Stage 5: Cagnes-sur-Mer to Marseille
CAGNES-SUR-MER TODAY A HORSE RACING MECCA
The Cagnes Hippodrome opened its doors in September, 1952, in provisional buildings in a unique setting between the mountain and the sea and quickly became one of the French temples of horse-racing. The official inauguration took place eight years later in 1960. Since then, the infrastructures never stopped improving and developing to turn the site into one of the most efficient in the country. The arena can entertain 11,300 persons including 6,000 in tribunes 120 metres long. Moreover, five blocks of some 900 boxes are designed to accommodate trotters as well as flat racers. In all, some 3,000 horses take part in the various meetings. The site is also equipped with a clinic with three vets for the treatment and surgery of the horses in the whole region. About 150 lads can be accommodated on the premises. A canteen is open for all the professionals working on the track. During the international events and especially the Grand Criterium de Vitesse de la Côte d'Azur, one of the most prestigious mile races, all French regions and most European countries send horses to take part. Cagnes-sur-Mer holds a winter and a summer season and is one of the few racing tracks in France to host events in the three disciplines. The track holds 67 steeplechase races, 111 flat races and 209 trotting races.
CAGNES-SUR-MER AND CYCLING
Cagnes has one of the most famous horseracing tracks in France but the town will switch from jockeys to riders as the town hosts a Tour de France stage for the first time. In 2009, the race had gone through Cagnes during the stage between Monaco and Brignoles won by Mark Cavendish. Cagnes was also one of the strongholds of the family of Lucien Teisseire (see Nice), whose Cagne-based brother Emile was also a professional. Another rider from Cagnes, Olivier Tastour, rode the 2001 Tour de France but was forced out in the 6th stage.
PLACES TO SEE
Renoir MuseumRenoir’s house at Les Collettes is a moving place for the evocative power of the old master’s daily life as he lived there in the last eleven years of his life, from 1908 to his death in 1919. Twelve rooms in the painter’s house are now open to the public. The museum was entirely renovated in 2012 and 2013 and reopened in July. Rooms dedicated to sculpture have been added and a lift for disabled visitors has been installed.
Grimaldi castle and museum Bought by the municipality in 1939, the castle was turned into a museum in 1946. Besides its architectural interest and a fresco representing the fall of Phaeton, painted in 1620 by Giulio Benso, the castle is home to a ethnographic museum dedicated to olive, a donation by Suzy Solidor of some 40 portraits of the singer painted by famous painters in the early 20th century, a donation by Andre Verdet and a museum of modern Mediterranean art. Every summer, the museum also holds temporary exhibitions during its International summer festival.
Afloat between sea and sky by the entrance to the Old Port of Marseille, the Museum of the European and Mediterranean civilisations (MuCEM) opened its doors in June. Turned towards the open sea, the intricate building designed by architect Rudy Riciotti is a meeting point for both sides of the Mediterranean. Never before had a museum been entirely dedicated to Mediterranean culture, which played such a major role in history. The MuCEM fills that void and it was inaugurated while Marseille was European capital of culture in 2013. The MuCEM is the first museum of such importance to be transferred from Paris to a big regional metropolis. Its collections, composed of nearly a million items, will be entirely transferred to Marseille from the Paris Museum of Arts and Popular traditions. The MuCEM will provide a complete overview of the Mediterranean, its history, its civilisations and its heritage.The museum, built on old dock, is the central part of the MuCEM. On the ground floor, a permanent exhibition retraces the main dates of the history of the Mediterranean. On the first floor, two annual exhibitions are dedicated to civilisations, cities and men who made the Mediterranean what it is. The vaults of the 12th century Fort St Jean also house exhibitions. Visitors can also stroll on a garden set at the top of Fort St Jean, from which the panoramic view is simply stunning.
