Marseille to Marbella, Part II: Le Panier
It’s a story which is far from unique: European city, ravaged by the horrors of war, its architectural and cultural heritage trampled into dust by the unforgiving swathe of brutal violence – territory grabs without sensitivity nor foresight, all in the name of victory. Many of Europe’s ancient treasures were destroyed this way, when mass invasions and forced occupations brought with them a path of historical vandalism from which a full recovery has never been made. And Marseille is no exception. For on on the old Vieux Port, only the Renaissance style Hotel de Ville and the Hotel de Gabre remain as a reminder of what the grand old Marseille waterfront would have been in its golden age. The rest was cleared in mass explosions executed by Nazi occupiers who feared the uncontrollable warren of Marseille’s ancient streets, and the potential for hiding in them the “undesirables” they sought to eradicate.
And so, of this uniquely charismatic area of ancient Marseille, Le Panier, only the upper town remains today. Its previous quaint waterside was eradicated in one devastating act of destruction, only to be replaced by the horribly charmless art deco apartment blocks which remain to this day. Yet behind the port, up on the slopes of ancient Marseille, the old core of Le Panier remains, the merciful survivor of Nazi occupation, and clear example of how the city would at one time have looked.
The streets of Le Panier carry a lazy, bohemian milieu characterised by a clearly artistic streak and a decidedly gritty, urban edge. Streets lined by painted shutters and washing hung out to dry are also decorated by large graffiti murals which give an indication of the creatively rebellious inhabitants who occupy the area. Steep slopes give way to quaint restaurants, and the area’s bars and shops are simple and unassuming. Streets are unplanned, cobbled and hilly, but they bare the signs of centuries of unceremonious habitation – the cracks of age and the scars of competing modes of expression.
While resembling something of the charm that the surrounding area of Provence exudes in bucket loads, Le Panier is as authentically urban as it gets. This is the hard edge to the Riviera’s soft, lavender-scented tourist-friendly facade, and is a quintessential representation of a modern Mediterranean city anchored in its history.
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