Marseille’s Melting Pot: As Europe Sees More Immigrants, Is the Multicultural City of Marseille a Vision of the Future?
It’s tempting to say, and probably true, that no rule made by Paris goes unbent in the city of Marseille. The capital of Provence has a well-deserved reputation as a rough and unruly place, a port that attracts all kinds of contraband and all kinds of people, some of them contraband too. Over the centuries, they’ve mostly come by sea—mingling, scheming, brawling, coupling, feasting, and drinking with unashamed and unapologetic flamboyance. The city has served as a refuge for people fleeing persecution, pestilence, and poverty. Recently its sizable immigrant influx has been largely of Muslim origin, and today when you gaze from one of Marseille’s many beaches across the Mediterranean toward the unseen North African coast, you can almost imagine a human deluge on its way as the spreading unrest in the Arab world pushes more refugees and job seekers toward the shores of Europe.
If you listen to far-right politicians, you’ll think this immigrant wave means, inevitably, an onslaught of Islamic puritanism that will challenge European ways and force every woman to dress like a Taliban bride. But then you realize that many of the men and women jostling around you on the Marseille sand are from African and Arab backgrounds, and that the young women are wearing bikinis, not burkas. Thanks to a remarkably efficient public transport system, you can get to Marseille’s beaches from any part of town in less than 45 minutes.
And so for several months of the year, rich and poor, white and black, African and Arab, Muslim, Christian, and Jew, all find their own space on the sand, strip off most of their clothes, and settle down to socialize—and be socialized— under the Provençal sun. Ask them where they’re from and you won’t hear Algeria or Morocco, the Comoros islands or even France. Almost always they’ll simply say, Marseille.