THE STORY: THE CHAIN OF THE PORT
In 1423, Marseille went through one of the worst disasters in its history. At odds with the powerful king of Aragon for the control of trade in the Mediterranean and for the rule of the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily, the town was attacked by the Spanish fleet returning from a failed naval operation in Naples. The sailors of King Alfonso III, determined to avenge their frustrating Italian campaign, rapidly took control of the port, at the time only defended by an old tower and a useless chain linking one end of the port to the other. For several days, the Spaniards plundered, ransacked, killed and raped, leaving a city in ruins behind them. On their departure, only 5,000 inhabitants were left in town, most of the population having fled to neighbouring cities Aix, Arles or the countryside. Marseille’s humiliation was made even worse by the fact that the Aragon fleet stole the chain of the port and the relics of the most popular saint in town, St Louis d’Anjou, a 13th century member of the ruling family of Provence long held hostage in Spain. He became the holy patron of the hostages and prisoners. After several requests through the years by Marseille to have the chain returned, Spain agreed in 1956 to hand back some of the relics of St Louis d’Anjou… but they were stolen in 1994 by burglars in the church housing them on the Old Port. As for the useless chain, it is still hanging on a wall inside the cathedral of Valencia, whose authorities always refused to give it back. There was more at stake than a simple yachting race when Marseille and Valencia both bid to host the America’s Cup in 2010!
MARSEILLE AND CYCLING
Since 1903, the second largest town in France has been part of all the main dates in the history of the Tour de France and the 100th edition could not ignore the 2013 European Capital of culture. Marseille remains noted in that long history for a 1971 stage in which a break led by Eddy Merckx arrived in town two hours ahead of schedule to an empty finish line… Marseille also hosts or hosted several professional races such as Grand Prix d’Ouverture-La Marseillaise, the Haribo classic, Tour Med, and Paris-Nice. Among the most famous Marseille riders feature Marcel Tinazzi a maverick character who was French champion in 1977, a year after another Marseille-born rider, Guy Sibille. Also worth mentioning is Louis Rostollan, winner of the 1961 Tour de Romandie and who rode the Tour de France eight times. Roger Chaussabel made a name for himself by finishing last in the 1956 Tour and saying: “I can’t break, I can’t climb and I can’t sprint – I’m a real all-rounder!” On the same odd note, it is interesting to know that a former Marseille bicycle shopkeeper still keeps one of Rene Vietto’s toes in formaldehyde as a talisman.
PLACES TO SEE
The Old Port It is set in the Lacydon creek, the site spotted by the Phocen Greeks when they decided to create a trade outpost that became Massalia then Marseille. The port is lined with pleasant cafés and restaurants and was totally refurbished in 2013 with a huge pedestrian esplanade. Every morning fishermen’s wives sell fish on the old port and are part of the local folklore.
Notre-Dame de la Garde Also known as the God Mother, the basilica was built in 1862 by Esperandieu and is topped by a golden statue of the Virgin Mary. From its parvise, the view over Marseille is exceptional. Inside, the mosaics were recently restored while hundreds of ex-votos are on display.
St Victor AbbeyA superb medieval church dating from the 5th century. Its crypt contains several sarcophagus. It was originally a powerful abbey ruled by abbot John Cassian, whose influence spread to Spain and Italy. Only the abbatial church and the crypts remain today. Every year in March a procession pays homage to the Virgin Mary and biscuits known as navettes (small boats) are cooked.
Velodrome Stadium Built in 1937 to host games of the 1938 World Cup, it is the home stadium of Olympique de Marseille, European champions in 1993. Modernised with each big international event, it is being entirely renovated to become a 67,000-capacity covered arena which should be completed by 2014.
The Museum of European and Mediterranean civilisations is the highlight of Marseille’s year as the European capital of culture. Conceived by architect Rudy Riciotti, this open space on a old dock by the old port is the large museum the city needed.
Silo, a venue with a seaview
Marseille chose to preserve its industrial heritage by turning former industrial sites into cultural venues. A former grain silo, the huge 16,000 m2 building has been split into two distinct parts. A 2,000-capacity concert venue designed by architect Roland Carta and an office space conceived by Eric Castaldi, who also renovated the neighbouring docks.
Calanques Nataional ParkThe first natural park in Europe located so close to a busy metropolis, the Calanques National Park is one of France’s most barren spaces but is visited by some 1.5 millions tourists every year. Calanques are a remarkably preserved area famous for the diversity of its landscapes and seascapes but it is threatened by the ever increasing number of visitors and must be protected.