Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations, Marseille, France

The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations (Mucem) in Marseille is interested in the contemporary aspects of the civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean. Its aim is to help visitors gain a better understanding of the world they inhabit. The collections comprise a million artworks and objects, an exceptional treasure that is showcased in an ambitious programme of permanent and temporary exhibitions.

The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations (Mucem) is a national museum located in Marseille. The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations is a national museum placed under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture and devoted to the civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean. Its creation in Marseille underlines the concern of the State to provide the second city of France with major cultural facilities.

A 21st-century museum, it forms a veritable cultural complex that has a vast historical span stretching from the Neolithic period to the present day, drawing on all the disciplines of the human and social sciences, and bringing together art from both shores of the Mediterranean.

The permanent exhibitions are generally designed by crossing different scientific fields: anthropology, archeology, history, art history and contemporary art. The museum also offers temporary monographic exhibitions dedicated to artists or major figures in the world of plastic and literary creation. The museum’s vocation is to give an account of the historical and social permanence of this basin of civilization, as well as of the tensions which run through it until contemporary times.

As for all museums according to the definition of ICOM, and the principles of the museum law in France, the Mucem associates with its program of exhibitions, a rich cultural program: like a forum, it is intended to be a place of debate and the arts and cultural programming, as well as exhibitions, attempt to address major issues that drive companies European and Mediterranean contemporary.

The museum is devoted to European and Mediterranean civilisations. With a permanent collection charting historical and cultural cross-fertilisation in the Mediterranean basin, it takes an interdisciplinary approach to society through the ages up to modern times.

The museum is built on reclaimed land at the entrance to the harbour, next to the site of the 17th-century Fort Saint-Jean and a former port terminal called the J4. A channel separates the new building and the Fort Saint-Jean, which has been restructured as part of the project. The two sites are linked by a high footbridge, 130 m (430 ft) long. Another footbridge links the Fort Saint-Jean to the Esplanade de la Tourette, near the church of St Laurent in the Panier quarter.

The museum, built of “stone, water and wind”, was designed by the architect Rudy Ricciotti in collaboration with the architect Roland Carta. A cube of 15,000 square metres (160,000 sq ft) surrounded by a latticework shell of fibre-reinforced concrete, it houses exhibits on two levels, with an underground auditorium seating 400. The permanent collection and bookshop are situated on the ground floor. There is a restaurant on the terrace at the top of the building with panoramic views of the bay of Marseille, the Corniche and the Prado.

Mucem is the first French national museum dedicated to the cultures of Europe and the Mediterranean, redefined as part of its relocation from Paris to Marseille. Inaugurated in 2013 in Marseille, the history of the Mucem collections and the museum institution of which he is the heir dates back to the end of the 19th century.

First the Trocadero ethnography museum (1878-1936), then, in 1937, the National Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions (MNATP), carried by Georges Henri Rivière, and the Musée de l’Homme which succeeded the ” old Trocadero “.

The Trocadero Ethnography Museum was created in 1878 and from 1884 the “Salle de France” was opened, allowing the exhibition of French collections (domestic life, costumes, etc.). The room closed in 1928.

The 1 st May 1937 the National Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions and created with the vocation of giving the popular arts the same cultural and scientific importance as the fine arts. The collections of the MNATP were created from survey-collections during the Interwar period and refer to the rural world in the process of disappearance, around two main themes: social and cultural life (religion, rites and calendar festivals, etc.) and material culture (agriculture, crafts, rural furniture, food, etc.).

The MNATP collections leave the Palais de Chaillot and go to a new building built by Jean Dubuisson in the Bois de Boulogne. At the same time, the acquisition policy is oriented towards urban crafts and commerce or new fields such as the circus and the fairground arts. In parallel, the collection of popular prints became one of most important of France, with masterpieces of classical imagery of the xvi th to the xviii th century.

The Mucem collections come from these two museums. From the beginning of the 2000s, a new acquisition policy was established to respond to the new missions of the museum in the context of its relocation along the Mediterranean, decided by the Jospin government.

New museum
In the 1990s, the MNATP suffered from not receiving enough audiences and there was talk of transferring it to Lyon, Lille or Marseille. In 2000, the transformation and relocation of the establishment, transformed into Mucem, was confirmed by the inter-ministerial planning committee.

