Europe and the Mediterranean: United by a Museum

Article published on Oct. 20, 2003
community published
Article published on Oct. 20, 2003

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The opening of a Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations in Marseilles has been planned for the year 2008. It will provide for a better understanding of interpenetrations between the two shores of the Mediterranean.

The National Museum of Arts and Popular Traditions is undergoing a series of crises which can be explained by the fact that French society has changed : Rural living is no longer the key to collective identity. No one can deny that the French campaigns between the end of the 19th century and the 1950s are hardly relevant to the public of today. The wish of the French Authorities to give cultures from other continents a place in heritage has given fresh impetus to a concrete project for the readjustment of the National Museum of Arts and Popular Traditions to 'contemporary France.' This project was developed between 1995 and 2001. The main axes were chronological and geographical extensions, and it was through these extensions that the project for the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations was created.

A Zone of Shared Prosperity

European subjects first appeared in the museum in 1998, and it was at this point that the idea for other museums dedicated to Europe came about. A European network of Museums of Ethnography and Societies was created in order to promote collection swaps, thoughts on European questions, touring exhibitions and so on. The musée de l'Europe in Brussels, the Museum Europäischer Kulturen in Berlin and the Museum of Europe in Turin constitute the other members of this network. However, what gives the planned Museum its originality is its 'EuroMediterranean' dimension, even if the people in charge of the project have met with certain scepticism in this regard. The concept was proposed when the installation of the museum in Marseilles was stopped in 1999. At this time, the Euromediterranean public establishment started to show projects for development 'intending to turn Marseilles into a first-class city at the heart of the 'zone of shared prosperity', under a similar framework to the Barcelona project. This was decided by the EU and 12 of the Mediterranean countries.

Europe's Southern Border

From this point onwards it has been impossible not to link the institution to its place of establishment. Marseilles, in this case, carries a strong Mediterranean identity. The rich and complex Euromediterranean concept upheld for the museum is also worth going into: In order to define this dimension, should one consider the historical, sociological, ethnological or geographical point of view? As here we are talking about the whole of Europe and the Mediterranean, there is also the difficult question of the southern border of Europe, which is traditionally portrayed as an antagonistic region to that of the south Mediterranean. This is why the museum will seek to fight against the north-south rift, and in fact impose a humanist dimension to the project. The objective will be to show the constant mobility, evolution and interpenetration of cultures and various elements of these, and will also allow for a better understanding of conflicts, rapprochements and contemporary issues.

The building is planned to be constructed in fort St.Jean and in mole J4, near to the port of Marseilles. Although the opening was announced as 2008, the first premature exhibition will begin shortly, in November. Entitled 'Tell Me About Algiers', this exhibition is part of a number of cultural events in this very eventful year for Algeria. It will offer visitors a new perspective on the link between Algiers and Marseilles, far from the inherent clichés of these two similar cities.