Last modified: 2018-01-14 by ivan sache
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Flag of Cassis - Image by Dominique Cureau, 7 September 2017
The municipality of Cassis (7,221 inhabitants in 2015 - Cassidains; 2,686
ha: municipal website) 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, made of rocky inlets which deeply gash high limestone cliffs, spreads from Marseilles to Cassis. There is a vivid but friendly rivalry between the two towns 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
The calanques constitute one of the most scenic landscape of the French Mediterranean coast, with no equivalent elsewhere in the world but in Dalmatia (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 endangered 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. 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, "an aquiferous mountain", or from Provencal cap naïo, "a 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 Antonine's Itinerary. Local sources of income were fishing, coral gathering and maritime trade with North Africa and the Middle East.
In the 5th-10th centuries, the inhabitants of Cassis abandoned the unsafe port threatened by pirates and moved uphill to the castrum (castrum cassitis), a fortified town incorporated into the powerful domain of Les Baux in 1223. In the 15th century, Cassis was transfered to the County of Provence; Count René ceded the town to the Bishop of Marseilles, who owned it until the French Revolution. Looted by Charles V of Spain in 1524, the castle was progressively deserted 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, were allowed to set up their
In the 18th century, the town of Cassis increased out of its 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 16th 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 20th 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 of wine origin. The town 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 town of the priest and scholar Jean-Jacques Barthélémy (1716-1795). 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 best-seller Voyage du Jeune Anacharsis en Grèce (Travel of young Anacharsis in Greece) 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 town, Aubagne, called Rue du jeune Anacharsis as a tribute to Barthélémy, was was unanimuously called Rue du jeune anarchiste (Young anarchist's street) by the local people.
After Provence whad been re-discovered by artists at the end of the 19th
century, 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 painted the Cassis landscape.
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 visited Paris but not Cassis should say he had not visited anything). 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 20th 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.
Ivan Sache, 14 September 2005
The flag of Cassis is white with the municipal logo. Oddly enough, the logo is printed only on the obverse of the flag, the reverse being plain white.
The new logo was presented in February 2002 by the Mayor of Cassis, as follows (Le Cassiden, February 2012):
The logo symbolizes, more than ever, the identity of our village: faithful to our heritage, pure and dynamic, deliberately modern and oriented to the future.
Inspired by the version of the arms designed in the 1970s by the architect Louis Dallest for the Maison de Cassis, subsequently the Municipal Museum, the logo was created by the Communication Division of the municipality. The multi-centennial arms of the town were not changed. We simply wished to modernize a quaint and old-fashioned communication tool.
The Maison de Cassis (photo) was built in 1704 by the master mason Barthélemy
Béraud. Originally used as a presbytery, the building was sold in 1792
as a national good. Reestablished in 1829, the presbytery was then used
from 1942 to 1971 as a gendarmerie brigade. Restored, the building was
renamed as the Maison de Cassis, inaugurated on 1 February 1980,
encompassing the municipal tourist office, library, and museum. After
the relocation of the tourist office and library, the Museum, styled
Municipal Mediterranean Museum of Arts and People's Traditions, was
deployed over the whole building.
The arms designed by Dallest are seen just over the entrance of the building.
Dominique Cureau & Ivan Sache, 7 September 2017
Former flags of Cassis
Left, flag adopted in 2004-2005 - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 11 September 2006
Right, flag used before 2004-2005 - Image by Pascal Vagnat, 28 August 2002
The former flag of Cassis was 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) /
Mayor Jean-Pierre Teisseire explained in December 2004 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.
[Le Cassiden, December 2004]
Beforehand, the flag of Cassis was 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 coat of arms of Cassis is "Azure a crozier or surrounded by two fishes affronty argent in pale". According to Louis de Bresc [bjs94], these arms were registered in the Armorial Général (Arm.I, 443; bl. I, 1089; registration fee 20 livres).
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 and Letters Patented 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 town 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 town neighbouring of Cassis but belonging to the St. Victor's Abbot in Marseilles, once the great rival of the Bishop for the control of Marseilles.
The fishes appeared in the beginning of the 17th 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
Cercle Nautique de Cassis
Flag of CNC - Image by Ivan Sache, 7 September 2017
The Cercle Nautique de Cassis (CNC, website) was founded on 23 March 1929. In 2010, the CNC resumed the water jousting tradition in Cassis: the "Francs Jouteurs Cassidains" squad, inactive since 1981 and eventually dissolved in 1995, was refounded and incorporated to the CNC.
The flag of CNC is white with the CNC emblem in the center.
The emblem of CNC is made of a yellow steering wheel, inscribed with the name of the club in blue Capital letters. In the center of the wheel is placed a blue disk charged with elements from the municipal arms of Cassis, the bishop's cross, ending here with an anchor, surrounded by two fishes.
Ivan Sache, 6 November 2011
Club Nautique de Port-Miou
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 20th 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 (CNPM, website), 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.
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
Yacht Club des Calanques de Cassis
Burgee of YCCC - Image by Ivan Sache, 22 May 2006
YCCC (website) was founded in 1968, with 20 members. Today's membership is 216.
The four yacht clubs located in Port-Miou (CNPM, YCCC, UPPM and Ski Club Phocéen) have founded Union Nautique to manage the
port of Port-Miou, in agreement with the municipality of Cassis.
The burgee of YCCC is horizontally divided turquoise blue-white-turquoise blue (1:2:1) with the turquoise blue letters YCCC in the white stripe.
Ivan Sache, 22 May 2006