Between the sea and the sky, at the entrance of the old harbor stands the Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean (MuCEM), which opened to the public on June 7, 2013, in Marseille, the same year the city that held the title of European Capital of Culture. The museum is dedicated to the civilizations that emerged around the basin of the Mare Nostrum.
Strategically located in France’s second largest city, a landmark meeting point between both shores of the Mediterranean, so rich in culture, rises MuCEM, designed by the architect Rudy Ricciotti, whose project was chosen over other famous architects such as Rem Koolhaas and the late Zaha Hadid who also fought for the job at the time.
With three different environments, the building has an area of more than 161,000 square feet where visitors can find all the amenities of a 21st-century museum. In addition to the exhibits, the institution offers a wide range of public activities such as lectures, concerts, debates and film screenings. The modern structure has a 400-seat auditorium, workroom, meeting room and space for boutiques, coffee shop, and restaurant.
Ricciotti`s MuCEM, built on the old J4 pier, is dedicated to the rediscovery of the most important pages of the history of Mediterranean civilizations and to address issues as captivating and intriguing as the invention of the gods, treasures of the spice route, citizens banquet, visions of Jerusalem, and the cabinet of curiosities that explore the seven wonders of the world.
This museum is the first specifically devoted to the cultures of the Mediterranean and is considered one of the most successful in Europe in recent years. With an exhibition area of about 43,000 square feet, it is connected to Fort Saint-Jean and the ancient city through an impressive walkway. With such extraordinary content and privileged location, the MuCEM is poised to become a mandatory cultural and tourist attraction in Marseilles, and a symbol of the legendary French city.
Thierry Fabre, the first head of programming until January of 2017 commented on the “narrative identity of the Mediterranean”, which has always been strong. “Europe has a natural inclination for the Mediterranean, which stalled after Goethe, Napoleon`s Egyptian Campaign and the trend towards Orientalism.”
MuCEM covers a geographical area that expands beyond the countries bordering the Mediterranean and towards a vast historical field: from prehistory to contemporary topics of interest. The museum’s annex is a 12th-century monument, Fort Saint-Jean, which will house permanent and temporary exhibitions. It is a place that invites contemplation of the landscape, either through the gateways that offer beautiful views, or a walk around its new Mediterranean garden.
The third space is located along Belle de Mai, a district near the Saint-Charles train station. It houses the Center for Conservation and Resources, designed by architect Corinne Vezzoni. In this center, visitors can browse the museum’s archives.
Many experts already consider MuCEM something more than a museum: a new connection to the Mediterranean, a place of open exchange, where the common history of the varied Mediterranean civilizations establishes a harmonious dialogue with us, the viewers. ■