2000 – 2013
For 10 years, from 1992 to 2000, the acquisitions incorporated new themes: rock, urban cultures, AIDS, industrial heritage, cuisine, etc. In 2005, the geographical field widened with the deposit of the European collection of the Museum of Man (more than 30,000 pieces); an acquisition policy deliberately aimed at North Africa and the Middle East was developed in 1999.

The National Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions (MNATP) in Paris, was closed in 2005 by the Ministry of Culture and Communication. It is with the EuroMediterranean urbanization project that the Mucem finds its place between the Basket and the sea. The museum was built on a district formerly called “The flat stones” where the Marseillais used to meet for picnics -nick and swim (see the sound extract opposite).

since 2013
Mucem now has an exceptional reference collection: paintings, prints or sculptures, as well as furniture, costumes, vehicles, jewelry, etc. During the inauguration weekend (theJune 4, 2013), MuCEM receives 63,910 visitors, which is considered to be an “exceptional affluence” since it had previously been estimated that it would receive 300,000 visitors per year.

The price of the museum of the Council of Europe is awarded to Europe Civilizations Museum and the Mediterranean in 2015.

Suspended between the sky and the water, floating at the entrance to Marseille’s Vieux Port, the Mucem (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations) takes advantage of two new footbridges. Thanks to its position overlooking the open sea, this museum has been a major project for the Mediterranean, uniting its two shores.

This parallelepiped rectangle shrouded in a lace mantilla veil represents a powerful architectural symbol in a city experiencing major change—providing a bridge between the Mediterranean and Europe.

Mucem actually has three distinct sites: J4, Fort Saint-Jean and the Center for Conservation and Resources. Rudy Ricciotti’s new building on the J4 and Fort Saint-Jean are located by the sea and connected by a 130 m long footbridge spanning a dock. Another footbridge connects the fort Saint-Jean to the Esplanade de la Tourette by the old royal door.

The J4, “a building of stone, water and wind”, was created by the architect Rudy Ricciotti (associated with Roland Carta) and brought to light (Wed-Eve) by Yann Kersalé. This new building, built between November 2009 and June 2013, is located on the old pier n o 4 port (hence its nickname mole J4) – it is designed as a cube offering an area of 16,500 m² to floor on several levels – hosts the museum’s permanent and temporary exhibitions on two levels. It has a terrace and a panoramic restaurant. The first stone was laid by Frédéric Mitterrand, when he was Minister of Culture.

Positioned between the town and the sea, on the site of the former J4 pier, the building features 3,690 m² of exhibition space. A space dedicated to the discovery of the civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean, covering a variety of different topics to enhance our understanding of the modern world.

The building itself has complex architectural features. It is a 72-meter square cube with a singular appearance by the concrete mesh which surrounds the facades. The building is supported by 309 pillars molded in Ultra-High Performance Fiber Concrete, the same material making up the two gangways on jacks. Two outdoor ramps run from the ground floor and surround the building to the terrace, allowing a free walk around the glass cube.

The J4 also includes an auditorium with 400 seats, a space for the projection of audiovisual documents in partnership with the INA (the “Médinathèque”), a space dedicated to children, offices for museum staff, as well as two bookshops, a brasserie and a restaurant with panoramic terrace managed by the chef from Petit Nice, Gérald Passédat. The Mediterranean villa was built nearby, although it was not part of the initial development plan for J4. It is also the place that hosts workshops, storage places, offices, and spaces reserved for conversation and research.

Surrounded by docks and facing the sea, J4 offers panoramic views of Fort Saint-Jean and the Mediterranean, which are visible from the glazed exhibition halls, the roof terrace, and the external walkways that encircle the building. It is connected to Fort Saint-Jean by a 115-meter-long aerial footbridge.

The delicate concrete mesh that surrounds the museum’s cube is an unmistakable architectural signature of Rudy Ricciotti. It has helped the Mucem achieve “object of globalization” status and become internationally renowned.

Level 0: the Mediterranean Gallery
On the ground floor, the semi-permanent exhibitions, renewed every three to five years, occupy the gallery of the Mediterranean, over 1,600 m². The Galerie de la Méditerranée presents the peculiarities of the Mediterranean world. These are objects and works of art, partly from the collections of Mucem, which are presented there in a transversal and multidisciplinary approach combining art, history and anthropology.

