The port tour starts at 11 Boulevard Lamartine. On the way to the port, through where there were vineyards until recently, there is a good view of the compactness of the ancient village. The theatre, the last thing built at the end of the ‘belle epoque’ is to the right.
From the end of the port it is easy to see how it was created, in stages, through the centuries. Originally it was a series of Grecian wooden wharfs, then Roman stone. With the opening of the Canal du Midi - Marseillan became the canal’s southern entreport, and the port had to be rapidly extended.
The importance of the port to the Languedoc, and - of course - to the Marseillanais can hardly be exaggerated. In 1865, for example, arrivals totalled 15,300 tonnes, and departures 23,678 tonnes. In 1880 the corresponding figures were 140,650 and 149,325! Truly Marseillan was the ‘Jewel of the Languedoc’.
Trade declined with the coming of the railways, and then motor transport. By 1930 the port was derelict, and remained so until the first of the holidaymakers arrived in the 1960s.
Noilly Prat came to Marseillan in 1853, and are very important to the village economy. Mr Prat’s father invented the vermouth, for which Marseillan wines are an ideal base. his son and son-in-law put it on the market. Marseillan was selected partly because of its wines, but mostly because of its excellence as a port.
(Visits to Noilly Prat can be arranged in conjunction with MH tours.)
The port is preserved as it was in the late 19th century, with most of the warehouse fronts concealing apartments. Restaurants were first allowed on to the port in the 1990s but are strictly controlled so they enhance rather than detract from the port’s ambience.
The left bank was mostly dry goods, with alcohol being handled on the right bank. There were some 30 warehouses, all around 30,000 square metres - so one can visualise the sheer volume of goods that passed through the port.
The Chateau du Port, one of Marseillan’s icons, was built around 1870. Not as a residence, but as the administrative headquarters of Mr. Jean Voisin who handled some 90% of the wine trade. Today it has a quality franchised restaurant on the ground floor. The remainder is a holiday residence for a wealthy Belgian. Is there a tunnel under the port. A long-standing belief of many Marseillanais is that a tunnel exists. But if so, why? Where did it start, and where did it finish? In 2004 the Chateau was renovated and the builders settled the argument.
Usually it is possible to see how some of the storage areas were constructed. Warehouses form a square, around a courtyard, with one exit to the port, and another to avenue Jean Bertouy that runs parallel to the port. Thus good security was provided - especially needed as the port was deserted at night.
From the end of the quay the view over the Etang to Sète is magnificent, especially on a summer’s evening as the town lights come on and are reflected in the calm waters of the Etang. There is also a good view of Marseillan’s oyster tables (not beds!), and the entrance to the Canal du Midi.
Today Marseillan continues to profit from the canal, because many holidaymakers choose to visit Marseillan as part of their waterborne holiday.
Alongside the Canal du Midi is the canal known as la pisse saumes or the German canal. For centuries it was the route taken by donkeys carrying salt from the beach, with much discussion on the wisdom and cost of dredging it to take fishing boats. It was the German occupiers in 1942, however, who dredged the canal. It was needed because there were no hard top roads through the vineyards and they had much hardware to ship to the beach.
Today it provides much valued access to the Mediterranean for Marseillan’s fishermen, and is the envy of other villages on the Etang.
The Marina, beside the port, was added to help meet the demand for long-term moorings, and there is a long waiting list for a space.
Marseillan actually has five ports: the main port; the marina; Tabarka; the Fishermens’ port and the Marina at Marseillan Plage. Tabarka is mainly for local residents, the fishermen have their port about a kilometre to the east of Marseillan.
Avenue Jean Bertouy is the first wide and hard-topped road in Marseillan. It was constructed to provide access to the huge number of carts that serviced the port. It is of triple width, for which there are two possible explanations.
Alongside Tabarka is a new boat service area, the only one on the Etang… continuing evidence of Marseillan’s forward thinking and business sense. The large space by Tabarka is home to the various fetes and festivals, and also to a grand musical show every July. The story of Marseillan’s Belle Scribote who was kidnapped by pirates is told in a musical extravaganza featuring over sixty Marseillanais. Not to be missed!
Marseillan’s main port is home to Marseillan’s own, unique, fishermens’ game le capelet is a version of a greasy pole, and great fun. Joute tourneys take place regularly in season.
The new park and beach are just the other side of port Tabarka.
Carrying plaques, two maisons de maitre stand side-by-side. It is an odd coincidence, but a famous French airman grew up in each! General Roque was born in one, and Pierre Deley in the other. Both had interesting careers. One in the armed forces, the other in civil aviation.
The Canal du Midi opened in 1681. It was an engineering wonder of the world because it took a canal over a mountain! Pierre-Paul Riquet, who created and built the canal opened a route that allowed direct shipments between the Mediterranea and the Atlantic. It was Marseillan’s good fortune that Agde refused to contribute to the cost. Riquet was a stubborn man and so he bypassed Agde and the river Herault’s access to the sea and dug on the the Etang. He also raised funds to transform Sète from a tiny hamlet into an international port.