The story of Marseille soap comes to us across the centuries. An amazing story which, originating on the borders of the Mediterranean Sea, spread throughout the entire world and a unique, natural and authentic product became well-known. Marseille soap, this "cube" composed of 72% oil and used on all the continents and in all cultures. In the north and south of France families kept this all-purpose beige or green block in their kitchen or bathroom. Universal, it managed the amazing feat of being both a washing and a beauty product due to its intrinsic qualities !
Going back in time, you can find traces of the first mixtures based on oil, water and ashes in antiquity. The manufacturing process was invented int the Middle Ages, adding lime to the washed ashes.
But it was in Marseille where in the following centuries it would win acclaim. To the extent of giving its name to the manufacturing process, lacking an appelation contrôlée which could have protected it from abuse, especially from copies.
A the end of the 16th century, soap was being produced by small Marseille family companies. In the south of France, in particular in Provence, they had the necessary raw materials ; olive oil, salt and salicorne ashes from the Camargue, and later palm oil and copra from the colonies.
The manufacture of soap also requires heating techniques to heat the cauldrons which cook the oils. Coal mining played an important part in the development of soap production as a cottage industry and then at an industrial level.
In the 19th century the profession of soap-making became organised and Marseille asserted itself as the main production site followed by Toulon and Salon de Provence. Thus the activity flourished, and Marseille had dozens of soap factories. Each offered its own brand - it was the era when superb posters full of colour were flourishing on French walls, which boasted the merits of "pure soap".
With the development of powders for washing machines the production of Marseille soap dropped dramatically and many soap factories went out of business. But the virtues of this natural and biodegradable product have been at the heart of a revival since the 80's. In this way the Compagnie du Savon de Marseille site, taken over by its managerial staff in 2003, is still one of the three Provençale producers successfully continuing production.