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Med Hubs: Marseille in the spotlight

In our ongoing series of Mediterranean port city profiles, today we turn our attention to France’s second city, which this week is hosting Euromaritime.

Marseille is the second most populated city in France. Founded around 600 BC by Greek settlers from Phoenicia , Marseille is the oldest city in the country, as well as one of Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited settlements. It is a place that has lived and breathed maritime trade for just about longer than anywhere else in the region.

Over the past decade the city has transformed, retooled and repurposed for the challenges of the 21st century.

Historically, the economy of Marseille was dominated by its role as a port of the French Empire, linking the North African colonies of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia with Metropolitan France.

The economy of Marseille and its region is still linked to its commercial port, the first French port and the fifth European port by cargo tonnage. Some 45,000 jobs are linked to the port activities and it represents €4bn added value to the regional economy. 100m tons of freight pass annually through the port, 60% of which is petroleum, making it number one in France and the Mediterranean and number three in Europe.

The city has transformed, retooled and repurposed for the challenges of the 21st century

Located near one of the biggest French rivers, the Rhône, the city is directly linked to the European hinterland by waterways and rail, and latterly its boxport has tried to position itself as an alternative to the busy north European terminals.

Marseille is also reinventing itself through the renovation of its neighbourhoods.

President Emanuel Macron, one of the most famous supporters of the city’s football club, has made a great deal of his ambition to regenerate the city, setting aside billions of euros for the process last autumn with the provençal city a regular stop for him during this spring’s presidential election. The city’s grand rattrapage – or big catchup plan – officially called Marseille en grand – promises very significant investments in local schools and transport, particularly in northern districts.

There’s also an innovation component of the Marseille en grand plan. A call for initiatives was launched in December to create four entrepreneurship hubs in Marseille, which will be dedicated places where young people with projects will be trained, advised and mentored free of charge by business leaders, associations and supported by public services.

Macron has described the city as a “laboratory for the republic” – something that is definitely the case too for maritime with new fuels and shipping-related start-ups flourishing. Into his second term as president, Macron has vowed to make Marseille the “capital of the Mediterranean”.

Macron has vowed to make Marseille the capital of the Mediterranean

Like many great trading hubs, Marseille has had to reinvent itself every few generations. Its citizens find themselves in the crux of another transformation right now – carrying on its mercantile traditions while ensuring the municipality is a digital leader.

The city’s mayor, Benoît Payan, could leave a more widespread maritime legacy as it is he who has led the charge to speed up the creation of a Mediterranean emissions control area (ECA), something that would become the largest maritime zone in the world regulating polluting emissions.

Marseille has also recently been selected as one of 100 European cities to participate in a European Union project whose objective is climate neutrality by 2030. Marseille and the other 99 cities must become laboratories for experimentation and innovation to enable all European cities to achieve this objective by 2050 with Payan saying many resources will be spent to ensure the port becomes greener while freight moving through the city will increasingly be carried on electric vehicles.

Across the Mediterranean maritime hubs are developing, offering a full range of services and establishing themselves at shipping’s top table. Splash identified the five leading maritime capitals in the region – Athens, Genoa Limassol, Marseille and Monaco – and assigned correspondents to report on their individual strengths for a special glossy magazine. Splash readers can access the full magazine online by clicking here.


Splash is Asia Shipping Media’s flagship title offering timely, informed and global news from the maritime industry 24/7.
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