Marseille also known as Marseilles in English, is a city in France. The capital of its department of Bouches-du-Rhône and region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, Marseille is located on France’s south coast and is the second largest city in France, after Paris, with a population of 852,516 (January 2012) on a land area of 241 km2 (93 sq mi). It is the 3rd-largest metropolitan area in France after Paris and Lyon, with a population of 1,831,500 at the January 2011 census. Marseille is France’s largest city on the Mediterranean coast and largest commercial port as well as a leading cruise port and freight port. The city held the title of European Capital of Culture together with Košice, Slovakia, in 2013. In 2016, it will host the European Football Championship and become the European Capital of Sport in 2017.
Marseille is the second largest city in France after Paris and the center of the third largest metropolitan area in France after Paris and Lyon. To the east, starting in the small fishing village of Callelongue on the outskirts of Marseille and stretching as far as Cassis, are the Calanques, a rugged coastal area interspersed with small fjord-like inlets. Further east still are the Sainte-Baume (a 1,147 m (3,763 ft) mountain ridge rising from a forest of deciduous trees), the city of Toulon and the French Riviera. To the north of Marseille, beyond the low Garlaban and Etoile mountain ranges, is the 1,011 m (3,317 ft) Mont Sainte Victoire. To the west of Marseille is the former artists’ colony of l’Estaque; further west are the Côte Bleue, the Gulf of Lion and the Camargue region in the Rhône delta. The airport lies to the north west of the city at Marignane on the Étang de Berre.
The city’s main thoroughfare (the wide boulevard called the Canebière) stretches eastward from the Old Port (Vieux Port) to the Réformés quarter. Two large forts flank the entrance to the Old Port—Fort Saint-Nicolas on the south side and Fort Saint-Jean on the north. Further out in the Bay of Marseille is the Frioul archipelago which comprises four islands, one of which, If, is the location of Château d’If, made famous by the Dumas novel The Count of Monte Cristo. The main commercial centre of the city intersects with the Canebière at rue St Ferréol and the Centre Bourse (the main shopping mall). The centre of Marseille has several pedestrianised zones, most notably rue St Ferréol, Cours Julien near the Music Conservatory, the Cours Honoré-d’Estienne-d’Orves off the Old Port and the area around the Hôtel de Ville. To the south east of central Marseille in the 6th arrondissement are the Prefecture and the monumental fountain of Place Castellane, an important bus and metro interchange. To the south west are the hills of the 7th arrondissement, dominated by the basilica of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde. The railway station—Gare de Marseille Saint-Charles—is north of the Centre Bourse in the 1st arrondissement; it is linked by the Boulevard d’Athènes to the Canebière.
Marseille has a Mediterranean climate with mild, humid winters and warm to hot, mostly dry summers. December, January, and February are the coldest months, averaging temperatures of around 12 °C (54 °F) during the day and 4 °C (39 °F) at night. July and August are the hottest months, averaging temperatures of around 28–30 °C (82–86 °F) during the day and 19 °C (66 °F) at night in the Marignane airport (35 km (22 mi) from Marseille) but in the city near the sea the average temperature is 27 °C (81 °F) in July. Marseille is officially the sunniest major city in France with over 2,900 hours of sunshine while the average sunshine in France is around 1,950 hours and is also the driest major city with only 512 mm (20 in) of precipitation annually, especially thanks to the Mistral which is a cold, dry wind originating in the Rhône Valley that occurs mostly in winter and spring and which generally brings clear skies and sunny weather to the region. Less frequent is the Sirocco, a hot sand-bearing wind, coming from the Sahara Desert. The hottest temperature was 40.6 °C (105.1 °F) on 26 July 1983 during a great heat wave, the lowest temperature was −14.3 °C (6.3 °F) on 13 February 1929 during a strong cold wave.