Last modified: 2005-12-24 by ivan sache
Keywords: bouches-du-rhone | cassis | fishes: 2 (grey) | crozier (yellow) | port-miou | cross (blue) | letters: cnpm (red) |
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Municipal flag of Cassis - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 11 September 2002
The port and sea resort of Cassis (8,070 inhabitants - Cassidains; 2,686 ha, 80% of them being in protected natural areas) is located on the Mediterranean Sea, 20 km east of Marseilles. Cassis is located in a bay flanked by the white cliffs of the calanque of Port-Miou in the west and the golden cliffs of Cap Canaille in the east, and therefore protected from the strong local wind known as mistral.
The massif of calanques spreads from Marseilles to Cassis. The
calanques are rocky inlets which deeply gash high limestone cliffs.
There is of course an old but friendly rivalry between the two cities
for claiming the name and reputation of the calanques. The calanques of
Port-Miou, Port-Pin and En Vau are on the municipal territory of
Cassis. The massif of calanques is one of the most scenic landscape of
the French Mediterranean coast, with no equivalent elsewhere but on the
Dalmatian coast of Croatia. The characteristic vegetation of the
calanques is made of a few trees (Alep pines and ilex) and halophile
(salt tolerant) and thermophile (heat tolerant) shrubs (myrtles,
junipers, spurges, clematis...). The fauna is sparse, with a few
endangered species such as the Bonelli eagle. In the past, human
activities severely damaged the massif: most ilex were cut as timber
wood and for use in the quarries. However, the massif has been
preserved from urbanization until now. It is a paradise for hicking,
climbing, sailing, fishing and scuba diving.
Since 1996, access to the massif is prohibited by law as soon as wind speed reaches 40 km/h, during drought periods and from 1 July to the second Saturday of September (since there are very few trees and no water sources in the massif, going there in summertime is particularly clueless). A pleasant way to visit the calanques in summertime is to make a boat tour from Marseilles, Cassis or La Ciotat. Several calanques can be reached only from the sea.
The cliffs of Cap Canaille are among the highest maritime cliffs in Europe (416 m). The name of Canaille might come from Latin Canalis mons, aquiferous mountain, or from Provencal Cap naïo, swimming mountain. Whereas the cliffs of the calanques are made of white limestone, those of Cap Canaille are made of yellow sandstone rich in sea fossils; these cliffs are famous for their reddish colours at sundown. A 15 km-long road (Route des Crêtes) links Cassis to La Ciotat through Cap Canaille.
The hills dominating the port of Cassis were settled in 500-600 BC by
the Ligurians: remains of a fortified site were found on the upper part
of Baou Redon. There was probably a Greek colony in Cassis, linked to
the bigger neighbouring colony of Massilia (Marseilles). In the Roman
period, the port of Cassis was mentioned as Carsicis Portus on the map
known as Antonin's Itinerary. Cassis then lived from fishing, coral and
maritime trade with Northern Africa and the Middle-East.
In the V-Xth century, the inhabitants of Cassis abandoned the unsafe port threatened by pirates and moved uphill to the castrum (Castrum Cassitis), a fortified city incorporated to the powerful domain of Les Baux in 1223. In the XVth century, Cassis was transfered into the County of Provence; Count René ceded the city to the Bishop of Marseilles, who owned it until the French Revolution. The castle was trashed by Charles V of Spain in 1524 and progressively abandoned by the population, which resettled the sea shore and the port.
In 1791, the fishers of Cassis revolted against the "despotic,
tyrannic, expensive, suspicious and abusive" rule by the prud'hommes
(industrial tribunal) of Marseilles and were allowed to set up their
In the XVIIIth century, the city of Cassis increased out of its city walls. After the Restauration, new industries developed in Cassis, such as cod drying, olive oil production and coral art. Extraction of the famous stone of Cassis, known since the XVIth century, became industrial. The white stone of Cassis, dating back to the Urgonian period (117 millions years BP) and rich in marine fossils, was used to build the quays of several Mediterranean ports, such as Alexandria, Algiers, Piraeus, Marseilles and Port-Said; the socle of the Statue of Liberty was also made of stone of Cassis, as well as the gates of the Campo Santo in Genoa.
These industries disappeared in the XXth century and were replaced by wine growing. In 1936, Cassis was one of the three first wine-producing areas (178 ha, 14 producers) in France to be granted an appellation d'origine contrôlée (label guaranteeing the origin of the wine). The city lives now mostly from tourism since most of the old houses have been preserved and restored, especially near the fishing port.
Cassis is the birth city of the erudite Abbot Barthélémy (1716-1795). The abbot was a famous numismatist, curator of Louis XVI's medals collection for more than 30 years. Barthélémy is mostly known for his studies of the ancient languages, especially Greek and Phenician, and as a precursor of egyptology. His book Voyage du Jeune Anacharsis en Grèce (Travel of young Anacharsis in Greece) was a best-seller which contributed to the re-discovery of the civilization of ancient Greece. In the first pages of La gloire de mon père, Marcel Pagnol mentions that a street in his birth city of Aubagne, not far from Cassis, was called Rue du jeune Anacharsis as a tribute to Barthélémy, but was unanimuously called Rue du jeune anarchiste (Young anarchist's street) by the local people.
Provence was also re-discovered by artists in the end of the XIXth
century, and Cassis became a popular vacation place for writers such as
Alphonse Daudet, André Gide, Roger Martin du Gard and Paul Valéry.
Foreigners also stayed there, such as Virginia Woolf, Henry Miller and
Winston Churchill, who did paintings of Cassis.
