Marseille and Provence, well-known to francophiles, are the 2013 hosts to the European Year of Culture, a year-long international festival of culture that will put the spotlight on their beauty and creativity.

So, this year, the Alliance hopes to take its students on a journey of discovery about an important part of the French language and culture that is Marseille and the surrounding region of Provence, the land of soleil, cigales and lavande. This should appeal to everyone who loves France and appreciates the good things in life.


Many of you may already know something of Provence, perhaps through study visits or holidays. You may have visited the Palais des Papes in Avignon, read works by Marcel Pagnol, and even sat in a bar sipping a cool glass of pastis. 

When it was announced in 2008 that Marseille would be the European Capital of Culture for 2013, many thought that this was a galéjade (a kind of a joke).  Marseille? But that’s the location for gangster films (The French Connection, parts I and II). The French Chicago? The scene of more recent Total Kheops (chaos)? Marseille, the port brought to its knees by dockers strikes, the city defaced and stunk out by striking dustmen? ...Surely not!

But those who remember the Glasgow's Miles Better campaign and the cartoon figure of Mr. Happy, one of the earliest and most successful attempts to rebrand a city, which made way for the subsequent awarding of European City of Culture accolade, know that it is possible to shed a negative image. In fact, Marseille and Glasgow have been twinned since 2006, one of their strongest common points being la régénération urbaine et portuaire.

Marseille’s win was announced in September 2008 after two years of preparation. The Chairman of the selection panel was Sir Robert Scott (who led the bid for the Millennium Festival and in 2003 led Liverpool's successful bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2008); the panel’s decision was unanimous. And for the first time it is not just a city that is a capital but also the surrounding region, already rich in festivals. 13 local authorities for 73 towns and villages will join Marseille in the year-long mega-festival. The programme will comprise over 400 events and 60 exhibitions!


Strikingly the competition for the award has given impetus to the big Euroméditerranée project (Marseille as euro-mediterranean metropolis) and its architectural spree. Everywhere in the city is affected by this lifting and relooking:  the CMA-CGM Tower of Zaha Hadid, the MuCEM (museum of European and Mediterranean civilisations) of Rudy Riciotti, the FRAC (modern art centre) of Kengo Kuma and the renovation and pedestrianisation of the Old Port by Norman Forster... (that’s a lot of Brits involved in Marseille’s welfare!)

Though Provence has been popular with tourists for many years, Marseille has not been a destination to choose in its own right and it has much to gain from being Europe’s Capital of Culture: MP2013 will metamorphose the cityscape and help shed the bad reputation of the city by redressing the balance. It might not be the magic wand that dissipates all problems but it will show the world that there is much more to Marseille beyond cliché and caricature.

Marseille, is actually a cultural hub in its own right.  Did you know, for example that the Marseillais have always been greatly attached to their opera house and to the Roland Petit National Ballet Company based there (Petit trained the Marseille-born choreographer Maurice Béjart)? And did you know that it is the city with the highest number of theatres per head of population in France? (not many French people will know that).

Provence also has its fair share of cultural festivals, many taking place over the summer.  The most renowned are the cultural festival on the Iles du Frioul off Marseille, the Avignon theatre festival, the Orange opera festival, the lyric art festival of Aix-en-Provence, the Toulon jazz festival ...

    Que le mégafestival commence!