Commonly known as Marseilles, Marseille is the capital of Bouches-du-Rhône département, in France. It is located on the Mediterranean's Gulf of Lion, lying 863 kilometres south of Paris by rail in a half-circle of limestone hills. The city itself has an area of approximately 830 square kilometres.
The city was founded over 2,500 years ago, vehemently independant and not afraid to assert its power against central authority. Following Julius Caesar and his troops overwhelming the city, it held its status as free, and after many centures of decline it was revived and allowed a great latitude of independence under the local control of the viscounts of Provence in the 10th to 14th centuries. When Provence joined the Kingdom of France in the 15th century, Marseille managed to retain a separate administration, and revolted frequently against kings and governments it saw as threatening to its liberty.
Marseille forms a major element in the economic and social structure of France. It is the second largest city and the largest commercial seaport of France, and the associated development at Fos-sur-Mer, has since the 1970s been a rival to Rotterdam as a transit port for all of Europe.