Le Savon de Marseille (the Marseille’s soap) October 05 2018, 0 Comments

The Birth of Marseille Soap

The origins of soap go back to the Egyptians. They described soap recipes on their famous papyrus. In Europe, the Gauls were apparently the first to intentionally manufacture soap from goat's tallow and potash from beech ash. 

The invention of the hard soap is attributed to the Gauls. It is in the Mediterranean basin that the manufacture of soap quickly grew, indeed, Syria made the famous Aleppo soap composed of olive oil, bay laurel oil, salt, soda and water. During the Crusades, Aleppo soap, the ancestor of Marseille soap, arrives on the coast of Marseille: Marseille soap was born! 

In the sixteenth century, Marseille soap factories are established after the crusades. At the beginning of the 17th century, the production can only satisfy the demand of the city and the area around Provence. The Port of Marseille even received soaps from Genoa and Alicante to sustain the demand of the Provence region. But the era uncertainties coupled with regional armed conflicts blocked the supplies and Marseille soap makers increased drastically their production to feed the northern French inhabitants,  Dutch, German and English buyers.

In the XVI & XVII century, the industry grew a lot and organized itself thanks to the Colbert Edit of 1688 which regulates the manufacture of Marseille’ soap. The Colbert edict also dealt with the raw materials to be used. It highlights local raw materials which are used in the composition of the soap of Marseille: pure olive oil from Provence as well as salt and soda direct from Camargue. Colbert edict strictly forbids the use of animal fats. In 1906 is defined a gage of quality: 72% Extra pure. 

Indeed, this was necessary to avoid fraud where the proportion of water could reach 50% of the soap. With such a level of water, the soap lost half of its weight in a few uses. The aim of this gage of quality was to fix a manufacturing standard. 

In 1660, there are 7 factories in the city and the whole annual production nearly reached 20,000 tons. 

Under Colbert era, the quality of Marseille soap built its own reputation and has been internationally known ever since. Then, the product is simple, it is a green bar of soap that sells mainly in bar of 5 kg (11 lbs) or 20 kg (44 Lbs). 

A century later, in 1786, 48 soap factories exist in Marseille producing 76,000 tons of soap per year.


History of the Savon de Marseille 

The golden ages:

From the middle of the 19th century until World War II, Marseille soap reached its zenith and factories multiply all over the city. There were more than a hundred soap factories in Marseille. They were powerful and often owned by powerful families of Marseille. About 30% of the population worked directly or indirectly within this industry. Marseille soap, recognized internationally for its effectiveness, was exported worldwide and especially to the French colonies. 

The decline:

After World War II, the democratization of the washing machine and the arrival of the washing powders sounded the decline of the Marseille soap. The big soap factories buy the smaller ones, and diversified in the 1930’s by making soap powders. 

The rebirth:

Today, consumers are refocusing on natural products made of fewer natural ingredients through a simple process. It is true that Marseille soap is fully in line with new consumer trends. Several labels exist to guarantee the quality and origin of incoming products in the composition of Marseille soap such as the OFG label (Origin France Guarantee). Currently, initiatives to create a label IGP (Protected Geographical Identity) are ongoing to protect the real Savon de Marseille. 


Manufacturing of the soap

The manufacturing process of the soap is very simple and didn’t change a lot throughout the years. First is a mix of fats with alkaline lye boiled in huge cauldrons. There is after, a filtration of the impurities  followed by hours of boiling again. It will lead to a final filtration to remove the last impurities. Last steps are the drying of the soaps in molds before being cut when still flexible. The final step is very important to the manufacturer; this is the stamping process where the name and brand of each manufacturer is applied after solidification. 

You can find a lot of fake soaps of Marseille everywhere in the numerous markets of Provence and tourist shops. That is the reason Calisson by Gilles will give you some tips of use of this soap and the places to buy a real.

If you only had to bring back a souvenir of your stay in Marseille, it would certainly be the Savon de Marseille, so famous in the world! Too often imitated by a lot of
manufacturers but never equaled. Calisson by Gilles gives you the addresses of soap makers manufacturing the real Savon de Marseille. Factories can also be visited, plan your visit !

La Grande Savonnerie : 36, Grand Rue 13002 Marseille - (Store and Factory

Savonnerie de la Licorne : 34, Cours Julien 13006 Marseille - (Store and Factory)

Savonnerie Le Fer à Cheval : 66 Chemin de Sainte Marthe 13014 Marseille  - (Store and Factory)


Benefits of the Savon de Marseille

The soap of Marseille is more than a simple product, with multiple virtues, the soap of Marseille is wonderful. This "magic" soap is passed down from generation to generation, as long as it is effective and healthy. There are few products that go through the ages without losing their luster! 


Here are the few tips that you can do with the Marseille’s soap: 

  • A universal and multi-purpose product for hygiene, Marseille soap is perfectly suited for cosmetic use:  to wash the body and hands.
  • Legendary cleaning and degreasing efficiency. 
  • A hypoallergenic formula recommended to prevent allergies. 
  • Ideal for washing the clothes of the whole family, even for the most sensitive skin. 
  • A soap that is easily biodegradable and non-polluting for the environment. 
  • A durable and very economical product. 
  • A soap 100% Made in Marseille, Made in France ... often copied but never equaled!

Perfect for holidays:

The Savon de Marseille is your best travel partner when you go on holidays. Be sure to always have one in your bag (even more for a camping trip) because 100g of Marseille soap equals nearly 30 showers and is perfectly suited to wash your body. For the bravest ones, you can even wash your teeth with it and also ideal for washing your belongings (clothes, dishes); if you get hurt and have nothing on hand, you can wash your wounds with Marseille soap. 

Another must have for perfect holidays is obviously our lovely Calisson by Gilles, all made with natural ingredients, gluten free. This delicious mixture of sweet almonds, candied-local melon, and orange peel will take you abroad !



About The Author:

Gilles Cailleaux is the Owner & Master Confectioner at By Gilles, an online French candy store based in Orange County, California. They sell traditional French confections called Calissons from Provence. Gilles is always ready to share his 25 years plus experience of candy making and baking with everyone and want to hear about your experience with his calissons. Gilles and his team are sensitive about taste and harmony. They prepare your packages with special care and attention.