What is the Oldest City in France?

The old port of Marseille, France.
The old port of Marseille, France.

The oldest city in France is Marseille, which lies 536 miles south-southeast of Paris and 218 miles south-east of Lyon in the Mediterranean’s Gulf of Lion. The city’s metropolitan area occupies an area of about 93 square miles which makes it the third largest after Paris and Lyon. The Greeks founded the city from Phocaea in 600 BC and it consists of 16 districts which is home to a population of about 900,000 people. The population is mostly heterogeneous, consisting of people from various cultures who have settled in the city over the course of its long history.

Marseille’s History

The city was previously referred to as Massalia by the ancient Greeks and Romans and was an important commercial center. Between 218 and 201 the city allied with the Roman republic against the Carthage in what was known as the Second Punic War. The ensuing victory for the Romans guaranteed the independence of its commercial empire on the western Mediterranean. The city later lost its independence in 49 BC when the city allied itself with the exiled faction during Caesar’s Civil war which resulted in the Roman siege of Massalia. Charles Martel's forces pillaged the city in 739 AD which led to the city’s decline. Between the 10th and the 14th century, the city was allowed independence and placed under the control of local viscounts of Provence. In the 15th century, Provence joined the Kingdom of France and retained its separate administration. The French national anthem is also thought to have originated from the city when 500 volunteers heading to fight for Paris in 1792 sang the rousing composition while on their march to battle.

Marseille’s Economy

The economy of Marseille is primarily reliant on its commercial ports which support at least 45,000 jobs in the city. The port of Marseille is the fourth busiest port in Europe. Millions of tons of cargo and freight are handled through the port annually with petroleum accounting for 60% of the volume. Marseille has a GDP of about $60.3 billion. The city has an excellent infrastructure that supports its role as a significant industrial trade center in France. Marseille is one of France’s most dynamic cities with records showing that over 7,000 companies have been created there since the year 2000. Today the old port has restaurants, bars, hotels, and serves as a private marina.

Tourism In Marseille

The city is a tourist’s paradise and boasts of sunny weather all year round. The port welcomes an estimated 2.4 million visitors annually while about 1.7 million visitors go to the city via other means. Tourists are drawn by the city’s history, architecture, beaches, and culture. The city’s excellent conference facilities and hotels also make the city on of the world’s top business tourism destinations. Tourists enjoy the city’s lush parks, the Calanques National Park, some museums with an impressive collection of antiquity and modern art, and the ever beautiful coastline.


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