In Anthony Bourdain’s visit to Marseille for Parts Unknown, he marvels at how a city so beautiful and well fed could have earned so ugly a reputation. He shouldn’t be surprised. The Marseillaise have been working on the unrulier bits of that reputation ever since the earliest French kings tried to lure them into joining Provence and France.
It’s no secret that even today the Marseillaise refuse to consider themselves as French. In a country that works so hard to protect its cultural homogeneity, Marseille is the outlier. Waves of immigrants have defined the character of the city, from Ancient Greeks to Italian laborers and Corsican fishermen, to the Pieds Noirs and native Jews and Arabs who fled the collapse of the French North African and Asian Empires.