Villa Mediterranee Marseille by nightA cultural centre designed by the Milanese architect Stefano Boeri, the ingeniously conceived Villa Méditerranée is structured roughly in the shape of a "c".

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The precarious-looking cantilevered upper floor belvedere, a full 40 metres / 130 feet long, overhangs a large artificial pool. An enormous agora, or meeting area, of 1,825 square metres / 19,650 square feet nestles in the basement right under the seabed.

The Villa Méditerranée represents a dramatic addition to the rapidly transforming area of Marseille along the seafront towards the commercial docks and cruise ship terminals. Next to the MuCEM behind the Fort Saint Jean, the sleek white structure forms a striking contrast with its chunky black neighbour.

Until recently, this part of town was an industrial desert. Now it hosts some of the most exciting and innovative architecture in town: as well as the Villa and the MuCEM, you can find the elegant, 1950s-style Musée Regards de Provence, Kengo Kuma's FRAC PACA with its Japanese origami-like facade, the Silo d'Arenc (a concert venue in a former grain silo) and Zaha Hadid's thrusting office block for the shipping company CMA CGM.

 

The Villa Méditerranée - formerly, and more prosaically, known as the CeReM - has been controversial, however. There's a great rivalry with the MuCEM: the two buildings opened within weeks of each other in 2013.

Villa Mediterranee Marseille Pictured: the Villa Méditerranée on 12 January 2013, the opening night of Marseille-Provence 2013 European Capital of Culture (the Villa itself opened to the public four months later).

What's more, the Villa Méditerranée and the MuCEM have very similar missions, to promote Mediterranean culture. Does Marseille really need two of them?

The main difference: the MuCEM is nationally funded while the Villa Méditerranée's 70 million €uro price tag was paid for by the region of Provence.

Eyebrows have been raised at this duplication, which has arisen for apparently political reasons. But, from a purely visual and architectural point of view, the two buildings complement each other perfectly.

The Villa hosts conferences and debates with Mediterranean themes and film screenings, plays and concerts, as well as semi-permanent and temporary exhibitions.

As with the MuCEM, the Villa Méditerranée itself is the main attraction rather than its contents. You can view the building's gravity-defying interior on a free, half-hour guided tour in small groups of about 20: these tours are offered in English and other languages if there are sufficient visitors to form a group.

Alternatively, you can simply stroll around yourself. Entrance is free, though you need to ask for a ticket at the front desk.

The upper floor belvedere Villa Mediterrane MarseilleAccessed by a huge, suspended spiral staircase which is a remarkable feat of engineering, the echoing, almost windowless basement is a little underwhelming. Head instead directly for the jutting third-floor belvedere.

Here you can enjoy the play of luminous reflections and splendid views across the port and the sea, while walking around on a sloping floor with vertigo-inducing glass inset panels, pictured below, looking down on to the water.

Finally, a new chef, Xavier Zapata, has arrived to take over catering at the Villa's own restaurant, the Café des Méditerranées - and it's now the best place to eat in the area (you can dine there even when the Villa is closed). Click here to read our review.

Glass Floor at the Villa Mediterranee MarseilleWebsite for the Villa Méditerranée

How to get there: 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. It's right next to the MuCEM, near the Cathedral.

You can walk there in five-ten minutes from the Old Port. Alternatively, take bus 82, 60 or 49. The museum is a somewhat further walk from the nearest metro (Vieux Port or Joliette) or tram (République/Dames or Joliette) stops.

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