We went to Marseille yesterday. It was awesome. It is a city with life. A city made up of mini “villages.” A city with a history and with a present just as colorful and varied. It has been named the Cultural Capitol of Europe for 2013, and I propose this is rightfully so. It really is a place of history, culture and passion.
Our first on-the-ground experience of Marseille was one of it’s many beeches. It was awesome. It was an artificially formed pebble beach that led right up to the most clear blue water I have seen since Key Largo in the sixth grade. And it felt good. Not salty, just smooth and cool. Not cold. It was awesome. It looked like this:
Next we went to Notre Dame de la Garde. It is one of the most important landmarks in Marseille. From what I’ve been told, it is precious even to the nonreligious of Marseille.
It is also one of the most tourist-filled cathedrals I have ever in my life been to. Right up there with the Notre Dame de Paris. It was built from around 1850-1890 in a Romano-Byzantine style. However, before the cathedral was built there has been a chapel of some kind there since around 1244 a.d. Because “La Garde” is the highest point in Marseille, some man of authority in history (who I do not recall) decided it would be a really good place to build a fort. So since about 1400ish there has also been a fort surrounding the chapel. And, best part, the chapel has been open to the public for almost its entire existence. Which, given the fact it was built upon militarily strategic land, is pretty cool.
There are or were five Virgin Mary statues in the Notre Dame. The first was made of wood and was called the “Brown Virgin” for this reason. The second was called something I don’t know how to translate into English, “Le Vierge d’Ostensoir.” The third was the “Virgin of the Bouquet” because it became a tradition to place a bouquet of flowers in her hand. Here she is!
The fourth is called by the artist who made it, the Virgin of Chanuel. Here she is!
The fifth is the most famous of all of them. The thing is massive and gilded in gold. This is what it looks like:
Overall though, I wasn’t that impressed. It was definitely not my style of cathedral and, if anything, I thought it was a bit lavish. There is just a complexity of design and color in there that I think is more distracting than centering. But, I gladly nod my head at those who constructed the cathedral. It is indeed a work of art.
Our bus ditched us at this point (I find this hilarious) and we walked to our next destination. The Abby Sainte Victoire. Now that. That is a real cathedral. It was built in the early 1000’s and the style is awesome. It just feels old. Some people probs think I’m crazy for saying that, but I LOVE old stone. There is something very calming about it. Great atmosphere for a church. Anyway, we went down into the crypt of the church which was super creepy, but really cool. The “main” site was the “tomb of the two martyrs” killed before Christianity was legalized in the mid 500’s when Constantine converted. It was pretty creepy to look at two holes in the ground and think “woah. This is where some dead guys remains laid for almost two thousand years.”
Next was lunch. We ate at a restaurant featured in a film by Marcel Pagnol, a fairly famous French director and writer. I accidentally ordered raw fish (not because of language barriers, but because the waiter didn’t tell us what it was when we asked. He just said “it’s fish”). That was a culinary experience. And a bonding moment with one of the other members of our group. We got really good fries with the order and have thus decided that any time they give you French fries it’s a warning about what you’re about to eat. Haha jk. Maybe.
We also went to “La Charité” which means “Charity.” It is considered a masterpiece of the era it was built in because of the ovular dome.
It was commissioned as a kind of early-era housing project for the poor and homeless of Marseille in the 17th century. People would be asked to go into the place and live there. They were fed and things like that. Sounds great, except that they weren’t just offered the option. They were forced. And they couldn’t leave. It was just a covered-up effort to remove the homeless out of sight. More than a thousand people lived in the complex at one time. Luckily for my faith in humanity, the people in the neighborhood also thought this was an atrocity and helped some of the inmates escape. It was later turned into a hospital.
Finally we came to a chapel and cathedral, one right next to the other. The chapel (really the Vieille Majure) was built in the 7th century. It’s really cool and…mysteriously closed to the public. It houses some really important religious artifacts.
Right next door is my favorite church/cathedral of the day. It is called the Cathédral Sainte-Marie-Majeure. It was built at around the same time as the Notre Dame and by the same architect. Except he did it way better this time. The sanctuary is very open, with a hallway running around both it and the alter, leading to mini-alters for various saints. The design has a regal simplicity to it that I think is much more appropriate for a cathedral because instead of overwhelming your eyes with color, there are simply things of beauty for you to look at, contemplate and ponder reflectively and calmly. The floor is mosaicked all around, so if you wanted to you could basically do a labyrinth walk just in circles.
I lit another candle in that church. It was good. I’ve been having a hard time being away from my friends and family. Like not unmanageable obviously, and not that bad either, but it hasn’t been easy. No culture shock for me. Just the desire to be with people it is impossible to be with. So I prayed about it and took a moment to let myself express concern. And it was awesome. There is a lot of power in just praying and it is the one thing I think atheists miss out on more than anything. Even meditation is good, but prayer is an easy-format way to do that. I feel better about where I am in relation to other people now. And that is awesome.
And that’s really my story. There’s tons more of course, but I’ll save that for later. This post is already far too long. Bonne Journée!