Guest post by Toby Rose
Marseille has been European City of Culture this year and has confounded the sceptics with an array of fine events from arts to theatre to cinema. But among the permanent cultural additions to the Marseille scene is the Villa Mediterranee which is at the very gates of the city – at the entrance to the iconic Vieux Port. Facing out into the Mediterranean Sea the remit of the designer building is to connect countries which share a coastline with a sea which is is linked to our civilisation.
This cutting edge waterside building juts out with a stylish canopy over a water feature out to glass floors into the water. Waterside is the theme of this airy and light exhibition space which gives as much prominence to the strategic setting at the entrance to the Vieux Port. The views are simply stunningly breathtaking across the mouth of the port entrance.
Set to the right is the harbour wall the Villa Mediterranee juts out from the quayside. Turning to the right is the Provencal museum in a renovated building which served as the entry point for hundreds of thousands of immigrants heading to France and Europe for a new life. Casting a watchful eye over this entry point for teaming humanity is the Major, the grandly domed waterside cathedral. To the right is a spectacular twin institution at the seafront portals of Marseille, the MuCem.
But maybe the most charming, certainly the most picture postcard pretty, are the yachts and ferries which criss cross the routes in and out of the harbour. Their toing and froing is a constant reminder that the history of Marseille is inextricabky linked to seafaring. And thus this melting pot is topped up and decanted on a daily basis and is the subject matter of this wonderful exhibition space.
The audacious use of this purpose built structure is immediately apparent in the shape of the towering twin escalators which take visitors to the upper floor which is the main exhibitions space. Navigation through the open plan space is aided by a very a la mode bunch of black wires which lead you on this voyage of discovery. The opening exhibition is a reflection on the connection between the 22 countries that share a seaboard with the Mediterranean. The leitmotif for this show is a striking blue. And given voice are the youth of this region of the world from Beirut to Tunis and back, of course, to Marseille.
The end of the show leads you into a gallery with a stunning view of the foreshore. This must rate as one of the most magnificent seascapes which will no doubt attract artists in its own right.
On leaving visitors should most certainly turn left at the foot of the escalator and visit the basement exhibition space which is a real world beater.
To think that this state of the art art space has emerged on a dockside which for years was a byword for the unloved face of the maritime world. With this shining example of regeneration Marseille is leading forward the peoples of the Mediterranean and the Villa Mediterranee is leading the way and really taking advantage of its vantage point.
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