The French city of Marseille is an ancient Mediterranean port: the first settlement appeared here 2500 thousand years ago. It is strange to dream of water on the seashore, but for many centuries Marseille lacked fresh water. The nearest fresh water - the Durance River - was located 50 km from Marseille. In particularly dry years, the price of fresh water was compared to the price of silk. In the 20s of the XIX century, a cholera epidemic in Marseille claimed the lives of thousands of people, and the city authorities asked permission from the Duke of Orleans to build a canal from the river to the city.
"Palace of Water" - a cascade fountain with a grotto and bulls
It took a long time to collect money for the construction; the mayor's office even had to raise taxes. The Duke of Orleans wanted to celebrate this historic event by erecting the "Palace of Water" at the end of the aqueduct. In 1839, the Duke personally laid the first stone, but the construction of the palace ensemble began after the launch of the canal and ended in 1869.
The centerpiece of the ensemble is the fountain, which is considered one of the 10 most beautiful fountains in the world. The water rushes along the cascades, splashing and making the noise of a waterfall, then falls into underground pipes, from which flowing into the lower pond. Water flows out of an artificial grotto, over which a pompous arch with a chariot rises. 4 Camargue bulls are harnessed to the chariot (Camargue is a historical region of France, where pedigree horses and bulls were bred; Camargue black bulls are participants in various competitions.) The bulls are driven by a woman, the personification of the Durance River as a natural element. The chariot is followed by women and children with grapes and spikelets in their hands - they personify prosperity and fertility.
To the left and to the right of the arch there are colonnades that lead to the left and right wings of the palace. They are occupied by museums: the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Natural History. Colonnades end with two-tiered portals with sculptures made in the antique manner
A water tower is hidden behind the facade of the palace. Behind the palace there is a park, also a cascading one, a favorite walking place for the inhabitants of Marseille.
Longchamp museums: for adults and for children
The Museum of Fine Arts displays a collection of European painting and sculpture, applied art (furniture, tableware). It houses paintings by artists such as:
- Pietro Perugino
- Annibale Carracci
- Michelle Serre
- Gustave Courbet
- Nicolas Mignard
- Pierre Puget
- Claude Vernet
- Flemish painters.
The Museum of Fine Arts is usually interesting for adults, but you can go to the Museum of Natural History with children. Here are the skeletons of prehistoric animals and the reconstruction of their appearance, 12,000 species of birds and animals, thousands of plant specimens, the largest collection of sea shells.
Zoological garden: wooden animals, century-old oaks and an observatory
Behind the palace begins a park, also cascading, located on terraces. It is called the Zoological Garden, because at the beginning of the 20th century there was a zoo here. Now there are no animals, but several old pavilions remain: they have been beautifully painted and placed next to life-size wooden figures of animals, painted in bright colors.
Children feel good in the park: there are playgrounds with swings for them, there is enough space to run and play. The townspeople walk here with their dogs, play sports or just relax on the lawns in the shade of trees. The pride of the park is century-old oaks, plane trees and elms. Families and companies come here for a picnic. There are no cafes and restaurants here, people bring food with them.
On the territory of the park there is an observatory building, built at the beginning of the 18th century by monks. The observatory is functioning, equipped with a modern powerful telescope, but ancient astronomical equipment is also kept here.
Entrance to the territory of the palace and park ensemble is free, only visiting museums is paid.
* Palace and park ensemble of the 19th century: palace, fountain, park