But the building offers so much more than a look at the past. A gathering spot and a lookout point, it can be accessed without paying admission to the exhibits. Ramps lead up from ground level with views, framed by the lattice, of ramparts and turrets of the old fort, cruise ships docked at J4 and the striped Byzantine exterior of the massive Cathedral de la Major at the entrance to the plaza. A rooftop terrace offers more vantage points and access to Le Mole Passedat restaurant overseen by Michelin three-star chef Gerald Passedat. Cruise passengers wishing to taste his cuisine should make reservations well in advance.
From the terrace, a walkway suspended more than 92 feet above a water inlet leads to Fort St-Jean. Built by Louis XIV at the entrance to the city’s old port, it incorporates the 12th-century hospice operated by the Knights Hospitaller of St. John of Jerusalem during the Crusades. Its warren of arcades, terraces and turrets opened to the public for the first time in 2013. Visitors get lost in a maze of sepia stone, stopping to drink in views. A walkway leads to the oldest part of the city and Vieux Port.
The heart of Marseille, Vieux Port, or Old Port, served as a trading post in the sixth cen-tury. Today fishing boats share space with pleasure craft and excursion boats to Chateau d’lf, France’s Alcatraz. The fortress on a rocky’ island just offshore dates from 1529 and became a state prison, one made famous as the setting for The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.
At Vieux Port cruise passengers who arrive early enough will see its fish market in full swing. Swarthy fishermen dump their wriggling catch of the day on long tables along the quay while locals gather around bargaining, questioning, buying. Next to the market riders queue up at a busy bus terminal, one of the city’s main transfer points. Farther back from the waterfront a ring of bars and restaurants caters to working fishermen and the fashionable crowd.
From Vieux Port, a walk uphill leads to the oldest part of Marseille, Le Panier, the site of the first Greek settlement and an ancient trade center spanning centuries. Once a seedy side of town, where prostitutes and criminals hid in its labyrinth of narrow passages, it also has benefited from urban renewal and emeiged as an artsy and trendy neighborhood. Visitors climb staircases and cobblestone streets lined with tall stone buildings, some with laundry dangling on lines, and emerge onto terraces surrounded with boutiques and cafes.
The bell tower of the 11th-century Accoules Church has stood here since the Middle Ages when it sounded alerts for the town. The Marseille History Museum houses 4,000 items, many of them, including the hull of a sixth-century ship, excavated during archeological digs in the area.
While Le Panier and Fort St-Jean flank one side of Vieux Port, Fort St-Nicolas and the Pharo guard the entrance to the harbor on the other, both offering stunning views from rocky promontories. An elegant chateau, the Palais du Pharo, was built by Napoleon EH and now serves as a conference center, but it’s the gardens that bring most visitors there. In a city lacking green space, the Jardin du Pharo offers broad lawns studded with works of modern sculpture. People picnic, sunbathe, practice yoga and just enjoy the city’s average 300 days of sunshine.