La Criée: Marseille's Old Port fish market

A real attraction for vacationers passing through Marseille, the Vieux-Port fish market attracts large crowds every morning, sometimes to buy fresh merchandise, sometimes to photograph the fish stalls and their atypical vendors. Focus on this Bouches-du-Rhône fish market that hasn’t aged a day in over a century of existence.

An emblematic market in Marseille

Formerly called la Criée, Marseille’s Vieux-Port fish market is a small market located on the Quai de la Fraternité – formerly the Quai des Belges – which hosts around ten stalls every morning from 8am to 1pm. Fishermen sell their freshly caught fish overnight. Depending on the season and weather, you can buy whiting, red mullet, scorpion fish, sardines, sea bream, sole, mackerel or monkfish here. Visitors often like to immortalize their stay in the city by taking some shots of the seafood stalls.

From 1909 to 1976, Marseille’s fish market was initially installed on the Quai de Rive Neuve in the halles now transformed into a theater, Le Théâtre National de la Criée, referring to the primary market. It was subsequently relocated to the port de Saumaty, near l’Estaque, north of Marseille. The Vieux-Port market as we know it today is therefore the only fish market that subsists still from the Marseille piscicultural activity of yesteryear.

Since 2013, the year Marseille was the European Capital of Culture, the fish market has adjoined the ombrière imagined by Briton Norman Foster. This is a immense ceiling-mirror that reflects the activity on the quay and intrigues tourists on vacation in the city.

L’Œil de Sainte-Lucie

On the stalls of fish merchants, one product is enjoying widespread success: the Œil de Sainte-Lucie. Nicknamed Eye of Venus or Eye of the Virgin, Eye of Saint Lucia refers to the mineralized opercule of a mollusc from the Turbinidae family, the Bolma rugosa.

It looks roughly like a shellfish, flat on one side with a spiral on a light background, and swollen on the other side with usually an orange or green stain on a white background that can be reminiscent of an eye. As the object is full and not hollow, it can easily be distinguished from any shellfish encountered.

These operculums are relatively frequent on Mediterranean rivers, where they are dropped by the rough Astrea, the scientific term for the Bolma rugosa shell. Often worn as a pendant, the Eye of Saint Lucia attracts the covetousness of many a curious onlooker as this one is, according to popular belief, a true good luck charm. In Corsica, it’s actually possible to find one on beaches or on shallow dives.

Accessibility and practical information

Do you want to immerse yourself in the typically Marseillaise atmosphere during your stay in the city? The Vieux-Port fish market is definitely the place not to miss. The smell of fish will certainly titillate your nostrils as soon as you arrive on the Quai de la Fraternité, unless you’re attracted by the singing accent of the fishermen hailing passers-by.

To get there, several routes by public transport are open to you. The easiest is to take the M1 line of the metro to Vieux-Port station, which will take you directly to the market. You can also take the bus n°83 from the Pharo or the bus n°60 from Notre-Dame de la Garde to the Vieux-Port stop. By tramway, you can get closer to the fish market by taking the ligne T2 to the stop Canebière Capucins and continue on foot down the Canebière.