Last modified: 2005-02-19 by ivan sache
Keywords: bouches-du-rhone | marseilles | marseille | cross (blue) |
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by Ivan Sache
The flag of Marseilles is white with a light blue cross.
This flag is for civil usage only: the city hall and its
dependencies usually fly only the French tricolore.
It can often be seen on boats, at the place of a courtesy flag. It can be seen over private buildings strongly related to Marseilles population or wanting to appeal to their local patriotism, the most famous of them is the Stade-Vélodrome, home of the Olympique de Marseille. It has been very occasionnaly displayed on the city hall on very special occasions such as when Marseilles won the Champions' League in 1991.
There are as many as possible variations in thickness and shade of the cross on the flags used on boats, balconies etc. It does not matter, since everybody in Marseilles is able to identify a blue cross centered on a white field as the flag of Marseilles.
Philippe Bondurand & Ivan Sache, 6 November 2000
A mythical Greek origin
According to the mythical history of Marseilles, the city was
founded in the VIth century B.C., as Massalia, by Greek colons
coming from Phocea, Asia Minor (Marseilles is still nicknamed la
cité phocéenne and its inhabitants
Phocéens). The Greeks, led by Protis, moored in the
Lacydon inlet (now the Vieux-Port) and joined the festival given by
the local Ligurian ruler for the marriage of his daughter Gyptis.
According to the Ligurian law, the girl to be married had to select
herself her future husband by offering him a ritual bowl. Gyptis was
fascinated by the beauty of the Greek sailor and chose him.
Archaelogical evidence of the Greek colonization has been found near the Vieux-Port, so the relation with Greece is historical, even if a nice legend was later added to history.
However, the cross and the blue and white colours are not related to the flag of
Greece, which was designed in the XIXth century.
The cross reminds that Marseilles was a port from which the Crusaders (les Croisés, who used the cross as their symbol) sailed for Palestine. Another example is given by Toulon which has a yellow cross on a blue field. Many other towns on the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea also use cross on their arms, like Genoa for instance.
Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 8 July 2004
Early records of the flag
The municipal flag of Marseilles dates back to the XIIIth century. An official rule of that time, quoted by Louis de Bresc (Armorial des communes de Provence, 1866), says:
Quod quaelibet navis hominum Massilie portet et portare tenentur in nave vexillum communis Massilie cum cruce extensum in altum.
Pascal Vagnat, 4 June 1999
Histoire de Marseille, edited by E. Baratier (Privat, Toulouse, 1973) shows a reproduction of the seal of the
commune (municipality) of Marseilles, dated from the XIIIth
century, and kept in the Departmental Archives of the
On the obverse of the seal, St. Victor is flooring a dragon, riding and brandishing a sword, and protecting himself with a shield charged with a cross. The motto says: Massiliam vere Victor civesque tuere.
On the reverse of the seal, the city walls are pictured. The highest tower, in the middle of the walls, bears a cross. The sea is represented in the foreground. The motto says: Actibus immensis urbs fulget massiliensis.
According to the tradition, St. Victor was a Christian officer (or senator) martyred in Marseilles on the 21 July 290, under Diocletian's reign (284-305). In fact, this
Victor never existed. The monk Jean Cassien, who established in the
Vth century a powerful abbey in Marseilles "brought" with him the
real St. Victor, a martyre venerated by the Orient Church, and made
of him a "naturalized" saint of Marseilles.
In the beginning of the XIIIth century, Marseilles was jointly ruled by the viscounts of Marseilles (descendants of the Burgond ruler Arnulf) and a bishop, following a treaty signed in 1069. In 1221, the city was established as a commune libre (free municipality) ruled by a podestat. The so-called "Republic" was in fact a merchant oligarchy.
In 1252, the commune submitted to count of Provence Charles I d'Anjou and definitively lost its independence. On 11 December 1481, Marseilles and Provence were rattached to the kingdom of France following the extinction of the third house of Anjou.
Ivan Sache & Pascal Vagnat, 8 July 2004
by Ivan Sache
The coat of arms of Marseilles is:
D'argent à la croix d'azur (Argent a cross azure)It is widely used in the city, for instance on the pediment of the St. Charles railway station, the street plaques and the municipal huts where you can buy newspapers or snacks.
Ivan Sache, 8 July 2004