Marseille, or Marseilles, France, the nation's second largest city and the capital of Bouches-du-Rhône department, in the region of Provence. It lies near the mouth of the Rhone River on the Gulf of Lions, an inlet of the Mediterranean Sea.
Marseille is France's leading seaport and a major commercial and industrial center. About a third of the nation's ocean-borne foreign trade passes through the modern port. Imports of petroleum and agricultural products account for much of the tonnage handled. Oil refining, shipbuilding, food processing, and chemical manufacturing are the city's largest industries. Others produce electrical and electronics equipment, pottery, clothing, shoes, and tobacco products. Marseille is served by major railways and airlines and is linked with the Rhône River by a canal.
Although it dates back more than 2,000 years, Marseille is a modern city, built largely since the mid-19th century. Its few historic structures include a medieval church, the 17th-century Town Hall, and the Chateau Borély, a mansion of the 1700's. A major landmark is the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde, which stands on a hill overlooking the city and is visible far out at sea. On a tiny island offshore is the Chateau d'If, a former prison made famous by Alexandre Dumas in his novel The Count of Monte Cristo.A Marseille apartment building completed in 1952 ranks among the chief works of the noted French architect Le Corbusier. Cultural and educational institutions in the city include the Museum of Fine Arts and part of the University of Aix-Marseille, which dates from 1409.
Marseille was founded as Massalia by Greeks from Asia Minor about 600 B.C. It came under the protection of Rome in the second century B.C. and was later absorbed by the empire. Following Rome's decline in the fifth century A.D., Marseille was ruled mainly by its own bishops and city council until it became part of France in the 1480's. During the French Revolution, the city was the scene of much violence associated with the Reign of Terror (1793-94). Marseille's greatest development began in the mid-1800's with colonization in Africa and the opening of the Suez Canal. Rapid growth continued in the 20th century. The city became a leading oil refining center following discovery of oil in nearby North Africa after World War II.