Savon de Marseille – When Did The Manufacture Of This Soap Begin?
Savon de Marseille (Soap of Marseille), is believed to be the finest soap in the world. It is renowned for its powerful cleaning abilities, as well as its suitability to people with sensitive skin, including babies, through to its hypoallergenic qualities. It can also be used for laundry and general household cleaning. It is composed of 72 percent of fatty acid, resulting from the mixing of oils and soda-ash or sea salt and 28 per cent water. So, how did the manufacture of this wonderful natural French soap begin?
The origin of Savon de Marseille comes without a doubt from Aleppo soap, which has existed for thousands of years. The method of manufacture originating in the city of Aleppo in Syria, and involving a basis of olive oil and laurel oil, spread throughout the Mediterranean basin in the wake of the crusades, passingthrough Italy and Spain, to reach Marseille.Crescas Davin was the first Marseille soap maker in the 14th Century and in 1593 a man named Georges Prunemoyr opened thefirst soap factory in Marseille when demand began to exceed local needs.
By 1660 there were seven factories in the city that used locally produced olive oil as a raw material, along with the ash from the burning of the salty marsh plant Salicorne. Production was almost 20 000 tonnes of soap a year.
In 1688 Louis XIV introduced regulations (Edict of Colbert) limiting the use of the name “Savon de Marseille” to soaps made in and around the Marseille region, and only from virgin olive oil. The quality of production was such that “Savon de Marseille” became a household name. At that time the soap was green coloured and generally sold in 5kg bars or in loaves of 20 kg. By 1786, 48 Marseille factories produced 76 000 tonnes, employing 600 workers and 1 500 loaned convicts.
Following the French Revolution in 1789, the manufacture of Savon de Marseille continued to expand and escalated to 62 factories by 1813. Soda ash was then obtained from sea water through a process invented by Nicolas Leblanc. Toward the 1820s, new oils and fats were imported and passed through the port of Marseille, which encouraged more factories to appear throughout the region in places like Salon-de-Provence, Toulon and Arles.
Eventually, instead of the use of palm, copra, peanut and sesame oils, the factories turned to the much cheaper tallow, due to heavy competition from factories in Paris and indeed England.
In the nineteenth century, the city of Marseille with almost 90 factories, had a thriving industry that reached its pinnacle in 1913 with nearly 180 000 tonnes produced. In 1906 François Merklen was responsible for establishing the formula for Savon de Marseille: 63 percent of copra oil or palm, 9 percent of soda-ash or sea salt, 28 percent of water.
After the First World War, the savonneries (soap factories) enjoyed the progress of mechanisation, and without losing the quality of the product due to the utilisation of former processes, production rose again to 120 000 tonnes in 1938. When the Second World War broke out, Marseille still represented half of the soap production in France but the following years were to see its decline. The soap was superseded by synthetic detergents and the factories began closing one after the other. Nowadays, only a handful of manufacturers remain in the region, but they still manufacture world beating natural soap.
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