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Marseille is the most populous commune in France after Paris and is the centre of the third largest metropolitan area in France. To the east, starting in the small fishing village of Callelongue on the outskirts of Marseille and stretching as far as Cassis, are the Calanques, a rugged coastal area interspersed with small fjords. Further east still are the Sainte-Baume, a 1,147 m (3,763 ft) mountain ridge rising from a forest of deciduous trees, the town of Toulon and the French Riviera. To the north of Marseille, beyond the low Garlaban and Etoile mountain ranges, is the 1,011 m (3,317 ft) Mont Sainte Victoire. To the west of Marseille is the former artists' colony of l'Estaque; further west are the Côte Bleue, the Gulf of Lion and the Camargue region in the Rhône delta. The airport lies to the north west of the city at Marignane on the Etang de Berre.
The city itself is spread across a wide geographical area divided into 16 arrondissements (see the map below). The central six contain most of the city's historic buildings and its services.
The city's main thoroughfare, the wide boulevard called the Canebière, stretches eastward from the Old Port (Vieux Port) to the Réformés quarter. Two large forts flank the entrance to the Old Port - Fort St Nicholas on the south side and Fort St Jean on the north. Further out in the Bay of Marseille is the Frioul archipelago which comprises four islands, one of which, If, is the location of Chateau d'If, made famous by the Dumas novel The Count of Monte Cristo. The main commercial centre of the city intersects with the Canebière at rue St Ferreol and the Centre Bourse (the main shopping mall). The centre of Marseille has several pedestrianized zones, most notably rue St Ferreol, Cours Julien near the Music Conservatory, the Cours Honoré-d'Estienne-d'Orves off the Old Port and the area around the Hotel de Ville. To the south east of central Marseille in the 6th arrondissement are the Prefecture and the monumental fountain of Place Castellane, an important bus and metro interchange. To the south west are the hills of the 7th arrondissement, dominated by the basilica of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde. The railway station - Gare de Marseille Saint-Charles - is north of the Centre Bourse in the 1st arrondissement; it is linked by the Boulevard d'Athènes to the Canebière.