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Marseille has high hopes for museum

MARSEILLE — A new flagship museum dedicated to Mediterranean civilization in Marseille is hoping to shake off the southern metropolis’s reputation as France’s deadliest city with a drastic cultural makeover.

The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations, inaugurated by President Francois Hollande on Tuesday, is the centerpiece of Marseille’s turn as the European Capital of Culture for 2013, which aims to attract 10 million visitors this year. Officials see it as a unique chance to transform the ravaged image of the city that was once a crossroad of Mediterranean civilization and a bastion of the ancient Greeks, but is now considered one of Europe’s deadliest cities.

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Four decades of widespread poverty in the city saw the rise of a powerful mob scene, and criminal underworld of drugs, prostitution, and gambling. There were 24 fatal shootings in 2012 alone.

Territorial disputes between drug barons toting Kalashnikov assault rifles has fueled comparisons to the Italian Camorra stronghold of Naples. More recently, a Socialist lawmaker representing Marseille at the national assembly was sentenced to prison for buying votes, a ruling she has appealed.

‘‘We continue to present Marseille in national and foreign media just by crime, dirt, and letting itself go. . . . We forget that Marseille has a beautiful history, contributing to the rich civilization of the Mediterranean,’’ said Bruno Suzzarelli, the museum’s director.

The final product, which was 13 years in the making, is an expensive cultural gamble at a cost of over $260 million.

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