Over the weekend, I visited the city of Marseille. Marseille is known for its successful immigration throughout history. One of the classes I am taking, Immigration in the Mediterranean basin, travelled with our professor and program leader to see and study the city for ourselves.
We stayed in a hotel lining the old port. Outside the steps ouf our accommodations were endless restaurants, the daily fish market, and a ferry shuttling people from one side of the port to the other. We started our trip with a walking tour of Marseille. Our guide (I believe her name was Justine) was not French, instead she was a mixture of ethnicities, which she joked made her a classic Marseille inhabitant. Justine was extremely knowledgable and brought us all around Marseille. She showed us certain neighborhoods and areas that belonged to certain nationalities and other buildings and districts that were practically empty due to drastically increased rent prices.
Learning about Marseille during World War 2 left me feeling astonished. After German forces had raided and arrested all the Jewish people of Marseille, the French government destroyed the neighborhood next to the old port in order to “reshape the area.” During the Second World War, Marseille was still a city of immigrants and the French government used the German forces as a shield to rid Marseille of immigrants that the French government saw as a weakness. The inhabitants of this neighborhood evacuated their homes and once they returned to Marseille, their homes had been destroyed. This is just one example of Marseille’s immigrant population being treated terribly. History repeats itself and the people of Marseille have been mistreated time and time again despite having notably positive race relations and being an excellent example of successful immigration.
Marseille has made integration of all types of culture celebrated and something to be proud of. Our walking tour of the city showcased this. We walked through a market selling goods from all over the world at very low prices, as well as a building that housed a synagogue and a mosque. Next, we explored a shop with spices and goods from all over the Mediterranean. Right after leaving, the store closed briefly to allow their Muslim employees to pray. This is something I have never witnessed before. For lunch we ate at an Armenian restaurant. There is a large Armenian population in Marseille, largely due to Armenians fleeing the Armenian genocide. Another interesting facet about Marseille is that you are able to find quality food, no matter where it comes from. That being said, our Armenian lunch was very delicious.
Our trip to Marseille left me feeling many emotions. On one hand, their success with large amounts of immigration left me feeling very hopeful. On the other hand, I feel gloomy due to the maltreatment of minorities and immigrants is a huge part of Marseille’s history because it has happened over and over again — this also shows the resilience of people, which has me feeling hopeful again. Most recently, landlords of Marseille have quadrupled rent in hopes that wealthy people will move into Marseille and rejuvenate the city. This hasn’t happened and the majority of this property is empty. This leaves me feeling disappointed because Marseille inhabitants were successfully living and paying rent in these apartments before they were evicted because of rent price hikes. Overall, I hope other European countries and America can look towards Marseille as an example of different types of people coexisting without racism or prejudice.
On a lighter note, we visited the Christmas market and rode the ferris wheel that accompanied the market. There were some stellar view from the top of the ferris wheel and it did not hurt that it was a stunning blue-skied day.