According to our guide, back in the day, brothels operated from the top floors of the residences in Marseille’s Le Panier neighborhood. Before clients could go upstairs, they first had to place their payments in bread baskets that were lowered to the ground level by prostitutes; hence, how Le Panier (“The Basket”) got its name.
Such a raunchy introduction to such an utterly charming neighborhood, but I could care less. As we make our way up the same steep steps once climbed by drunken, burly sailors from nearby Vieux Port in search of their brothel of choice, I feel myself falling head over heels for Le Panier’s shadowy alleyways; clothes drying on lines; and brightly colored, graffiti-marked buildings with aged, wooden shutters.
We’re told that these days, Le Panier is a neighborhood of artists and students who rent the neighborhood’s cramped apartments. Thanks to government subsidies, owners are able to renovate residences that have otherwise fallen into disrepair.
There’s a popular French soap opera called “Plus belle la vie” that’s set in a fictional city in Marseille called le Mistral, a city inspired by Le Panier. Although the show isn’t filmed in Le Panier, one of its sets is a replica of the Bar des 13 Coins.
We soon come to La Vieille Charité, a former homeless shelter marked by a beautiful inner courtyard full of growing olive trees. Today, this building is used as a cultural research center and museum that houses a variety of art from Africa, Oceania, and the Mediterranean.
As we make our way out of Le Panier, we come to Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure de Marseille, a Roman Catholic church and French national monument that’s one of the city’s distinctive sites.
Tell me, would you like to wander the alleys of Le Panier?