No matter from which side you are approaching, the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations in Marseille, also known as MuCEM, will not go unseen or ignored, that would be simply impossible!
This incredibly unusual museum is located by the the Mediterranean sea between its waters and the charismatic city of Marseille. The MuCEM is actually situated on three different sites: the new modern looking museum designed by the talented architect Rudy Riciotti on the J4, the 12th century historical monument Fort Saint-Jean and the Centre for Conservation and Resources. We really loved the new building of MuCEM built on the pier and how it connects with the old fort without clashing with its old age and look, on the contrary, what’s created is a harmonic symbiosis between the two sites despite their different architectural style and look.
A Dark Box Floating on the Sea
We approached the MuCEM coming from Fort Saint-Jean after having looked around the fort, admired the amazing views of Marseille and of the Mediterranean too. It’s incredible the amazing work of restoration that has been done to the site and how it hasn’t lost its original look and shape even if its spaces have been re-thought for different purposes than the original defensive one that it was built for. Sitting in the little garden just before approaching the MuCEM and enjoying our packed lunch kissed by the sunshine, we could already clearly see this huge greyish box sitting almost on the sea water contrasting the sandy coloured surrounding neighbours.
When the time came to cross the long dark bridge to get from the Fort Saint-Jean to the MuCEM, it felt like walking on a smooth and slick footpath that was tidily set for us to be walked on and suspended in the air without any tie rods helping to keep it up. It might seems quite scary and give the impression that the bridge wasn’t safe, quite the opposite. The thickness of the bridge’s material mad it feel quite free from harm, and for someone that, like me, starts shaking every time I’m any higher than a floor up – that’s quite relieving. When we got closer to the MuCEM itself we could see properly and actually touch the net looking facade that surrounds two sides of the building. It felt quite solid, kind of coarse but without being rough to the touch with a quite thick (apparently 15cm) external “cover”.
It was nice to look around from the bridge before stepping on the MuCEM itself, observing the surrounding area, the Fort and Marseille from a different perspective, it was like if they were all sitting on this hole-filled concrete grey bed, making them look almost like they had been relocated in a different dimension. It felt a bit surreal to me, in the nicest way possible!
Like in a Fishnet
The first thing we saw when we stepped on the MuCEM was the roof terrace and I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was so incredibly different from anything I’d seen before. I was completely surrounded by this concrete grey “mantilla” from which its irregular holes I could grasp the blue of the sea that at times got confused with the sky and viceversa. By getting closer to each of these “windows” I could start to clearly see more details and the yellow stoned Fort we left behind us. I loved the contrast between the grey of the concrete screen and the blue that filtered from the Mediterranean, it was like the two were in a perfect harmony, it give me the feeling that the sea extended inside the building itself. The designer is such a genius!
When we moved to the lower floors, we saw the heart of the museum. The exhibition spaces that are in the central glass structure which is surrounded on two sides by this ornate concrete cover and it is naked on the other two. To get around the inside building and move to the different floors we walked through corridors created between the inner glass box and the outside net-like facade. We could see how the structure really was and only trying to guess how it was supported. The play of light coming from the outside through the holes, the shadows and reflections created on the inner walls were amazing to watch. I could have spent much longer walking up and down the floors that we did, staring at the Mediterranean and Marseille from the holes, looking at the shine and glare the sun rays generated, I loved it!
Even though it might seem a lot of money to many, the €191 million invested for the realization of the whole MuCEM project has been well spent in my modest opinion. The new museum designed by Rudy Riciotti is definitely the cherry on the cake if you ask me and it gives a new-modern look to Marseille without competing and crashing with its historical and old soul. Also, I think that the MuCEM architectural look goes perfectly with its main purpose, which is to showcase different forms of artistic expressions from all over the Mediterranean.
Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations (MuCEM)
1 esplanade du J4
13002 Marseille, France