Squeaky Clean Savon de Marseille
A mixture of seawater, alkaline solution and fat
Documented use as far back as 2800 BC in Ancient Babylon
A carved “recipe” found on a stone slab from 2200 BC
The Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all used it
Cooked for 8 days in a cauldron, dried for 2 days in a mould
Latin word Sapo
Continue reading here for the Ginger & Nutmeg article on the history of Savon de Marseille in Provence. Find out how the soap making industry grew into a large employer and exporter. At one time, there were as many as 132 manufacturers of the traditional soap. After 600+ years, it’s a recipe that has stood the test of time!
During the 17th-century Marseille (and surrounding area) became the lead supplier for the soap fueled demand from the rest of France and western Europe. The knowledge of the process for soap making is believed to have arrived in Marseille around the same time as the troops and pilgrims returned from the Crusades and exotic lands such as Syria.
There is recorded soap production in Marseille in 1370, with the first factories constructed in the late 16th century. By 1660, seven plants were producing close to 20,000 tons annually. Successful commercial activity often breeds enterprising copycats with low-quality goods that threaten the industry. The necessity to protect this French manufacturing sector became evident during the reign of King Louis XIV. On October 5, 1688, Jean-Baptiste Colbert de Seignelay signed an edict (from the King) that regulated the production of soap and established the rules by which the product could be labelled — Savon de Marseille.
MuSaMa the Soap Museum in Marseille
MuSaMa opened in mid-March (2018) near the Vieux Port. This museum-boutique-workshop is dedicated to safeguarding the reputation of Savon de Marseille.
The vision of the museum’s founders is to educate visitors about the vrai (real) Savon de Marseille, its eco-friendly ingredients, and artisanal production. This goal is no small challenge in a world that is awash (pardon the pun) in imitation products. An estimated 95 % of soap branded and sold as “Savon de Marseille” globally is produced outside of France. And, the ingredients are not traditional. Read more about MuSaMa here.
Reasons to Visit Marseille
In roughly 600 BC, the Greeks established a settlement they called Massalia. They chose a naturally sheltered harbour along the Mediterranean coastline to develop a base for maritime trade. The Vieux Port is where the Greeks followed by the Romans established their trade routes for spices, silks, cotton, wine, olive oil and much more. Today, Marseille ranks as the second biggest city in France, and the country’s largest seaport – le Grand port maritime de Marseille. Here is our planning guide for your visit to Marseille.
M = Museums. When you go, plan to visit the museums in Marseille. There is something for every artistic taste and attention span with a range of curated artistic styles and artifacts. History buffs head to Fort Saint-Jean, Musée d’ Histoire de Marseille (one of the largest in Europe), the Musée des Docks Romains (Roman Docks Museum), and musée d’Archéologie méditerranéenne (located inside Vieille Charité).
A = Architecture – The award of Cultural Capital of the Year for 2013 was just the kind of shot-in-the-arm impetus that the city of Marseille required to change its gritty image. The reality is no municipality would disagree with a cash infusion equaling € 660 million. Although that figure is only a portion of the total amount of infrastructure funding, the result is several legacy projects such as the Museum of Civilisations from Europe and the Mediterranean (MuCEM).
R = Radical – Swiss architect Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, famously known as Le Corbusier, began designing a radical urban living concept in 1926. Marseille’s Unité d’Habitation was the first iteration of his idea. Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse (Radiant City) divides fans and detractors of Brutalist Architecture.
Construction of this vertical apartment-village complex occurred between 1947 and 1952. Designed for as high-density living the building has 337 apartments accommodating up to 1,600 residents. Resting on cement stilts, Unité d’Habitation is a concrete block with impressive dimensions at 165m in length, 24m wide and 56m high.
S = Seafood – No one should visit Marseille without tasting the soup/stew/broth made with local rockfish. Bouillabaisse is a seafood soup with pieces of fish and crustaceans. The soup is so special that in 1980, eleven of the top chefs in Marseille created the “Bouillabaisse Charter.” Enjoy this recipe for bouillabaisse.
E = Estaque – Once a quaint fishing village north-west of Marseille, l’Estaque gets its name from “estaco” which is the Provencal word for a mooring ring for boats. The town’s setting attracted Paul Cézanne and other Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists. During 60 years (1860-1920) the town’s colourful houses, brick and tile factory roofs, natural Mediterranean vegetation and the bay of Marseille provided a diverse backdrop for these artists.
I = Islands – When it’s hot in the city head catch a ferry for a short ride to the Iles de Frioul archipelago with its four islands. Ferries run from the Vieux Port on a regular basis during summer months. You can easily spend a day hiking the trails or lounging on the beaches of Ratonneau. Do not miss visiting If, the smallest island with the fortress-prison Château d’If (home of fictional character Count of Monte Cristo).
L = Le Panier – The oldest residential district in Marseille, is a web of narrow, winding streets. The tightly packed row houses and alleyways angle up a hill away from the Vieux Port where the fishermen moored their boats. Le Panier (The Basket) remains a lively residential neighbourhood dotted with charming cafés, street art, and boutiques. Make sure to visit the 16th-century la Vielle Charité, once a refuge for the city’s poorest residents is now home to the Museums of Archaeology and Contemporary Art.
L = La Bonne Mére – Located at the crest of not only the tallest peak, but the highest tower in the city is a golden lady. Regardless of your religious beliefs, the 19th-century Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica is worth a visit for the panoramic views of the city from the terrace.