Episode 5: La Joliette, the Mucem and the Cosquer Museum

Marseille Voutes

Last Updated on May 1, 2024 by Marian Jones

This post takes you around La Joliette, the new port area in Marseille, and takes a look at what there is to do there. That includes the city’s two newest must-see museums – one gives you a tour of Mediterranean culture, the other takes you on a virtual exploration of the incredible caves discovered nearby, where the artwork dates back 30,000 years. We skip over the Major cathedral (explored in a previous episode) and the gallery of Provencal art (see next episode), but find time for plenty of shopping, eating and culture in both historic and ultra-modern settings, all with a magnificent sea-view backdrop.

a little history

As Marseille’s shipping trade grew in the 19th century, a new port area, La Joliette, was developed just round the corner from the Vieux Port which was kept for fishing and pleasure boats. The new quays and warehouses, dominated by those of the huge Compagnie des Docks et Entrepôts de Marseille, were finished in 1853. Links were forged with other major ports in Europe and shipping routes opened up further afield, especially after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1859. The area flourished until the middle of the 20th century. In the early 2000s the major Euromediterrannée Project brought a whole suite of new buildings, shops and museums, turning the area into a popular leisure area.

A Walk through La Joliette

La Joliette, a coastal road, begins on the corner of the Vieux Port, just under the Fort Saint-Jean. Walk down it, away from the Old Port and soon you will see the MUCEM – Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisation – on your left, a stunning cuboid building seemingly wrapped in a metallic web and glistening against its Mediterranean backdrop. Next, on the same side, comes the Musée Henri Cosquer, opened in 2022, where you can explore a replica of the prehistoric caves discovered in the area in the 1980s.

A little further down on your right is the Regards de Provence Art Gallery, (more on that in Episode 06) followed by Les Voûtes, the arched arcades just below the Major Cathedral (covered in Episode 04) Continue a little further and you will find Les Terrasses du Port, a large shopping and leisure complex opened in 2016 and also Les Docks, where 4 old warehouses have been transformed into an intriguing mix of shops, art and culture venues and businesses.

the mucem

The Mucem, or Museum of the Civilisations of Europe and the Mediterranean should be explored outside as well as inside. Its coastal setting is magnificent, with a large terraced café and a walkway leading along to the Fort Saint Jean. It was opened in 2013 when Marseille was a City of European Culture and its multidisciplinary approach covers all aspects of the culture, from anthropology and history to art and food. The permanent exhibition comprises many thousands of artefacts and photographs from all corners of the Mediterranean world from Beirut to Gibraltar.

In addition, there are a number of temporary exhibitions each year. Recent examples include one on Mezze, ie on Middle Eastern culinary traditions, and another dedicated to Emir Abdelkader, the religious and military leader who founded the Algerian state in the 1830s. There is also an annual film festival, the Aflam Festival, featuring films from the Arab-speaking world, along with a programme of workshops and lectures on both cultural and environmental topics.

The cosquer cave museum

The Cosquer offers a not-to-be-missed visit – the chance to explore a reconstruction of prehistoric caves found on the coast nearby in 1985. A highlight is the artwork, some of which dates back 30,000 years. Local diver Henri Cosquer found the caves, some 37 metres below sea level, but they were deemed too dangerous and too fragile for the general public to visit. After years of exploration and 3D mapping by experts this almost full-size replica was built. Visitors are taken in around the whole complex in a boat-like ‘explorer pod’ with a commentary, reproducing the experience of the first divers and serving as a tour of ice-age Provence.

Highlights include a number of caverns, stalagmites and stalactites, plus reproductions of the artwork which was found. There are hand stencils from 27,000 BC and later animal paintings – horses, wild goats, deer, seals and great auks – from about 19,000 BC. Some are black, done in charcoal, others were created using the local red soil. Some are simple, stylised drawings of, say, a fish outline, others have more detail, such as the horses with their bristly manes and evidence of their muscle structure. There are even composite pictures, such as a buffalo with a horse’s head and creatures which are half human, half animal. There’s evidence that these prehistoric artists used tools to smooth over the surface before painting on it.

At the end of the tour you can visit the Archaeological Visitors’ Centre, which is more of a conventional museum, and see 3D models, life-size replicas of some of the animals found in the area at the time the caves were inhabited and models of a prehistoric man and woman.


The Voûtes are cream-coloured stone arcades, just below the Major Cathedral, which were originally part of the dockside and used for warehouses and storerooms. They were closed down in the 1970s, then restored and reopened as part of the Euroméditerranée project, forming part of the ‘Boulevard Littoral’, or ‘coastal boulevard’ which is La Joliette today. As you wander in and out, you’ll find a variety of shops and restaurants.


This ultra-modern complex has nearly 200 shops, bars and restaurants, plus a spectacular 26- metre-long rooftop terrace with marvellous views over the rooftops of Marseille, the sea and the nearby Frioul Archipelago where the Château d’If is. The Terrasses is a mecca for fashion and shopping where you’ll find everything from H&M to an Apple Store, as well as spectacular venues for a meal. All kinds of food options are available, from gourmet meals to snacks and you can enjoy it while watching the cruise ships – and seagulls! – come and go. The shops are open from 10.00-8.00, and the eateries until 1.00am. Just the place for a cocktail at sunset or a late-night dinner experience.

les docks

This old docks and warehouses complex was completely re-thought under the Europméditerrannée Project. The original architecture of the series of linked courtyards has been kept, but also enhanced, for example by bigger windows and a glass roof, so light floods in. The architect aimed to create a ‘Mediterranean agora’, or marketplace and it is quite something. Among the courtyards, modern frescos and indoor trees and plants are all kinds of shops, galleries, eateries and concept stores. An example of the latter is the Mx Experience, run by Pernod Ricard, which is a shop and museum plus a bar and a restaurant, describing itself as ‘an experiential, cultural and sensory journey exploring Pernod Ricard France’s star spice: aniseed’.

Listen to the podcast

reading suggestions

Marseille et le Mucem (French only)
Cosquer Méditerrannée (French only)

links for this post

Guide to La Joliette
The Mucem
The Cosquer Museum
Guide to Les Terrasses du Port
Guide to Les Docks

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