Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Via Marginal Revolution and Battlepanda, comes this Washington Post piece on Marseille. As I noted, Marseille is liable to be the most successfully integrated city in France due to its history and demographics, which the Post story summarizes nicely.
History is one source of this stability. While other cities in France fret about the arrival of immigrants over the past 50 years, Marseille has been a magnet for outsiders for well over 100: Italians fleeing poverty, Greeks and Armenians escaping wars, Moroccan sailors jumping ship, Spanish smugglers looking for a haven, Europeans returning from France's former Algerian colony and impoverished Algerians themselves seeking work.

A substantial Jewish community exited Algeria and settled here. On any downtown Marseille street corner, distinct fashions float by: a white Arab-style caftan here, the black overcoat of a Lithuanian Jew there, an African dyed garment, and a French short-brimmed cap over there. There's a budding Chinatown up in Panier, the cluttered neighborhood of sand-colored buildings on a hill above the Old Port.

"Marseille was made by immigration," said Pierre Echinard, a local historian. Of a population of 800,000, a quarter is of North African descent. Residents say they miss the ethnic variety when they leave the close quarters of their city, which is squeezed against the Mediterranean Sea by hills.

Marseille, a city more than 2,600 years old, long predates France, not to mention the Roman Empire. (It was so anti-Roman that emperors used to send troublesome consuls to Marseille as a kind of uncomfortable exile.) "Marseille feels it submitted to a power -- Paris -- that didn't bring it benefits. Marseille had long stood on its own and it was always open to the world," Echinard said.

Unlike municipal leaders elsewhere, recent mayors of Marseille have given official recognition to communal diversity, rather than trying to fit everyone into one box of Frenchness. A program called Marseille Hope, begun in the late 1980s, periodically organizes consultations among religious leaders -- Catholic, Orthodox Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist -- on community problems.

The Post story spins the relative calm as a good thing. You could also conclude that the absence of perfect calm is the indicator of a bad thing. On a more touristy note, the Panier is a) rapidly yuppifying and b) tremendously attractive. And bouillaibaisse is excellent.


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