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Marseille, formerly known as Massalia, is the 2nd most populous French city as well as the oldest city in France. It forms the third-largest metropolitan area, after those of Paris and Lyon, with a population recorded to be 1,516,340 at the 1999 census and estimated to be 1,605,000 in 2007. Located on the south east coast of France on the Mediterranean Sea, Marseille is France's largest commercial port. Marseille is the administrative capital (préfecture de région) of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region, as well as the administrative capital (préfecture départementale) of the Bouches-du-Rhône department. Its inhabitants are called Marseillais.
Marseille is a city that is proud of its differences from the rest of France. Today it is a regional centre for culture and entertainment with an important opera house, historical and maritime museums, five art galleries and numerous cinemas, clubs, bars and restaurants.
Marseille has a Mediterranean climate, with mild, humid winters and hot, dry summers. January and February are the coldest months, averaging temperatures of around 8 to 9 °C. July and August are the hottest months. The mean summer temperature is around 23 to 24 °C (75 °F). In July the average maximum temperature is around 30°C. Marseille is known for the Mistral, a harsh cold wind originating in the Rhône valley that occurs mostly in winter and spring. Less frequent is the Sirocco, a hot sand-bearing wind, coming from the Sahara Desert.
The city is served by an international airport, Marseille Provence Airport, located in Marignane. The airport has two terminals. Terminal one, the main terminal of the airport contains halls 1,2,3 and 4 and serves as a base for French and international arrivals and departures. The newer terminal, referred to as MP2, is used for low-cost flights arriving and departing from Europe and North Africa. A shuttle coach system operates between the airport and the railway station, Gare de Marseille Saint-Charles. An extensive network of motorways connects Marseille to the north and west (A7), Aix-en-Provence in the north (A51), Toulon (A50) and the French Riviera (A8) to the east. Gare de Marseille Saint-Charles is Marseille's main railway station. Gare Saint-Charles is also one of the main terminal stations for the TGV in the south of France making Marseille reachable in three hours from Paris (a distance of over 750 km) and just over one and a half hours from Lyon. There are also direct TGV lines to Lille, Brussels, Nantes, Genève and Strasbourg.
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