mardi 4 avril 2006
Last Thursday at school we had our montly outing. First we had a Provençal Apperitif- olives and Pastis (side note: Don't like pastis- it is the anis-y licorichey cloudy drink, typical of this area). Then we walked to the Park of the 26th Century (after the founding of Marseille).

My promenade is along the Vieux Port (Old Port) - of the bustling southern French city. France's second largest metropolis may be called Marseilles now, but it has been known to Greeks as Massalia since its founding 2,600 years ago by Greeks from the Ionian Coast of Asia Minor, near the presentday town of Izmir.
Marseilles fascinates me. The French constantly honour its early Greek origins when they refer to their city as "la ville Phoceenne". Whenever I pass through, I try to visit the Municipal Museum of History located in the basement of the large shopping mall near the Bourse, which is also on the periphery of the Old Port where wayfaring Phoceans first landed. There, proudly displayed in a variety of imaginative displays and an extensive sculpture garden, lies the proof behind the mythical foundation of Marseilles.
It is said that the first Greeks to arrive decided to explore the area because it reminded them of their homeland. Then, an extraordinary chance encounter led to
their decision to stay. It seems that sometime about 600BC a small fleet of powerful Phocean ships, commanded by Photis, landed on the lee shore of a small hill because it was secluded and protected from the fierce winds that sweep across the Mediterranean Sea from Africa. Once ashore, they met a local tribe, the Segobriges, led by a chief called Nann. The natives were preparing a feast to celebrate the upcoming marriage of Nann's daughter Gyptis. The Greeks were invited to join the festivities. Gyptis appeared only at the end of the feast and, as was the custom, she carried a full goblet that was destined to be drunk only by her preferred choice for husband. To the surprise of all, she stopped in front of Photis and offered it to him. Nann took this totally unexpected gesture as a sign from the gods, accepted his daughter's choice of Photis and then, as a wedding present, gave the couple the land around the gulf where the Greeks had landed.
Greeks were attracted to this area 2,600 years ago because it reminded them of their homeland. Massalia, during the troubled times experienced by its mother-city, became wealthy and prospered. In its turn, it sent out colonists founding presentday Antibes and Nice to the east and Agde to the west. One of Greek Marseilles' most noted sons is Pytheas who is reputed to be the first Mediterranean to have voyaged to Greenland. Even though its population rarely exceeded 60,000 inhabitants, Massalia maintained its stature and independence well into Roman times. The ages-old Phocean ability to befriend foreigners came to its aid in its relations with Rome until it ran foul of internal Roman political intrigues. Massalia resisted but was conquered by Julius Caesar in 49BC. The city was sacked, and its Greek population largely eliminated.

Massalia became Massilia and, like its mother city, fell into a centuries-long trough. But the legend of its Greek foundation remained.

The park was quite nice. At the entrance to the parc there is a large area with a Fountain de l'Espérance and the first and last names of many many Marseillais who wrote in to be included. I looked and there were actually some with my last name! Long lost family I'll bet. It is 10 hectacres in size, and was inaugurated in June 2001. They planted 6500 shrubs and 1500 trees, of which 26 are sequoias (one for each century).
There are four thematic gardens that supposedly have something to do with the founding of Marseille- Asiatic, Oriental, African, and Provençal. Still not sure about those first three. For some unknown reason there were a lot of chickens wandering around. We had our picnic by the Lac.

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