In both cases the stop is Joliette.

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