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Guided tour

Discovering an open-air museum: Le MauMA

Driven by curiosity and a fan of street art, I recently heard about a tour that was a little off the beaten track: a guided tour of urban art in the Saint-Mauront district. This often overlooked district of Marseille’s 3rd arrondissement is home to hidden treasures, a real open-air museum. Let me take you on an original tour full of wonderful discoveries!

Published on 5 February 2024
Virginie Verdi
  • Marseille in 3 words

    Solar, contradictory, bubbling.

  • My favourite neighbourhood

    The Castellane district. Always lively even on Sundays. You can have a drink with friends, have a coffee before going to work or stroll around the market on Saturday morning.

A cosmopolitan, cultural district in the throes of change

We meet at 10 a.m. at the exit of the “National” metro station. It’s a place and a district I don’t know. I arrive and several people are already waiting with our guide, Ayakan. Our guide is part of an association called Méta2, which has been in existence since 1999, and is a hub for urban art creation, serving inclusive and collective artistic projects involving residents, local authorities and artists. Artists can join MauMA 2 by applying directly to Méta, which finds them a place to express themselves. But Méta isn’t just about that: it’s also about participatory projects with local residents, especially local children. Their vision is culture for all and the promotion of professional integration.

Walls that express themselves

As we begin our tour, Ayakan explains the route we’re about to take and the works we’re about to see. The first is a gigantic fresco on Boulevard National, created by illustrator Bobar (who is in residence at the Couvent Levat). Our guide explains that this is a ‘muralism’ (large-scale work), in which the values of sport are highlighted. The work is a succession of scenes and actions, just like a comic strip. The final work on the wall depicts Marseille fans in the Stade Vélodrome during an important match. This fresco was created in collaboration with several trainees.
We continue our visit, arriving on the Avenue Roger Salengro side of the street, where at the corner of a building we discover a surprising and mesmerizing work, Mona Lisa and her enigmatic smile… created by the artist Kan /DMV as part of the exhibition “La Joconde immersive” which took place in 2023 in Marseille, the artist used stencils and stamps to create these brightly colored dots reminiscent of pop art. (See video)

A little further on, we come across a work created ‘outside the MauMa project’, a spontaneous work by artist DIRE 132 featuring MMA fighter Cédric Doumbe. This fresco follows the much-publicized fight between Cédric Dumbe and Jordan Zebo.
Right next door, our guide takes us to see a work which, for my part, is my favorite of the tour, for its colors and its message. The nearly 100m2 fresco was created by artist Alexandra-Isis Petracchi and is entitled ‘Ecoutez le chant des gardiennes’ (Listen to the song of the guardians): it’s all in the title! Located in a small square on Avenue Roger-Salengro, it was inspired by a work in the Musée Cantini collection (Autoportrait impérial).
Each character represents a militant woman fighting for her cause (right to drinking water, protection of the Amazon rainforest, protection of forest animals). A rather mystical and fascinating work.

We then take a small passageway that runs alongside a group of residential buildings. Directly opposite is a colorful and impressive fresco. I find it magnificent and moving. The Collectif Fearless worked with local residents and young people to create this work. It depicts women of different origins who have set up a talking circle and a crèche called ‘Les petits Koalas’. They work with local children from an early age. There are many important and powerful details in this fresco. This work is a real window into the soul of the neighborhood and these women, and we could spend hours detailing it all!
We arrive near Parc Bellevue, where a gigantic work, ‘Pissenlit’ (Dandelion), catches our eye, spanning the entire surface of the wall for almost 40 meters. This project was created in 2020 by Aurélie Masset in collaboration with the residents of Felix Pyat and Cité Bellevue. It represents a dandelion (Vœux d’espoir). Most of the residents of these buildings live in very precarious conditions. Ayakan explains the difference between a blaze, a graffiti or a fresco. Under the footbridge we see a large fresco, almost completely erased. It’s by artist Malik Ben Messaoud, a stencil known as a ‘tapestry’. Along the way, not far from the Théâtre Toursky, we come across a school wall decorated by young pupils who have been working on it for several months with artists Tina and Charly.
Finally, we arrive on the Butte Saint-Mauront, where illustrator Céleste had the idea of decorating the entire Rue Fontaine. A fresco in soft pastel colors several meters long, it is entitled ‘La Corniche Bellevue’. This street leads directly to a school and the Méta 2.

Did you know?

The artists always (or almost always) work as a crew, and they always sign their works together, even if they are not all present at the time of production.

Ending the tour on a high note

We arrive in front of the Méta 2 offices, where a large fresco covers the entire facade. It’s the work of 2 Colombian artists, Crespa & Bicho, who came to Marseille for several weeks to meet the locals, and who transcribed the similarities between Marseille and Medellin. As we enter the studio, we’re greeted by monumental works created by Malik Ben Mesaoud – I won’t tell you what it is, it’s up to you to discover. He was an artist famous for his monumental works, which always conveyed a strong message. Ayakan explains that there are often artists in residence here, who sleep on site. Workshops are also organized for local children. Sometimes even concerts are held here.

After this short break, we head back towards the metro, and on our way down, we pass through little streets reminiscent of the Panier district. We come across a small square, the Jardin Spinelly, which until recently was not very well frequented. But when we came across this little jewel of nature in the middle of the city, a group of local residents got together to create “Les amis du jardin Spinelly”. Today, the garden is a shared one, where small concerts and meetings take place throughout the year, and where we find a beautiful mosaic by Aurélie Masset and even some chickens!
The last work we admire is a fresco by Mahn Kloix, invited by Méta2 to create a work on the empty wall of the Orange Foundation. He had originally intended to create a completely different fresco, but in the end the militant artist created a portrait of an Ouigour woman.

An experience to live and share

The visit ends after almost 2 hours. Leaving Saint Mauront, I realize I’ve discovered much more than a series of beautiful works. I’ve witnessed a living, constantly evolving art form, deeply rooted in its urban environment. I highly recommend that anyone visiting Marseille take the time to discover this route, to see beyond the clichés and enjoy a unique artistic experience.

Official website of the Tourist Office of Marseille