MuCEM: Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations


MuCEM 1, esplanade du J4 13002 Marseille France

Marseille, France
Europen Museum Forum / Council of Europe Museum Prize 2015


A Museum for The 21st Century



Being the first museum dedicated to Mediterranean cultures, the Mucem is unique. The Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires, created in 1937 in Paris, was transformed, and moved from Paris to the regions. Opened in Marseille in June 2013, the Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée (Mucem) is a symbol of the rebirth of Marseille.

mucem1One museum, three sites

The Mucem comprises three sites covering nearly 45,000 m2. Located by the sea, at the entrance to the Vieux Port, the J4 building – the emblematic, striking edifice by Rudy Ricciotti – and the Fort Saint Jean – a completely restored historic monument – embody perfectly, with their two footbridges, the aim of forging a link between the two Mediterranean shores. They house the large exhibitions and events that make up the museum’s artistic and cultural programme. The Centre de Conservation et de Ressources (CCr), located in the city centre, is home to the museum’s collections. These unique holdings give the Mucem a rich array of cultural offerings.

A cultural complex

The Mucem is interested in the contemporary aspects of European and Mediterranean civilizations. It aims to help visitors better understand the world they live in. It holds a million works of art and objects, showcased in an ambitious programme of permanent and temporary exhibitions. It has a vast historic span stretching from the Neolithic to the present, drawing on all the human and social sciences disciplines, bringing together art from both shores of the Mediterranean.

A crossroads in the Mediterranean

Its aim is to showcase the heritage of the Mediterranean, foster new exchanges in the Mediterranean region, and also, during the current period of upheaval, help lay the foundations for the Mediterranean of tomorrow. From Marseille, the emblematic city of cultural diversity, the Mucem seeks to play a key role in improving cohesion by becoming a place where it will be possible to acquire a better understanding of the region


Overlooking the sea, on the former J4 pier, the building designed by Ricciotti (in association with Roland Carta) forms the heart of the Mucem. Here, large exhibitions are held, as well as artistic and cultural events, and the large exhibitions are hosted on two levels.
• Level 0: the semi-permanent Galerie de la Méditerranée (Mediterranean Gallery). This thematic gallery has modular displays, changed every 3 to 5 years.
• Level 2: temporary exhibitions. Flexible space means each exhibition can be given the space it requires (between 300 and 2,000 m2). It also houses an auditorium with seating for 335 (for lectures, performances, concerts and film series), a screening space for audio-visual documents (‘the Médinathcque’, in collaboration with the INA ), a space for children (‘L’Odyssée des Enfants’), a bookshop and gift shop, and a café and restaurant with a panoramic terrace. Finally, it houses the technical areas: workshops, storerooms, offices, spaces for discussion and research, etc.

Making The Collections Accessible

In addition to its missions linked to the conservation and enrichment of the collections, the Mucem is dedicated to disseminating the collections and making them accessible. All of the collections can be consulted, upon request, in one of the rooms designed for this purpose. The CCr also has two spaces dedicated specifically to disseminating the collections:
• A small room for temporary exhibitions (110 m2) is where external curators have carte blanche to give a fresh perspective on the collections
• A storeroom, the ‘appartement témoin’ (800 m2), was specially designed to receive the general public, who can get an idea of the variety of the collections and the techniques used to conserve them. Finally, the CCr makes it possible to implement a policy of short-term and long-term loans to partner museums in France and abroad.

mucem2Urban Transformation And International Reputation

Thanks to its strategic location in the heart of Marseille, the Mucem is a major venture for both the Mediterranean and Marseille in particular. The quality of the urban transformations – combining contemporary architecture and renovated historic monument – together with the project’s inclusiveness, made the museum exceptionally popular from day one: today the Mucem is an internationally recognised ‘world object’.

Since 1995, the city of Marseille has undergone a veritable metamorphosis with the Euroméditerranée project, thought to be the largest urban regeneration project in Europe. The transformation of the seafront by the state aimed at creating a new economic centre, revitalising the city centre and the port by creating new links between them: it was about ‘building a new city on the city’, to lift Marseille to the level of Europe’s other great metropolises. Located on the edge of the Euroméditerranée, at the frontier between the Vieux Port and the La Joliette quarter, the complex made up of the Fort Saint Jean and the J4 pier was chosen as the site for the Mucem. The first was a historic monument – the property of the state – which had never been open to the public. The second, built in the 19th century, has always been part of the port: it was at the J4 that, up until decolonisation, travellers from all over the world would set sail and arrive. Here the spectacular contemporary building designed by Rudy Ricciotti was built. Finally, the Belle de Mai neighbourhood, houses the Mucem’s Centre de Conservation et de Ressources, built on a disused industrial site. These three sites form a 45, 000 m2 complex: beyond its scientific and cultural aims, the Mucem represents an unprecedented example of the transformation of an urban site through culture.

A success with the public and the media

The opening of the Mucem in June 2013, , when Marseille-Provence was ‘European capital of culture’, was greeted with huge enthusiasm, with more than 1.8 million visitors in less than seven months. The following year, visitor numbers soared to unexpected levels, with 650,000 visiting the exhibitions and 1.8 million visiting the sites (Lord Culture estimated 350,000 visitors would attend exhibitions in 2011). The Mucem joined the circle of the 50 most visited museums in the world. More importantly,, the Mucem is, a new public space in Marseille: admission to the outdoor spaces of Fort Saint Jean and the Ricciotti building is free, as a result of which the locals immediately embraced the site. With its footbridges, which created a new pedestrian route between the city’s historic neighbourhoods (Vieux Port and Panier) and the former port zone transformed by Euroméditerranée, the Mucem naturally became part of everyday life. Free admission to spaces that had previously been off-limits generated a strong sense of allegiance to the museum.

Popularity amongst tourists turned out to be quite high: unexpectedly, the Mucem even became one of the reasons people decided to visit Marseille. Its opening was widely reported (more than 3,000 articles in the national and international press between June and December), establishing the museum firmly amongst Europe’s leading cultural destinations. In 2014, the Mucem was ranked 10th by the Journal des arts. That same year it was awarded the 2015 Museum Prize from the Council of Europe. Today it occupies a prestigious place on the international scene, and is one of the new symbols of Marseille’s influence, its cultural vitality and its role as an interface between Europe and the Mediterranean.


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