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Founded by the Greeks in antiquity, Marseille is France’s second-largest city and largest port. The nearby port of Toulon is home to the French Mediterranean fleet, and the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle and her battle group.

Though a key part of the French economy, Marseille has had a culture distinct from the rest of France for much of its history. Marseille is separated from the river valleys of central and northern France by the Alps to its north, and its location along the warm waters of the Mediterranean inculcated a unique identity and dialect. In the 18th century, Marseille was an early adopter of revolutionary fervor (the French national anthem is La Marseillaise, sung by southern French volunteers marching toward Paris).

Marseille and its port are indispensable parts of France’s Mediterranean presence, a role complicated by the shifting demographics in a region with already poor links into the French core. Rising immigration from North Africa and eastern Europe is adding to tensions in a city that once was a bastion of communist and leftist parties; recent elections have seen the far-right National Front score victories in Marseille’s northern districts and adjacent suburbs.