Floating between the water and sky, at the entrance to the Old Port of Marseille, a national museum opens its doors. The MuCEM is, by nature of its location, a major project for the Mediterranean. Open to the sea, it draws a horizon where the two shores of the Mediterranean can meet.
Never before has a museum been specifically dedicated to the cultures of the Mediterranean, despite their richness from the perspective of history and civilisation. Now a reality, the MuCEM will be open in 2013, at the very moment when Marseille will be the European Capital of Culture.
The launching of the MuCEM in Marseille was a very symbolic choice. On the shore of a Mediterranean in which we must reinvest, first and foremost through education and culture, this great city – the second largest in France by population – remains the most emblematic of these multiple and permanent contacts between the two shores, of these diverse influences created by successive layers, unmistakable ingredients of its popular culture.
The site chosen –Fort Saint-Jean and the J4 pier of the port of Marseille – at the junction of the Old Port and the Joliette, at the bow of the city, is fully consistent with the theme of the museum. Each part of the site of Fort Saint-Jean testifies to the civil and military history of Marseille.
The new museum built on the former J4 port pier by the architect Rudy Ricciotti will be the heart of the MuCEM. A place dedicated to the discovery of the major stages of Mediterranean civilisations, addressing themes as striking as the invention of gods, the treasures of the spice route, the visions of Jerusalem, the citizens’ banquet or the curiosity cabinet on the seven wonders of the world.
The public will then pass through the arcades and vaulted rooms hidden in the stone recesses of Fort Saint-Jean, a historic monument dating from the 12th century. Via a suspended footbridge, cast over the sea, visitors will enjoy spectacular and previously unseen panoramas. Here the visitor can stroll in the new Mediterranean garden and marvel at the riches of the popular and folk art collections of the MuCEM.
A third site located in the Belle de Mai district, near the Saint-Charles railway station, will house the Centre for Conservation and Resources (CCR), designed by architect Corinne Vezzoni. A facility for the conservation of the collections, the CCR will also offer opportunities to visit behind the scenes of the museum. It will host a space recounting the history of the museum, also open to the public.
Between city and sea, on the former J4 port pier, the building of 15,000 m2 currently under construction, designed by architect Rudy Ricciotti in collaboration with Roland Carta contains more than 3,600 m2 of exhibition space, dedicated areas for children, an auditorium with 325 seats for the presentation of lectures, performances, concerts, film series, a bookstore, a brasserie and a restaurant boasting a panoramic terrace and “behind the scenes“ all that is indispensable to a facility of this type : workshops, storage areas, offices, etc.
The conceptual framework of the project by Rudy Ricciotti
Views, sea, sun, a mineral quality, which all must be orchestrated by a program that will become federal and cognitive. First of all a perfect square of 72 m per side, it is a classic plan, Latin, under the control of Pythagoras. Within this square, another of 52 m per side, comprising the exhibition and conference halls identified as the heart of the museum.
Around, above and below are the service areas. But between these areas and the heart, openings entirely bypass the central square and form interconnected spaces. More interested by the views of the fort, the sea or the port, the culturally overwhelmed visitor will choose this route. Along two interlacing ramps, he will then plunge into the imaginary of the tower of Babel or of a ziggurat in order to climb up to the rooftop and on to Fort Saint- Jean. This peripheral loop will be a demuseumifying breathe, enveloped by the smells of the sea from the proximity to the moats, a pause to dispel any lingering doubts about the use of the history of our civilisations. The MuCEM will be a vertical Casbah.
The tectonic choice of an exceptional concrete coming from the latest research by French industry, reducing the dimensions to little more than skin and bones, will affirm a mineral script under the high ramparts of Fort Saint-Jean. This sole material in the colour of dust, matt, crushed by the light, distant from the brilliance and technological consumerism, will commend the dense and the delicate. The MuCEM sees itself evanescent in a landscape of stone and Orientalist through its fanning shadows.
In the sky spanning the basin a flying carpet, granted a bit long, navigates towards the fort.