Level 2: Temporary exhibitions
Two rooms, of around 1,000 m² each, are dedicated to temporary exhibitions. The spaces are transformed according to the themes and approaches addressed. So there are art exhibitions where the works are presented as the expression of the companies that produced them. Exhibitions that invite a cross look at the history of the Mediterranean or that deal with contemporary mythologies of European and Mediterranean societies.

Fort Saint-Jean
At the entrance to the port of Marseille, above the J4 pier, Fort Saint-Jean welcomes exhibitions, shows, and a historical and botanical journey thanks to the “Jardin des Migrations.” Fort Saint-Jean constitutes a genuine juncture between the city and the museum, between history and the contemporary.

The Fort St. John, overlooking the entrance of the Old Port and facing the Fort Saint Nicolas and Fort d’Entrecasteaux is a former military land ceded to the Ministry of Culture in 1962. The fort was first home Miss DRASSM which had to invest in new premises at L’Estaque as the development work for the MuCEM progressed.

Whilst Fort Saint-Jean has 12th Century roots, this former military fort was once totally inaccessible to the public and had been, until now, an impregnable fortress.

The fort is linked to the new J4 by a 115 m-long footbridge, whilst a second footbridge, which is 70 m long, has been built between the port and forecourt of Saint-Laurent church in the Panier district. This ensures a continuity between the oldest part of the city and the new cultural facilities concentrated along the coastal road.

The restoration works on the Historic Monument of Fort Saint-Jean were carried out under the supervision of François Botton, the Chief Architect for Historic Monuments. Today, this historical monument enjoys an exceptional and freely accessible setting spread over 15,000 m².

Classified as a historic monument, the Fort has different spaces.

Place d’Armes
It hosts summer programming: concerts, screenings and meetings, and can accommodate approximately 1,000 people.

The Historical Route
The Officers’ Gallery dates from the middle of the 17th century, as does the Fanal tower. The chapel dates from the 12th century, it stands in the initial enclosure of the foundation of the Hospitallers of the order of Saint John and of Jerusalem.

The Garden of Migration
Covering an area of 12,000 m², located on the heights of the Fort, the Jardin des Migrations brings together some of the plants emblematic of the Mediterranean region and offers a panoramic view of all of Marseille.

The News Gallery
Different spaces make up this gallery which is at the edge of the Garden. The Gallery makes it possible to present the news of the collections (donations, enrichment of the funds, restorations, research in progress, etc.) through thematic “exhib-files” (around a fact of society, a material, ‘a technique…).

The Georges Henri Rivière building
Temporary exhibition space located on Place d’Armes and with an area of 320 m².

The chapel
Its 10 meters high ceiling is used for the reception of works and the installation of contemporary art. But it is under construction and in poor condition.

The I2MP
The Mediterranean Institute of Heritage Trades was created by convention between Mucem and the National Heritage Institute (INP). The I2MP is the place for professional training, it hosts scientific and professional meetings. In partnership with higher education establishments, the I2MP is developing training which combines knowledge of the cultural contexts of Europe and the Mediterranean with the transmission of professional museum practices (documentation, collection, conservation, restoration, mediation…).

Each year dozens of professional training seminars are devoted to the challenges and issues of the heritage and societies of Europe and the Mediterranean.

In addition, in the field of education, the Mucem teams participate in several higher education courses at the master or doctorate level. Since 2014, courses in the École du Louvre region have been hosted in the MuCEM auditorium.

Conservation and Resource Center
The Mucem also features a Conservation and Resource Center (CCR). Located in the Belle de Mai district, not far from Saint-Charles train station, this center was designed by architect Corinne Vezzoni in collaboration with André Jollivet (AURA agency).

This 13,000 m² building, which includes 7,000 m² of storage space, is home to: almost 200,000 objects; 135,000 paintings, prints, and drawings; 355,000 photographs; 140,000 postcards; and almost 150,000 books and periodicals, not to mention the vast paper, sound, and audiovisual archives.

Since the year 2000, these collections, which were inherited from the National Museum of Popular Arts and the Museum of Mankind, Paris, (with a store containing more than 30,000 objects) have been enriched with objects originating in the Mediterranean area, from Neolithic artifacts to modern art. They are stored according to preventative conservation standards in this building, which has been designed specifically to ensure their safety and conservation.

