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Marseillan (Municipality, Hérault, France)

Last modified: 2012-05-17 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Marseillan]

Flag of Marseillan - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 6 March 2004

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Presentation of Marseillan

The municipality of Marseillan (7,392 inhabitants in 2006; 5,171 ha) is located on the lagoon of Thau, coastal Languedoc, between Sète and Béziers.

The first village of Marseillan was founded in the 6 BP by Greek colonists from Phokia (Asia Minor). There is no evidence that the colonists came from Marseilles, an other, much bigger Phokian colony.

Marseillan is today divided into two boroughs, Marseillan-Ville, whose port of commerce was very active in the 19th century, and Marseillan-Plage, built on the mouth of the grau de Pisse-Saumes to the Mediterranean Sea. The lagoon of Tahu (étang de Thau) stretches over 7,500 hectares and is linked to the Mediterranean Sea by two narrow bottlenecks locally called grau. The southern grau is the grau de Pisse-Saumes (Pisses refers to piss and Saumes to brackish - saumâtre - water). The lagoon of Thau includes the biggest zostera (eelgrass) patch in Europe. Eelgrass is a marine plant forming dense patches used by several marine organisms to live and breed. A part of the lagoon is made of abandoned salt marshes, colonized today by birds. The main activities in the lagoon of Thau are mussel, oyster (Bouzigues) and shellfish farming.

Marseillan is also located on the mouth of the canal du Midi, a 241-km long canal linking the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterraean Sea via the river Garonne. The canal was built from 1666 to 1681 by engineer Pierre-Paul de Riquet (1604-680), baron of Bonrepos and general collector of the gabelle (salt tax) in Languedoc. The main difficulty in the building of the canal was the crossing of the sill of Naurouze (a.k.a. as sill of Lauraguais), located 194 m a.s.l. Riquet decided tocollect water from several small rivers descending from the Montagne Noire in order to increase the waterflow in the canal. Colbert was presented the project in 1662 and authorised its realization in 1666. Riquet paid one-third of the costs of the project with his own fortune but died six months before the inauguration of the canal. The canal was named canal royal du Languedoc, then canal des Deux-Mers, and eventually canal du Midi in 1789. After the Restauration, the Riquet family was retroceded the rights on the canal. Purchased in 1897 by the French state, the canal is today no longer adapted to the transport of goods but has a very strong historical and heritage value. Also used for irrigation, the canal is listed on the World Heritage List by UNESCO.

Wine-growing is probably the oldest activity in Marseillan. In 1813, Joseph Noilly invented the Noilly-Prat, a naturally sweet (without addition of sugar) aromatized vermouth, used for instance in sauces for fish and shellfish. The first trials of sulfate sprays against fungal diseases on grapevine were performed in Marseillan. Most vineyard was destroyed by the phylloxera in 1876 and completely replanted. In the beginning of the 20th century, surproduction and competition with the wines from Algeria caused a big economical crisis in Languedoc. In 1907, the innkeeper Marcellin Albert organized the winegrowers' revolt and founded the newspaper Le Tocsin. There were huge demonstrations in Montpellier and Béziers. On 12 May, 1,000 out of the 2,000 active inhabitants of Marseillan joined a 500,000 demonstration in Béziers. Clémenceau, then President of the Council and Minister of Interior, sent the local 17th infantry regiment to repress the manifestation. The soldiers refused to shoot their countrymen and mutinied. The regiment was "transported" to Gafsa, in Tunisia, and sent to the frontline during the First World War.

The statue of the Republic placed in front of the town hall is said to be the oldest Marianne in France. Made by Taillefer, bought after a public fund raising, and inaugurated on 1 November 1878, Marianne is crowned with laurel and tramples on a fleur-de-lis. She holds in her right hand the tables of the Constitution and in her left hand the triangle of equality.


Ivan Sache, 6 March 2004

Municipal flag of Marseillan

The flag of Marseillan is blue with the municipal logo.
The main element of the logo is a crab. The inhabitants of Marseillan are nicknamed "Crabs". The local football-club, founded in 1907, is called Le Crabe Sportif Marseillanais.
The crab has nothing to do with the municipal coat of arms, which is "Argent three pales gules".

Dominique Cureau, 8 March 2004