A museum devoted to Marseille soap has just been inaugurated in the center of the Phocaean City (nicknamed after the Greek colonists who founded it). The MuSaMa traces the history of this essential product of Provençal culture that is still on people's minds (and shopping lists). Marseille is adding another crown jewel to its offering of museums.
From the initiative of Jean-Baptiste and Coralie Jaussaud, the MuSaMa (Marseille Soap Museum) opened its doors in the oldest street of the city, not far from the Old Port. Dynamic entrepreneurs at the head of the Grande Savonnerie, they wanted to honor this "little emblematic cube". Jean-Baptiste, born in Marseille, who studied law at France's version of the Ivy League, is also president of the National Conservatory of Soap in Marseille.
Slip into the shoes of a soap maker
On 1,350 ft² and through 4 rooms, the museum entices visitors to slip into the shoes of a soapmaker in 20 minutes. By tracing the history and manufacturing process, via video, original documents such as the first advertising posters, and heritage items, such as a soap cutter, or a typical 19th century kitchen, the processes and lives of these artisans come to life. The tour is translated into 8 languages via an app. Temporary exhibitions will be more focused on new technologies with virtual reality headsets.
The historian Patrick Boulanger, author of the museography of MuSaMa, reminds us of the great dates of the soap history: "From the 13th century, Marseille was home to small soap workshops, mixing Provençal oils with sodas extracted from burnt plants. In 1688, Louis XIV regulated the manufacture, commanding the use of pure olive oils from Crete and Italy, and forbade the inclusion of any other fats".
At least 72% vegetable oil
Little by little, olive oils are replaced by rapeseed (like canola), poppy, or sesame oils. Around 1825, the soap makers adopted the artificial soda, then the ammonia solution of Solvay. Finally, in 1906, the chemist François Merklen set the percentage of vegetable oil to 72%, supplemented by soda and water.
This precise blend is still in effect, and it is with a master soapmaker that the museum's visitors can make his authentic soap on site.
"Today, only three traditional soap factories remain in Marseille, who use cauldrons to prepare their product: The Serail, Fer à Cheval, and the Corvette," says Boulanger.
The Savonnerie du Midi, creator of the brand La Corvette, has also decided to dedicate a museum to the famous little Marseillaise cube. Set to open in its factory located in the heart of the Aygalades district, in the 15th arrondissement of Marseille, the summer of 2018.
The program features a tour to highlight the manufacturing process and exhibition spaces created from one of the richest private collections of Savons de Marseille: that of Vittorio and Josette Quittard, two passionate Marseillais residents for 20 years with a love for the famous product.
Beware of counterfeits
Green for body care, and beige (tinted by coconut oil) for linen, Marseille soap is as ecological as it is economical! However, it is often imitated in inferior replicas with synthetic products. Buyers must beware because in the absence of the official protected label, 95% of the soaps sold in the world with the mention of "Marseille" are actually manufactured in China or Turkey. One more reason to come to Marseille to discover the authentic version!