The Memorial de la MarseillaiseThe Mémorial de la Marseillaise celebrates France's revolutionary national anthem, the Marseillaise - which, paradoxically, was composed in Strasbourg by a royalist.

Following France's declaration of war on Austria on 20 April 1792, the mayor of Strasbourg asked his army engineer Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle to write a marching song. logoClick here to book a hotel in Marseille

On 25 April 1792, Rouget de Lisle came up with what was then called the Chant de guerre pour l'armée du Rhin (War Song for the Rhine Army). Pictured below: Rouget de Lisle Singing The Marseillaise, by Isidore Pils. Musée historique de Strasbourg, 1849.

Two months later the song passed into history. On 22 June 1792, a 22-year-old volunteer called François Mireur belted it out to inspire a gathering of revolutionaries who were planning to march from Marseille to Paris to storm King Louis XVI's Tuileries Palace.

The revolution, as we know, was successful, a republic was proclaimed in September 1792 and Louis XVI was executed the following year.

As a royalist, Rouget de Lisle himself was thrown into prison in 1793 in the aftermath of the uprising. He narrowly escaped the guillotine and died in poverty in 1836.

But his song became France's National Anthem in 1795, was subsequently outlawed several times, then definitively reinstated in 1879.

rougetdelislesingingthemarseillaiseThe Mémorial is located in the rue Thubaneau, pictured top left, in a warren of back-streets behind Saint Charles Station, a few doors down from the very building where Mireur's gathering was held.

Built in 1681, this old house started life as an indoor ball court (jeu de paume). It eventually became a Turkish baths until the mid 1970s and there are photographs of its beautiful Moorish interiors by the ticket desk.

The exhibition's first room contains facsimiles of newspapers and other period documents, and you can listen to various renditions of the Marseillaise on headphones, from Serge Gainsbourg croaking out his controversial reggae version to Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt giving it a touch of swing at the Hot Club.

Also on display is the dramatic dress designed by Assedine Alaïa for the American opera diva Jessye Norman, pictured below, when she sang the Marseillaise in Paris as part of a pageant celebrating the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution in 1989.

Jessye Norman dressed to sing the MarseillaiseThe second room dramatises the build-up to these world-changing events. But the best bit is the atmospheric, slightly spooky third and last room, the former ball court.

Here the early days of the Revolution are recreated in a 360 degree SenseSurround audio-visual display. You have to carry your own little folding stool around with you to watch these shows

This burst of patriotic fervour is, of course, firmly targeted at the French, though there's a (free) audio guide in English or Italian and some rather cool T-shirts with revolutionary slogans are on sale in the obligatory shop.

Where: Le Mémorial de la Marseillaise, 23-25 rue Thubaneau, 13001 Marseille. Tel: (+33) 4 91 91 91 96. Visits are currently by prior arrangement only.


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