There are many stories about Marseille soap and you simply cannot think about this city with the small lilac-coloured moulds and their unmistakable aroma. Hop on our AVE (high-speed) France trains, AVE (high-speed) International travelling between Spain and France to become fascinated by this tradition. If you are passionate about culture, the Côte d'Azur promises an unforgettable experience that will seduce your senses.
You cannot tell others you know Marseille well until you learn about its history and famous soap. The origin of soap and why locals and tourists love it so much is explained below.
The origins of this famous product date back to 1371, the year in which the first sale of soap pioneer Crescas Davin was recorded in Marseille. In ancient times, oils and ashes were mixed with water and used both for remedies and cosmetics as a very primitive form of soap, but it was not until the Middle Ages that it started to be used to wash clothes by adding caustic soda to the mix. In the sixteenth century, factories left behind the handcraft process, perfected the techniques and led the soap industry to hugely increase its presence in Provence. Craftsmen used local and natural products to make the product: lye, camargue and olives. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the production of these Marseille factories could hardly meet the city's demand and event than of the surrounding areas. Even the port of Marseille received soap from Genoa and Alicante.
In 1688, Louis XIV promulgated the Colbert edict, which introduced regulations for the manufacture of Marseille soap, so that from that moment onwards, only pure olive oil could be used, guaranteeing a standard of quality and ensuring the reputation of the city's soap makers. This would turn Marseille into the soap industry's leader.
Throughout the eighteenth century, production multiplied thanks to mechanisation, growing from seven to over seventy factories. However, the English blockade of the port stopped all raw material imports, so more factories had to be used to obtain one of the components from sea salt. In addition, after the increase in olive oil prices, other types of oils, such as rapeseed, flax and sesame oil, began to be used.
The introduction of many new technical processes, the bleaching of palm oil and the creation of laboratories specialised in producing soap drove an even greater expansion Marseille soap.
With the outbreak of World War II, the supply chain connected to Spain was blocked and Marseille continued to supply soap to the north of France and various buyers in Holland, Germany and England. Despite this, the succeeding years are quite disastrous.
Following the introduction of modern soap, Marseille's soap production dropped quite drastically. Nowadays, there are only 4 soap manufacturers in two cities. Marseille and Salon-de-Marseille.
Even so, from the 80s of the twentieth century and until today, Marseille soap made a strong comeback, based on tradition. The virtues of this natural and biodegradable product, which today is found everywhere, are praised: shops of Provençal products, soap shops, markets, shops of cosmetic products, etc.
Marseille's authentic soap is shaped like a cube and weighs 600 grams, it will have a white or green hue, depending on whether it is made with olive oil, with the label "EXTRA PURE 72% fatty acids". The denomination of origin "Marseille soap" is free, i.e., you can currently find many products, but few are free of colouring, preservatives, perfumes or animal fat like the original. This type of soap that can be used daily and is cheaper than traditional soap, in addition to lasting almost twice as long. Setting aside the well-known domestic uses, some of its vast benefits include its dermatological and ecological properties.
This type of soap is hypoallergenic, so it disinfects and heals wounds, and is commonly prescribed by dermatologists in cases of eczema. It is also used in hammams as an exfoliating product that leaves skin smooth, as toothpaste to heal the gums or even for shaving, since it makes a frothy foam. Washing children's clothes with Marseille soap reduces the risk of irritation and allergy.
According to Provence's inhabitants, placing a bar of soap at the end of the bed prevents colds and cramps.
The historical precedent and the fact of being a product manufactured according to the traditional recipe, as well as a pure, natural, biodegradable product that is respectful with the environment, has a great impact on the tourists visiting Marseille. Not only for its many different uses, but also for its characteristic and artisanal shape, making tourists fall in love with this soap and usually buying large quantities of it.
With countless colours and aromas, it is represents the biggest treat for soap lovers. White vegetable soap usually comes in different aromas, such as jasmine, lavender, milk, lemon, honey, rose, etc., while olive soap usually appears in nuances of algae, clay, lavender, apple, mint, pine, rosemary, among others.
There is an endless list of combinations and you can even find combinations of chocolate, magnolia, melon, propolis and wine.
In short, if you travel to Provence, make space in your luggage for this peculiar local product, because you will find it everywhere, from craft markets to style shops. Visit Marseille!
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