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Marseille Soap Information

marseille soap seal Many legends refer to the invention of soap. One story places its creation in ancient Rome on the spot where priests used to sacrifice animals to their Gods by burning them on altars situated on hill-tops.

When the remains, a mixture of burnt animal fat and ash, came into contact with rain water, it flowed down from the hillsides into foaming pools. Women clothes washers observed that this sudsy mixture cleaned better than plain water and gathered pieces of this incredible product.

Interestingly, the part of Rome where all this happened was of course called Sapo.

The first literary reference to soap is found in the texts of Pliny the Old, a latin writer. According to him, soap was invented by the Gallic people using a mixture of goat fat and beech tree ashes and was used to color hair red. Apparently there was also a liquid version of this mixture.

This "Gallic" shampoo was known all around the Mediterranean region - from Greece to Italy and north to Gaul.

We also know that Ancient Greeks used the sap of a plant called saponaria and the Romans also experimented with a clay that came from decomposed schists.

Throughout history soap has played a vital role in the daily lives of women and we are reminded that up till 100 years ago washing clothes with water poured on ashes was still one of the most important tasks of women.

The History of Marseille Soap

marseille soap factory It was in the Middle Ages however, that soap manufacturing came to Provence. This was due in large part to the fact that the principal ingredients of soap, olive oil, salt and soda ashes fom the Camargue- were produced in the region.

As a result, in the XVIth century Marseille became the first official soap manufacturer in France, followed closely by Salon-de-Provence and Toulon.

In 1688, under Louis XIV (also known as the Count of Provence), the official "Edict of Colbert" was proclaimed which forbid the use of any animal fat in the production of Marseille soap and allowed only the use of pure olive oil. The law goes on to state that violation of this vital production rule could put one out of business and run out of Provence !

The golden period for Marseille soap was during the French Revolution when it competed for top soap honors with yellow colored palm oil soaps from Great Britain and sesame and peanut oil soap from Paris.

As these "new oils", such as coconut and palm, made their way to Marseille on ships from French Colonies, the Marseilles soap factories began to make new formulations using these pure vegetable oils.

edit du Roy

Dated October 5th 1688

Soap making, regardless of the quality that the soap may be, will completely cease during the months of June, July and August of each year, or the soap will be confiscated.

New oils may not be used in the manufacture of soap before the first of May each year, or the merchandise will also be confiscated.

In the fabrication of soap, when using barille, soda or ash, no fats, butter or other materials other than pure olive oil, and without blending other fats, is allowed, or the merchandise will be confiscated.

The Soap will be fabricated exactly, following the required steps, as described below:

It will taken out of the cauldron, placed in defined flats: then stacked, then towered, staying in each of these areas allowing enough time for the natural purge of soda and to allow the natural elevation of the color isabelle.

The manufacturers may only fabricate one batch at a time or be penalized by confiscation of the merchandise and payment of 500£ for each infraction.

The windows of the establishment, Leffugon, may not be kept closed neither day or night while the Soap is in the purge stage, as long as the weather does not interfere.

Buyers may not deduct from their invoice more than two pounds, for each small case of Soap, and four pounds for each large case to account for packaging.

No Soapmaker or other person is permitted to own or rent a non-functioning Soap Making business. Those holding closed businesses or those under-manufacturing will be prosecuted and punished under the laws, as this produces a monopoly.

Soapmakers may not associate themselves with the abovementioned manufacturers to purchase oils and other materials, under the penalty given in the preceding Article.

Those found to be in violation of the abovementioned, will be condemned and punished, and if they recommit and found guilty of infraction four times, they will be banished from Provence.

The Edict of Colbert

Marseille Soap Manufacturing

About the Soap

marseille soap bars The authentic Marseilles soap is a 100 % natural product, exclusively made with vegetable oils such as palm tree oil, copra oil and olive oil, without any coloring or artificial additives. It must contain 72 % of oil, percentage which is stamped on every cube of soap.

It is this exceptional purity which gives it its virtues. Because the authentic Marseilles soap is guaranteed with no colouring, its use is often recommended.

Natural and effective: Marseilles soap is more and more recommended by doctors as an alternative to other modern products which often cause skin problems.

Respectful of the environment: Marseilles soap does not pollute. It is 100% biodegradable. As a natural product, it contributes to the protection of nature.

Gentle: Recommended for all skin types and also recommended to wash clothes, silk, lace and baby clothes.

Not tested on animals: research and quality controls are made in special laboratories which do not require animal testing. Quite the opposite, it is recommended for pet grooming.

Economical: Marseilles soap lasts up to twice as long as ordinary soap, and is perfumed in the mass. Its longevity makes it an economical product.

About the Process

marseille soap bars It takes 14 days to produce true Marseilles soap. The vegetable oils and sodium carbonate are first mixed in a huge cauldron. The paste is then heated for 10 days at a temperature of 120°C. It is then washed to eliminate the sodium carbonate and left to rest for 2 days. After having dried 48 hours at a temperature of 50 to 60°C, the soap is ready to be divided into 35 kg cakes.

Within the Marseille soap manufacturing, we distinguish the soaps made with :
  • Vegetable oils of palm tree and copra: in this case, the color of the soap is white.
  • Olive oils (between 40% and 50 %) and copra-palm oils (20 %): In this case, the color of the soap is green.

  • STAGE 1: The chemical reaction of saponification
    The oils and the soda are mixed in a huge cauldron which can contain around 30 tons of raw materials. The saponification reaction can begin.
  • STAGE 2: The cooking
    The soap mixture is cooked for 10 days, at a temperature around 120°C.
  • STAGE 3: The washing
    Then, the mixture is washed with salty water, in order to get rid of the soda. At the end of this operation, there are no more soda traces.
  • STAGE 4: The "liquidation"
    The soap mixture is done. Then, it rests for two days. It is washed again with pure water, this last process gives an Extra Pure soap, one of the characteristics of Marseilles soap.
  • STAGE 5: The drying
    The mixture is liquid, fluid and without any track of soda. It is then poured, while it is still hot (between 50 and 70°C), into the "mises", cement compartments on the very floor. The soap is going to dry for two days, naturally. When the Mistral, a strong northern wind in the southeast of France, blows, the northern windows are opened so the soap can dry faster. The "mises" : the pouring, the drying and the cutting.
  • STAGE 6: The cutting
    When the soap is dry, it is cut into big pieces of about 35 kg, in bars of 2.5 kg, and then in cubes of 200, 400, 500 or 600 g. Having the soap dry on drying shelves dehydrates it, making it more economical.

For bath soaps (100, 150 or 250g), the materials are the same but the manufacturing process is a little different: these bars are made with Marseilles soap shavings in which we add fragrance and shea butter to make the mixture even smoother.

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