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If the exact conditions of Massalia's foundation are still clouded with mystery, we know that the City was built by the Greek settlers of Phocaeus who came to establish a trading port there. Thus, the bay of Lacydon - a wide and deep cove - has become one of the most attractive ports in the Mediterranean and an essential emblem of the Phocaean City. Massalia quickly became a prosperous city with strong growth. Its strategic location permits to maintain privileged commercial links with Greece, Asia and Rome. The population of Marseille was already around 40,000 at that time (only enough to fill 3/4 of the Velodrome Stadium!), making it the largest urban area in Gaul and an important cultural and religious city.
But in the 1st century BC, the Phocaean City became Roman. The city's influence was gradually diminishing in favour of Arles, which quickly became a major competitor. The following centuries were marked by successive attempts to conquer the city. If the Visigoths failed to enter the City, the Burgundians (initially) and then the Ostrogoths managed to take control of Marseille. It was not until 536 AD that the Francs of Clovis took over Provence. Then began a prosperous period during which Marseille tried to compete with Arles; the construction of the Cathedral of the Major and the Saint-Victor Abbey was a sign of this intention.
Plundered in the 8th century by Charles Martel, ravaged by the great plague of Europe in 1347, it was not until the 15th century that the city really regained its former attractiveness, the date on which Marseille was truly attached to the Kingdom of France. Impressed by the commercial power of the city, François I deplored its vulnerability and lack of defence against potential enemies and ordered the construction of the Château d'If and ramparts.
Marseille's rebellious past, still rooted in its DNA, resurfaced in the 17th century when the city rebelled against the Sun King's policies. Louis XIV besieged, disarmed and controlled the Phocaean City in order to assert his political authority. Aware of the city's potential, the King undertook a vast urban planning project (just a tad more impressive than the Euro-Mediterranean project) that gave way to numerous developments: construction of the Old Charity, Fort Saint-Jean, the new Town Hall, and the Canebière and Cours Belsunce developments. This urban momentum contributed to the rapid development of the city but ran out of steam dramatically with the 1720 plague, which killed a third of the Phocaeans. As always in its history, Marseille has rebounded by opening up even more to international trade. Historically rebellious, Marseille was naturally very committed to the ideas of the Revolution and sent nearly 500 men to Paris. The rest of the story is now famous: the Marseille revolutionaries adopted the war song of Rouget de Lisle and took it up in chorus in the streets of Paris. La Marseillaise was born...