The museum’s reserves, as well as the spaces devoted to research, are located in the third site, the Conservation and Resource Center (CCR), designed by Corinne Vezzoni, associated with André Jollivet, in the Belle de May. This building was delivered in 2013 and was built as part of a public-private partnership (PPP) between the Ministry of Culture and the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations (ICADE).

Museum professionals, curators, researchers, students and visitors can access the entire collection, which can be viewed on site. The JRC has a dual function, firstly the conservation of national public ethnology collections in accordance with the guidelines for safeguarding public collections defined by the Heritage Code, and the promotion of these by dissemination, layout and presentation to the public.

The conservation funds
The JRC building covers 13,000 m² spread over three levels, including 7,000 m² of conservation space as well as a 1,400 m² consultation and research space. Restoration activities are carried out at the CCR and it has climate-friendly reserve spaces suitable for all types of objects and works from the collections.

Access to collections
At the CCR two spaces are dedicated to this mission:
A 100 m² exhibition room for file exhibitions
A visitable reserve, designated by the term “witness apartment” with an area of 800 m², and which gives the public an idea of the nature of collections and conservation techniques.

The collections are mainly constituted from those of the former MNATP but also from those of the Europe department of the Musée de l’Homme and works from other national museums. In addition to these deposits, an acquisition policy, in the form of purchases, donations or field collection surveys is carried out with the agreement and assistance of partner museums and research centers in the countries concerned. The MuCEM collections project, started injune 2004, takes charge of all the collections of the ATP museum, ie around 250,000 objects present on the Paris site and in the external reserves, and subsequently processes the collections in two dimensions (prints, sound archives, etc.). The collections from the Musée de l’Homme comprising around 30,000 objects, a total of around 350,000 objects of extremely varied size, shape and materials which are processed in the site and constitute the collections.

Since the MNATP was intended to bear witness to the rural heritage of France until the 1990s, the MuCEM collections come mainly from metropolitan rural France , hence the often asked question of the adequacy of the museum’s holdings, his name and identity.

More than just a museum, the Mucem is Marseille’s brand new public space: access to the outdoor areas of Fort Saint-Jean and J4 is free. Thanks to its footbridges that provide a new pedestrianized link between the historic districts of the city and the former port area, which has been redeveloped as part of the “Euroméditerranée” urban renewal project, the Mucem has become a natural part of the daily life of a large number of residents. This free access has generated a strong sense of ownership of the museum, especially since this site (which was previously inaccessible) provides a kind of beautified stage for the relationship between the city and the sea, which is highly valued by inhabitants.

The chosen site—the Fort Saint-Jean and the J4 pier of the port of Marseille—where the Vieux-Port meets the Joliette docks at the bow of the city, is totally in keeping with the theme of the museum.

The site occupied by the Mucem is therefore one that is steeped in history and memories, at the heart of a prestigious heritage district—the Major Cathedral, Saint-Laurent Church, and views over the Pharo Palace, Saint-Victor Abbey, the sea, and the islands of Frioul—opening out onto the world.

Three sites, three different settings, powerful and surprising propositions spread over 44,000 m²: J4, the heart of the museum; Fort Saint-Jean, a new living space; and the Conservation and Resources Center, behind the scenes of the museum.

The creation of MuCEM will have cost 167 million euros, funded 65% by the State and 35% by local authorities, the department and the region. In his report published infebruary 2015, the Court of Auditors denounces a “fragile” economic balance and the large budget overruns for its construction (88 million euros were originally planned). It also underlines that “a large part of the maintenance and upkeep costs (…) remains uncertain”.

Mucem directly employs around 130 people, belonging to the statutory professions in the cultural sector of the State and contractuals under public or private law. It has EPA status and reports to the Ministry of Culture. It indirectly employs service providers, around 150, for maintenance, upkeep, security and security or mediation activities, which is an anomaly within national museums. The working conditions of service providers employed at MuCEM by private companies are regularly denounced . Inmarch 2016, around fifty Muséa service providers working at MuCEM went on strike to denounce their working conditions and precariousness. A new strike takes place innovember 2018, the employees subcontracted by Musea denouncing the oversights and delay in paying their wages as well as deplorable working conditions.