Mucem museum, Marseille

Esplanade du J4, 1, Marseille
Provence-Alpes-Cote Azur, France
Phone: +33 (0)4 84 35 13 13
closed on: Tuesdays, May 1 and December 25
Museum Type: Anthropology / ethnography
MUCEM Marseille

The Mucem – Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée in Marseille, southern France, is a multi-disciplinary museum focused mostly on Mediterranean cultures from prehistory to the present.

Above: the MUCEM museum in Marseille, view from the south; photo Pietro Sala (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Encompassing a total gross floor area of over 55,000 square meters (592,000 square feet), the MUCEM is one of the world’s largest ethnographic museums.
The MUCEM complex consists of two adjacent buildings located on Marseille’s waterfront; the historical Fort Saint-Jean and a new iconic building opened in 2013 and designed by French architect Rudy Ricciotti; the two buildings are connected by a 115-meter-long pedestrian bridge.
A third building, the Centre de Conservation et des Ressources (CCR) located in the Belle de Mai neighborhood, contains the storage areas of the museum and a reference library.

Fort Saint-Jean and Garden of Migrations
Fort Saint-Jean
is an imposing fortress built in the 17th century by King Louis XIV at the entrance of the city’s old port. Renovated after a design by architect Roland Carta, the fortress accommodates permanent and temporary exhibition spaces, a cafe, and a beautiful 12,000-square-meter botanical garden, known as Garden of Migrations, with typically Mediterranean trees, shrubs, and flowers – including white and holly oaks, orange trees, pomegranate trees, olive trees, myrtle,  milk thistle, thyme, sage, savory, and lavender, as well as a kitchen garden with tomatoes, courgettes, sweet peppers, onions, and aubergines.

Rudy Ricciotti’s J4 building
A southern French born in Algeria to Italian parents in 1952, Rudy Ricciotti is an architect influenced by Mediterranean culture like few others.
Named J4, the building designed by Ricciotti consists of two square boxes one inside the other; an outer box whose sides are 72-meter / 236-foot long and 19 meters (62 feet) high, and an inner one measuring 52 meters / 170 feet per side.
The south-eastern and south-western facades of the outer box are clad with a quite peculiar fiber-reinforced-concrete latticework, a sun-shading skin whose texture evokes the caustic reflections of water, while the two north-facing facades are made in glass: while the internal box is completely clad with glass panels.
Between the two volumes, a large gap contains two long ramps that connect all levels of the building, from the ground floor up to the roof terrace.
The inner box accommodates four levels of large column-free spaces, the floor slab is indeed supported by 309 fiber-reinforced-concrete columns, shaped like forks and placed on the perimeter of the box, and by a central structural core.

On a total gross floor area of 16,500 square meters (177,600 square feet), the J4 building contains 3,690 square meters of permanent and temporary exhibition space, a children’s space, a library, a 335-seat auditorium, a restaurant with a panoramic terrace, offices, workshops, and storage areas.

MUCEM Marseille and Fort Saint-Jean

The Mucem museum in the old port of Marseille with the Fort Saint-Jean on the right and the J4 building on the left; photo Nightflighttovenus (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Collection and exhibitions
Amounting to over a million pieces, the collection of the museum is largely based on those of the former Musée national des arts et traditions populaires in Paris, which was moved to Marseille in 2005.
Focused particularly on cross-influences between South-European, North-African, and Middle-Eastern civilizations from prehistory to the present, the MUCEM collection comprises objects from the Mediterranean area and beyond, including historical artifacts, everyday objects, artworks, garments, musical instruments, vehicles, religious objects, photographs, books, and prints. 

Entitled Galerie de la Mediterranée, on a total surface of 1,600 square meters the main permanent exhibition in the J4 building presents thematically the various cultures of the Mediterranean region by the means of pieces of art, everyday objects, scale models, photos, and multimedia installations.
The exhibition is renovated completely every four years.
Another 850-square-meter permanent exhibition gallery, located in various spaces in Fort Saint-Jean, is focused mostly on the history of Marseille and the Provence region.

Program of activities, and services
The MUCEM organizes and hosts special exhibitions, conferences, seminars, talks, workshops, film screenings, concerts, and live performances.

Accessible to physically, visually, hearing, and mentally impaired people, the MUCEM complex also features three shops, two restaurants operated by Michelin three-star chef Gérald Passedat, a cafe, and a takeaway food kiosk.


MUCEM Marseille 2

The museum at night; photo Jean-Marie Muggianu (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

MUCEM Marseille 4

MUCEM museum Marseille Fort Saint-Jean 1

Mucem Marseille Jardin des Migrations

The J4 building, Fort Saint-Jean and Garden of Migrations; photos Jean-Pierre Dalbéra (CC BY 2.0).

MUCEM Marseille 1

The footbridge that connects Fort Saint-Jean with the J4 building; photo Mildiou (CC BY 2.0).

MUCEM museum Marseille Rudy Ricciotti 4

MUCEM museum Marseille Rudy Ricciotti 14b

Photos by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra and Pierre Metivier (CC BY-NC 2.0).

MUCEM museum Marseille Rudy Ricciotti 15

Transverse section of the footbridge; image courtesy of Rudy Ricciotti architect

MUCEM museum Marseille Rudy Ricciotti 18

MUCEM museum Marseille Rudy Ricciotti 9

J4 building, south-east, and north-west facades; photos by Pierre Metivier, and Jean-Pierre Dalbéra (CC BY-NC 2.0).

MUCEM museum Marseille Rudy Ricciotti ground floor plan

MUCEM museum Marseille Rudy Ricciotti sections

MUCEM museum Marseille Rudy Ricciotti 28

The large “gap” between the inner and the outer volumes of the J4 building contains a ramped panoramic promenade; photo Pierre Metivier.

MUCEM museum Marseille Rudy Ricciotti 29

MUCEM museum Marseille Rudy Ricciotti 31

MUCEM museum Marseille Rudy Ricciotti 19

Close-up views of the J4 building’s fiber-reinforced concrete latticework skin; photos by Ivan Herman (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), Nicolas Nova (CC BY-NC 2.0), and Jean Michel Rafin (CC BY-ND 2.0).

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