Marseille is as cosmopolitan now as when the Phoenicians first founded it. Vital to the Crusades in the Middle Ages and crucial to Louis XIV as a military port, Marseille flourished as France’s market to the world – and still does so to this day. Marseille’s port is the second largest Mediterranean port, with over eighty-six thousand tons of goods transported annually. It has also served many travelers to freedom to America, including my great grandfather and his family – fleeing the Armenian Genocide.
Our tour began by driving fifty miles northeast of Marseille to the city of Arles, where post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh lived from 1888–1889 and produced over 300 paintings during his time there. Before exploring everything Van Gogh, we learnt about the city’s Roman history. We stopped at the Arles Amphitheatre, a two-tiered Roman amphitheater built in 90 AD – inspired by the Colosseum in Rome (built in 70 AD). The amphitheater was capable of seating over 20,000 spectators, and was built to provide entertainment in the form of chariot races and bloody Gladiator battles.