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Marseilles (Municipality, Bouches-du-Rhône, France)


Last modified: 2003-07-12 by ivan sache
Keywords: bouches-du-rhone | marseilles | marseille | cross (blue) | cross (white) | frioul | seal | coat of arms | sun: 16 rays |
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[Municipal flag of Marseilles]by Ivan Sache

See also:

Use of the flag

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.

Philippe Bondurand, 4 December 1997 & 4 June 1999

The municipal flag flies (rather small flags alternating with French Tricolores) over the city hall of the 1st arrondissement, located on the Canebière.

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.

Ivan Sache, 6 November 2000

Origin of the flag

A mythical Greek origin

The cross and those blue and white colours have nothing to do with Greece. The cross simply reminds us 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, 4 December 1997

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.

Ivan Sache, 6 November 2000

Early municipal seal (XIIIth century)

The city flag is a very old flag dating back to the 13th century. An official rule of that time says:

Quod quaelibet navis hominum Massilie portet et portare tenentur in nave vexillum communis Massilie cum cruce extensum in altum.

Source: Bresc, Louis de. Armorial des communes de Provence, Chantemerle, Nyons, 1971 (reprint of the edition of 1866), pp.168-169

Pascal Vagnat, 4 June 1999

The book edited by E. Baratier, Histoire de Marseille (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 Bouches-du-Rhône.
On the obverse, St. Victor is flooring a dragon, riding and brandishing a sword, and protecting himself with a shield charged with the Marseilles cross. The motto says: Massiliam vere Victor civesque tuere.
On the reverse, 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.

St. Victor was a Christian officer or senator martyred under Diocletian reign in Marseilles on the 21 July 290. 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 ruled both 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 Charles I of 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 Anjou family.

Ivan Sache, 6 November 2000

Vertical flag

[Vertical flag]by Ivan Sache

This vertical version of the flag can be seen in front of the Stade Vélodrome (football stadium), alternating with vertical Tricolore flags.

Ivan Sache, 6 November 2000

Coat of arms

[Coat of arms]by Ivan Sache

The coat of arms is widely used in the city, for instance on the pediment of the St. Charles railway station and the municipal huts where you can buy newspapers or snacks.

Ivan Sache, 6 November 2000

Historical flag (?)

[Historical flag]by Ivan Sache

Danckert's flag chart [ca.1700] [dan05] shows an other flag for Marseilles, as #80, labelled 'Vlag van Marselle' - Flag of Marseilles.

The flag has a white field with a white cross in a blue canton. The cross has equal arms, which touch the upper and left edges of the flag. The cantonis separated from the main white field by a thin black fimbriation.

This flag is rather odd, since the flag of Marseilles has been known for centuries to be a blue cross on a white field

Ivan Sache, 18 July 2001

République Libre du Frioul

[Republique Libre du Frioul]by Ivan Sache

A strange entity: the flag is really flown, the name of the entity is patented, the place exists but the entity has no borders... It is not a commercial entity like Seborga but a cultural / artistic project.

The flag is a blue Scandinavian cross on a white field, chargedwith a yellow sun. It evidently refers to the flag of Marseilles but the cross is decentered and the blue is more saturated (the shade of the sea when the mistral wind is blowing, close to the International Klein Blue patented by the painter Yves Klein).
I did my drawing after the document shown in the Regional Council review, with the sun extending beyond the cross arms. The real flags shown on the pictures seem to have a simplified sun enclosed in the square made by the intersection of the cross arms.

The archipelago of Frioul is located off Marseilles (twenty minutes by boat). It is made of the three islands of If, Pomègues and Ratonneau, which were split from mainland during the so-called Flandrian transgression.
The smallest island, If, is famous for its fortress, popularized by Alexandre Dumas in his novel Le Comte de Monte-Cristo.
Pomègues and Ratonneau were in the past covered with forests and Louis XIV used them as a royal game preserve. Both islands are linked by a dam built in the early XIXth century. They lock and protect the roadsted of Marseilles. They have always been used for military and sanitary purposes. The Admiralty untimbered them to build vessels. The soil was carried away by erosion from the white limestone rocks, and a meager vegeation still survives in the rock cracks. In the 70's, the municipality of Marseilles planned to create a new residential ward on the islands. The building program was fortunately only partially realized. There are now less than one hundred of permanent inhabitants on the islands. A dozen of restaurants located in Port-Frioul live mainly from summer tourism, but most visitors prefer to go to If.

The plastician Jean-Claude Mayo was born in 1945 in Tananarive (now Antananarivo, in Madagascar) from Reunionese origin. He lives now in Marseilles. He produces traditional loft works but also monumental scenographies (e.g. Symbiosis for a vulcano and birds, a group of 12 6-meter high giants which were established on the flank of the Piton de la Fournaise on La Réunion island just before an eruption). His main goal is "to give the reality the apparence of our dreams".
In 1989, he needed a new creation place. With his wife Nadine, he bought the fortress of Brégantin (First Empire) on the island of Ratonneau. He tried to transform this stone of the roadsted of Marseille into "a pearl onto the world's navel" and the République Libre du Frioul was born, as an evolutive, random conceptual work based on a "totally libertarian concept".

République Libre du Frioul should be written with a mirorred R, the first E in République and the E in Libre as a Greek epsilon, the last E in République as a mirorred Greek epsilon, and the O of Frioul filled with the sun that appears on the flag.

This jovial and conquerring state has a President appointed ad vitam aeternam (for ever): Egregore Le Virtuel, and J.C. Mayo is Convoying-Minister of the Word. Everyone can apply for a Ministery by sending a letter to Egregore LeVirtuel. There are already Minister of the Rings, of the Associated Pleasures, of Fine Words etc.. Each application letter shall be read during the Council of Ministers (about 400 members) and the answer shall be "Yes". There are already embassies in Paris, Canada, Brazil, Belgium and Germany.

The motto of the Republic is "Un seul soleil, chacun son ombre" (A single sun, a shadow for everyone). The emblem is a bird in perpetual invention, the "grand gouillon". ("Grand couillon!" is a traditional way to say "You, stupid!" in Marseilles and other Southern areas of France.) The Republic has a "polycurrency" soon to be convertible in Euros, without a defined unit.

The only definitive rule of the Republic is that there is no rule.There are no territorial revendication since the Republic has no limits but the imagination of its ministers.
The Republic organizes cultural and artistic events on the islands (e.g. the Night of the Tales).


  • Région Provence-Alpes-Côtes d'Azur #135, November-December 1999 (pp.34-35) [The official review of the Regional Council]
  • Website of the République Libre du Frioul