La Canebière, once the pride of Marseilles, now the road to nowhere

Inhabited by the homeless, drug addicts and alcoholics, the air is filled with the stench of urine and beer

Paris

It was once the Champs Elysées of Marseilles, a majestic tree-lined avenue heading east from the Vieux-Port, immortalised in films such as French Connection II.

But the glory days of la Canebière are gone. Today the Marseilles newspaper La Provence consigned the avenue to the tourism dustbin in an article which concluded “there is nothing attractive about la Canebière”. It said that local hotels were advising customers to stay away from the avenue which is now practically deserted after 8pm.

Disappointed tourists are unprepared for the shabby and unsalubrious state of la Canebière, its upper reaches inhabited by the homeless, drug addicts and alcoholics, the air in its litter-strewn pavements filled with the stench of urine and beer. The tram now rumbles noisily down the avenue where construction work churns out noise and dust.

A British tourist from Brighton who asked directions for la Canebière was astonished when he was told he was standing on it. “You’re joking,” he said. A Polish tourist walking back towards the Vieux-Port from the Reform church told the paper that it was the first time he’d visited Marseilles “and I’d heard about this famous Canebière. It’s a rip off!” 

Named from the Latin word for cannabis, La Canebière was originally part of the hemp fields around the old port. The Provençal word for hemp is canebe.

Built in 1666 under Louis XIV, the avenue’s heyday was under the Third Republic at the end of the 19th century, when café life flourished around the thriving commodity exchange. On October 9 1934, the king of Yugoslavia, Alexander 1, was assassinated by a Croatian terrorist just after he had disembarked at the port at the start of a visit to France.

The French Foreign Minister Louis Barthou was also fatally wounded in the shooting outside the stock exchange at the bottom of the avenue. Their death masks are on display in a city museum.

Later, the 1km-long artery came to symbolise the dividing line between the city’s impoverished and troubled northern districts, where drugs and cigarette smuggling are as rife now as in the French Connection of the 1970s, and the southern bourgeois districts.

The bustling avenue was a backdrop for several films when Marseilles was known as the French Los Angeles in the 1920s thanks to its film industry. It was celebrated in song in the Henri Alibert operetta “Un de la Canebière”. Marcel Pagnol, the chronicler of life in Marseilles and its surroundings, set scenes from Marius around an idealised Vieux-Port.

Louis Barthou, the French Foreign Minister, was shot dead outside the stock exchange in the avenue in 1934 Louis Barthou, the French Foreign Minister, was shot dead outside the stock exchange in the avenue in 1934

But the sumptuous Café Riche is now a Monoprix store (a supermarket), and the Café Turc was replaced by the tourism office, now abandoned after the office moved across the street.

There are still plenty reasons to visit Marseilles, which was the European city of culture in 2013. But now the tourists flock to the spectacular Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations whose dark honeycomb stands at the other end of the Vieux-Port.

Jean-Pierre Cassely, a tourist guide, said that the museum has acted like a magnet and tourists now tend to go there and nowhere else. He told The Independent that “it’s not just la Canebière which is dying, it’s the city of Marseilles.”

The museum“is like giving oxygen to a sick man who has a moment of euphoria before succumbing,” he added.

Still, city authorities have plans to refurbish the emblematic avenue, by putting in a four-star hotel and a brasserie. The deputy mayor of Marseilles Dominique Vlasto said: “La Canebière isn’t the same as 60 years ago, and the city wants to give it back its lustre.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas