Straddling the azure blue waters of Southern France’s Mediterranean coastline, Marseilles is a historical port city, continually inhabited since 600 BCE. Its fortunes have risen and fallen over the centuries, closely linked with its success in marine trade. Post the World War years, the city witnessed a large scale immigration from Africa, giving rise to a fusion of local cultures and a vibrant, edgy vibe to the city.
Historically, the city radiated outwards from the Vieux Port – its central port area. Numerous churches dot the urban landscape and are a testimony to the city’s Catholic origins. The port area today is crammed with yachts and fishing boats, while the surrounding streets are filled with cafes.
Stroll through the narrow lanes of Le Panier – a formerly working class neighbourhood where generations of seafarers and immigrants took refuge.
Its winding alleys are home to many historical structures and have a characteristic worn-out but old world charm to them. The quarter is today being gentrified with artisanal shops, bakeries and design workshops.
In stark contrast to the organic fabric of the old town are the widely laid out boulevards and promenades of modern Marseilles, the capping glory of which is reflected in the Unite d’ Habitation – a manifestation of Le Corbusier’s principles of modernist residential design.
Standing atop a series of columns, the complex provides a central “street” along each residential floor that leads to double-storeyed apartments. On the building’s rooftop, sharing space with sculptural ventilation shafts are communal spaces, an arts centre, a kindergarten, a running track and a shallow pool – all surrounded by unhindered views of the cityscape and its coastline.
Text And Photos By Kunal Bhatia