Marseilles (usu. Marsayles'; Fr. Marseille), the third city of France, and the chief town of the dep. Bouches-du-Rhone, is situated on the south coast, about 27 miles E. of the mouth of the Rhone, and 536 by rail SSB. of Paris. It is the principal commercial port of France, if not of the entire Mediterranean. Wheat, oil-seeds, coal, wine, spirits, beer, sugar, maize, oats, barley, coffee, oils, pepper, flour, and tallow are the chief imports; whilst the exports comprise clay tiles, wheat, oil-cakes, flour, sugar, oil, wine and spirits, soap, and candles. Marseilles is the headquarters of the Messageries Maritimes and other great French companies. The old harbour, a natural basin of nearly 70 acres, runs into the heart of the city; to the W. of it new docks, quays, and warehouses extend fully a mile along the shore, and cover a hundred acres; between these and a breakwater is an outer roadstead; and there are also dry-docks, slips, etc. Soap, vegetable oils, oil-cake, soda, sugar, macaroni, iron, lead, zinc, tiles, and leather are manufactured. The city of Marseilles is built on the slopes that overlook the old harbour, and at the foot, and has of late years extended to the south-east. Its buildings include the cathedral, built in the form of a Byzantine basilica (1852-93); the pilgrimage church (1214; rebuilt 1864), with an image of the Virgin greatly venerated by sailors; the church of St Victor (1200), with crypt and catacombs of the 11th century; the health office of the port, with fine paintings by Vernet, David, Gerard, and Guerin; the museum of antiquities, in the Chateau Borely; the Longchamp palace, a very fine Renaissance building (1870), with picture-gallery and natural history museum ; the public library, with 95,000 volumes and 1530 MSS. There are also a botanical and a zoological garden, a marine and an astronomical observatory, a faculty of sciences, and schools of medicine, fine arts, Oriental languages, music, commerce, hydrography. Pop. (1861) 260,910; (1886) 376,143; (1901)474,326, including a colony of 90,000 Italians.
Marseilles was founded by Phoceans from Asia Minor about 600 B.C., and down to 300 a.d. was a centre of Greek civilisation. The Greeks called it Massalia, the Romans Massilia. It supported Pompey against CAesar, but was taken by the latter in 49 b.c, after an obstinate defence. During subsequent ages it fell into the hands of the Saracens (9th c), Charles of Anjou (13th c), Alphonso V. of Aragon (1423), and Henry III. of France (1575). In 1112 it had become a republic ; but in 1660 it was deprived by Louis XIV. of the privileges it had enjoyed as a free port almost from its foundation. The years 1720-21 are memorable for the devastations of the plague, when nearly half the population of 100,000 perished. Marseilles was the scene of stirring events in 1792-93, and sent large bands of cut-throats to Paris; in 1871 it proclaimed the commune. In August 1885 there were 1250 deaths from cholera; but the insanitary condition of the place has, it is hoped, been remedied by the great drainage works inaugurated in 1891. Marseilles was the birthplace of Pytheas, Petronius, Thiers, and the sculptor Puget.