The Port de Marseille Fos hosted this year’s Festival de la Ville entitled Extrem’City by Va Jouer Dehors!, provoking a conversation around urban issues in large European port cities.
October 19 – 21—The Fireflies Banquet, an exclusive event held as the opening of the architecture festival organized by Va Jouer Dehors!, united professionals from Marseille’s twin cities. The culinary round table allowed them to exchange pleasantries and discuss common urban issues, notably those linked to the architecture industry. Materializing much like a theatrical performance, guests combined positive and negative points of their beloved port cities in a light-heartedness that allowed them to add humor and fun to serious topics.
The event took place in the Grand Port Maritime de Marseille, providing the backdrop for a deeper discussion on the transformation of the port itself as well as the challenges this brings. While conferences touched on topics such as social housing and adjusting the mindset for a more sustainable future in construction; we’ve decided to give insight into port innovations beyond new environmental regulations for efficiency and green fuels and port systems transitioning into a multimodal or synchromodal transportation network.
Among the twin cities of Marseille represented at the event, we’re focusing on the host city, its closest neighbor, Genoa, and its father-like figure Piraeus, as the city of Marseille was founded by the Greeks.
Genoa Renovation Project: Deepest Breakwater Dam in Europe & Waterfront Redevelopment
During our coverage of the Genoa Boat Show, we witnessed the ongoing evolution of the Genoa Port renovation first-hand with 30 projects underway, most of which are scheduled to be completed in 2026. Genoa boasts of progress worth citing with a slew of projects aimed at revitalizing its waterfront and enhancing its port infrastructure. The most notable among these projects is the construction of the new breakwater dam, which is set to become the deepest in Europe. Spearheaded by Italian construction giant WeBuild, it’s designed to provide direct and convenient access to the terminal facilities in the Old Port and Sampierdarena basin. Moreover, it will create a spacious turning basin to accommodate ultra-large ships, ensuring their safe navigation within the port. This project not only positions Genoa as a leader in the competitive global shipping industry but also reinforces its readiness to handle future carrier upsizing while offering protection against turbulent sea storms and the impacts of climate change. With a commencement date in February 2023 and an expected completion by November 2026, Genoa’s new breakwater dam promises to be a game-changer for the city’s maritime prospects.
In addition to the breakwater dam, Genoa’s waterfront is undergoing a significant makeover. One highlight is the redevelopment of the historic Hennebique former grain silos, which overlooks the sea and the city’s historical center. Scheduled for completion in December 2025, this transformation aims to create a multi-service hub for cruise, tourism, and recreational activities, further enriching the city’s maritime offerings. Another key project is the Levante Waterfront, envisioned by renowned architect Renzo Piano, which will convert the previously underutilized back of the port into a bustling urban front on the sea. This development will introduce a variety of functions, including an Urban Park—a visual screen and sound barrier between the port and the city—, residences, offices, student housing, retail facilities, and more. The project focuses on blending public and private spaces, creating opportunities for social interaction, and enhancing the connection between the city and the sea. Genoa’s ongoing renovation projects are not only rejuvenating its maritime infrastructure but also turning the city into a vibrant and modern urban hub along the breathtaking Italian coastline.
Marseille’s Green Hydrogen Hub, Olympic-ready Marina and J1 Hangar Renovation
Marseille is in the midst of a remarkable transformation, with several ambitious projects aimed at revitalizing its maritime infrastructure. Notably, the city is renovating and expanding its Nautical Stade, now known as the Marina de Marseille, in preparation for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. This initiative underscores Marseille’s commitment to hosting a successful event, with the upgraded marina serving as a key venue for the games. However, the city’s maritime ambitions extend beyond hosting sporting events. Marseille’s Port de Marseille-Fos is setting the bar high by aiming to become France’s first low-carbon industrial zone, defined as a hub for the energies of tomorrow with projects like H2V and GravitHy, which aim to produce green hydrogen. The construction of the GravitHy factory is scheduled to commence in 2024, with the production of green hydrogen expected by 2027. These forward-looking projects showcase Marseille’s commitment to environmental sustainability and its desire to remain at the forefront of maritime innovation.
Despite these promising developments, there are some challenges on the horizon. One such challenge is associated with the construction of the GravitHy factory. The economic context has posed certain obstacles. The rising costs of construction materials, exacerbated by global events like the conflict in Ukraine, have led to delays and uncertainties. Vinci, the chosen candidate for this project, has temporarily suspended its plans due to these economic factors. Consequently, the transformation of the J1 hangar and the development of its surrounding area, initially targeted for the 2024 Olympic Games, are now facing postponements, and it is uncertain when these projects will be completed. While the vision for the J1 includes innovative features like augmented reality gaming rooms and a floating pool, the economic challenges highlight the complex nature of such long-term projects. Nevertheless, Marseille remains committed to its maritime and sustainability goals, and these initiatives are poised to redefine the city’s role in the global maritime landscape, with perseverance and adaptability as key components of its journey.
Piraeus Port: Behind the State Push Back for New Cruise Terminal
Piraeus Port already holds the title of a prominent container port and the biggest ferry port in Europe but it is also a ship repair center with a new cruise terminal in the works. The acquisition of the Port of Piraeus by Cosco in 2016, as part of the Belt and Road Initiative, marked a significant shift in its management, making it the only major EU seaport entirely managed by a Chinese company. The Port Authority, under the ownership of Cosco, is in the process of constructing a new cruise terminal to enhance its cruise ship capabilities—momentarily paused. Nevertheless, this project has faced challenges, including social and environmental impact concerns that prompted the submission of additional studies. As the port continues to grow, residents in Piraeus have been actively engaged in efforts to ensure compliance with local laws and environmental sustainability while also seeking the attention of Greek and EU authorities to enforce national and European legislation.
The ongoing developments, including improvements in working conditions and the digitalization of vehicle logistics, illustrate Piraeus Port’s commitment to adapt and evolve in a rapidly changing maritime landscape. This combination of expansion and community engagement showcases the complex and dynamic nature of Piraeus Port’s evolution. While it aims to maintain its prominent status as a leading container and ferry port, the challenges and opportunities arising from the construction of the new cruise terminal and environmental concerns underline the importance of balancing growth with sustainability. With the backing of Cosco and its role in the Belt and Road Initiative, Piraeus Port is positioned to continue its growth and adapt to the demands of the modern shipping industry. The future of Piraeus Port promises to be marked by a blend of tradition and innovation, as it strives to meet the evolving needs of maritime trade and transportation.