Cassis became world-famous after the release of the epic poem Calendal, written by Frédéric Mistral in 1867. Mistral was taken to Cassis by his friend Frédéric Legré in 1861; the two friends walked on the shepherd's path leading to mount Gibal, which inspired Mistral. The poem is made of 12 cantos relating the adventures of Calendal, a poor anchovy fisher from Cassis, "humble among the humbles and proud among the prouds". In order to conquer the princess and fairy Estérelle, descendant of the family of Les Baux, Calendal has to resist to the greatest hardships. The poem is an evocation of the life in Provence short before the French Revolution and mostly a tribute to Provence. Mistral also "invented" the famous motto of Cassis: Qu'a vist Paris, se noun a vist Cassis, pou dire: n'ai rîn vist (Who says he has seen Paris but not Cassis should say he had seen nothing). In the 1930s, the sculptor Cornu erected a statue of Calendal on the promenade of Cassis. The statue was destroyed during a bombing in 1944; in 1999, Bouvier made a brand new statue of Calendal, of course with the stone of Cassis. The fisher is shown glancing to mount Gibal, where Estérelle settled after having left her bad husband Count Séveran.
The fame of Cassis even increased in the XXth century. Several films were made in the port, for instance Naïs, by Marcel Pagnol. After the painters of the Provencal school (Ponson, Monticelli, Ziem and Seyssaud), modern painters such as Braque, Derain, Picabia, Verdilhan, Signac and Dufy, stayed in Cassis.
Source: Municipal website
Ivan Sache, 14 September 2005
In August 2005, Dominique Cureau noticed that there was a new municipal
flag in Cassis. This flag is white with a yellow vertical stripe placed
along the hoist and a thinner blue horizontal stripe placed along the
lower border of the flag, not stretching all over the flag length. A
blue and white version of the coat of arms is placed near the yellow
stripe; on the right of the coat of arms is written ville de (blue) /
The description of the new logotype of the city can be found in the municipal gazette dated December 2004. Mayor Jean-Pierre Teisseire explains there that the new logotype symbolizes the identity of the municipality and links tradition and modernity. Blue recalls the sky and the sea, yellow recalls the cliffs of Cap Canaille and the vineyard at sundown in autumn.
Since the new flag is indeed the new logotype, it is probable it also appeared near December 2004.
Former municipal flag of Cassis - Image by Pascal Vagnat, 28 August 2002
The former flag of Cassis is white with the municipal coat of arms in the middle. VILLE DE CASSIS (Town of Cassis) is written in black letters below the shield.
The municipal coat of arms of Cassis is (GASO):
D'azur à la crosse d'or accostée de deux poissons affrontés d'argent posés en pal.
or (municipal website):
D'azur à la crosse d'or posée en pal à côté [accostée] de deux poissons d'argent aussi en pal.
The bishop's crozier recalls that Cassis depended on the Bishop of Marseilles; the fishes recall that fishing was in the past the main activity in the city.
Bresc [bjs94] gives a third variant of the blason:
D'azur, à une crosse d'or, accostée de deux poissons, d'argent,
affrontés et posés en pal.
These arms were registered in the Armorial Général (Arm.I, 443; bl. I, 1089; registration fee 20 louis).
Quoting Achard (Géographie de Provence), Bresc adds that Cassis was part of the Barony of Aubagne, whose lord was the Bishop of Marseilles. According to an Edict of 25 May 1577, Patented Letters of 6 May 1578 and 2 June 1579, registered by the Parliament on 3 July 1579, the Bishop of Marseilles was not allowed to alienate (dispose of property) the domain of Cassis, which was something very uncommon in the Ancient Regime.
The crozier can be seen on the seals appended on several documents kept
in the municipal archives. The oldest of these documents dates back to
1471, the year Count René of Provence ceded the city of Cassis to the
Bishop of Marseilles. A bishop must hold his crozier with the curl on
his left, that is on the viewer's right. The image of the coat of arms
of Cassis in Bresc's Armorial has an erroneous "mirrored" crozier.
A crozier with the curl on the viewer's left represents an abbot; it
can be seen for instance on the municipal arms of La Ciotat, a city
neighbouring of Cassis but belonging to the St. Victor's Abbot in
Marseilles, once the great rival of the Bishop for the control of
The fishes appeared in the beginning of the XVIIth century. They were granted by Bishop Frédéric Ragueneau on St. Peter's Day in 1603, upon request of the fishers' guild.
Dominique Cureau, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 17 September 2005
Burgee of CNPM - Image by Ivan Sache, 17 March 2003
The calanque of Port-Miou (Portus Majus in the Roman times) has always
been used as a natural harbour, since it is completely protected from
wind and has a source of fresh water. On 5 October 1376, the fleet
which brought back the Pope from Avignon to Rome took shelter from the
storm in the calanque of Port-Miou, where the chapel Notre-Dame de
Bon-Secours (Our-Lady of Good-Assistance) was built to commemorate the
In the XXth century, the company Solvay was allowed to extract limestone from the cliffs of Port-Miou; the stone was directly loaded on boats moored in the calanque by big hoppers and shipped to the soda factory in Salins-de-Giraud, in Camargue. Some 6-7 millions tons of rocks were extracted until 1982, when extraction stopped and the natural site was reclaimed. Port-Miou is now a crowded harbour with 460 mooring spaces.
Club Nautique de Port-Miou, although located in Cassis, has a burgee clearly influenced by the traditional flag of Marseilles, white with a blue cross and the letters C, N, P, M in red placed in the four quarters, respectively.
Source: CNPM website
Ivan Sache, 14 September 2005
The calanques are administratively part of the municipality
of Marseilles. The border between the two municipal areas is
precisely at the Port Miou calanque, the last one when you
sail from Marseilles to Cassis.
The influence of Marseilles on the CNPM burgee is normal, most people owning boats in the small harbour of Cassis live or at least work in Marseilles and consider themselves as Marseillais.
Philippe Bondurand, 17 May 2001