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Marseille, the site of Europe’s last plague, has escaped the worst of this one – The Washington Post

As France emerges from its coronavirus lockdown and life returns to almost-normal, Marseille considers itself lucky.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

The historic port on France’s Mediterranean coast was the site of Western Europe’s last outbreak of the bubonic plague. The disease swept through the city in 1720, quickly overwhelming hospitals and resulting in mass graves. There was an elaborate quarantine effort, including a 16-mile stone wall built in the Vaucluse Mountains, an attempt to prevent the plague from spreading to the surrounding countryside.

Still, by the time it was over, up to half the residents of Marseille and 20 percent of Provence had died.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

A statue near the Plague Wall.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

The Plague Wall near Avignon.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

A marker reads “Wall of the Plague.”

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

But the city and region have so far escaped the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. In March, long lines formed outside a Marseille hospital, as people sought to be tested and treated for the virus. Relatively few, though, tested positive. Bouches-du-Rhône, the department in which Marseille is located, has reported just over 4,000 hospitalizations and 558 deaths out of a population of more than 2 million.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Now, as the photographer Emilienne Malfatto has captured, the city is returning to its bustling self, a diverse blend of French, Italian, North African and Mediterranean cultures.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Small weddings are allowed once again. People are welcome to sunbathe at the old port of Vallon des Auffes. Diners are packed into the cafes — talking, laughing and at least pretending to social distance. Anglers are back on the rocks of the calanques, and the sardines and sea bream they catch can be found in the stalls of weekly markets.

At least for Marseille, 2020 is not 1720.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

And yet the coronavirus has left its mark on the city.

Local microbiologist Didier Raoult brought worldwide attention to Marseille and himself with his claim that the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine could effectively treat covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. French President Emmanuel Macron came for a chat. President Trump touted hydroxychloroquine variously as a miracle cure and a prophylactic.

Subsequent studies have suggested there is no treatment benefit to taking the drug, and that it may exacerbate the risk of complications.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

But as someone who likes to challenge the medical establishment, Raoult maintains a devoted following. In Marseille, he is seen as a hero, even a saint, depicted Christ-like on candles that were supposed to be a joke but have sold by the hundreds.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Candles dedicated to microbiologist Didier Raoult.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

A statue of Bishop of Marseille Henri Francois Xavier de Belsunce de Castelmoron, known for his fight against the 1720 plague.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

The fallout of the pandemic will probably mean economic pain for Marseille, one of Europe’s poorest major cities and home to sizable working-class and immigrant populations. After eight people died in a building collapse in November 2018, many residents blamed local authorities for ignoring dilapidated housing conditions in low-income neighborhoods.

In a sign of growing political frustration, in the second and final round of France’s municipal elections on June 28, delayed by three months because of the coronavirus, voters rejected the conservative government that has controlled the city for 25 years and embraced a green-left coalition.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

A panel remembers eight men and women killed when a building collapsed in November 2018.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Source

Lockwood Law

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