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Cassis : virtual tour of the old village

Cassis is a tourist town in the Bouches-du-Rhône, which is located about 20 km east of Marseille. If Cassis is famous for its cliffs and creeks, it is also known today for the wines of Cassis (mostly white, as well as rosé).

The nature has favored the town of Cassis because it features 11 km of coastline and includes some of the Calanques of Marseille, a classified site since 1975. The cove of Port-Miou (with car access in the vicinity), which is an old stone quarry converted into a marina cove, is the only creek part of the town of Cassis. Requiring a small and pleasant stroll, the cove of Port Pin is within walking distance without too much difficulty (including children). For the more courageous and fearless (after a good hike and a steep incline requiring hiking boots), the creek of En-Vau will welcome you with its beach and very famous climbing sites.

The Cap Canaille (394 meters), which is located between La Ciotat and Cassis, is one of the highest sea cliffs in Europe. This site is classified since 1989.

These two protected areas and the city can be seen from the top of the crest road connecting Cassis to La Ciotat.

Le port de Cassis
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History of Cassis

The first evidence of occupation of the site dates back to the sixth and fifth centuries BC. The remains of a fortified settlement built by the Ligurians, who lived on fishing, hunting and agriculture, were found on the commune. Links with Massilia (Marseille), a city founded by the Phoenicians, gives grounds for presuming a Greek presence in Cassis.

In Roman times, Cassis is already a small village, located mainly around the beaches of the Arena and of the Corton. These inhabitants lived by fishing, coral and sea trade with North Africa and the Middle East, as evidenced by several archaeological discoveries.

From the fifth to the tenth century, barbarian invasions lead the population to take refuge on the heights inside a fortified castrum, which will become in the thirteenth century the possession of the Lords of the Baux de Provence.

At the beginning of the fifteenth century, in the presence of his wife Alix des Baux, Odon de Villars was donated to his nephew Philippe de Lévis the feudal tenures of Brantes, Plaisians and their dependencies, the seigniories of Saint-Marcel, Roquefort, Le Castellet, Cassis and Port-Miou, dependent of the barony of Aubagne as well as La Fare-les-Oliviers and Éguilles. His nephew in return was to be his guarantor toward Raymond de Turenne in the observation of an agreement between the viscount, himself and his wife Alix.

Later, in the fifteenth century, Cassis was attached to the County of Provence and then King René conveyed the city to bishops of Marseille who will exercise their rights until the French Revolution of 1789. The coat of arms of the city, which contains a episcopal crosier, is an evidence of these times.

In the eighteenth century, Cassis leaves the ramparts and is growing around the port. After the Restoration, new activities are developed: cod drying plants, manufacture of “scourtins”* (pressing mats) for the production of olive oil, coral work, extension of the vine, working of quarries (cement, lime, stone).

(*) Until the beginning of the century, “scourtins” (pressing mats) were used to filter olive paste. These strange circular benches were made of various materials: Alfa rods, coconut or aloe fibers, hemp. Olive mills in Provence, were using tote bag made from alfa, a kind of grass originating in North Africa. Alfa rods were not communicating bad taste to olive oil because of their glazed surface. They were also retaining few fat material. Today “scourtins” (pressing mats) are made of nylon.

The stone of Cassis, which was operated since antiquity has made the fame of this small fishing harbor in the world. The docks of the main Mediterranean ports are built with this stone (Alexandria, Algiers, Piraeus, Marseille, Port Said), but also the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York.

In the twentieth century, these industries disappear, relayed by an increasingly thriving winegrowing (Cassis was one of the first three vineyards to benefit from the AOC in 1936) and tourism.

Le port de Cassis
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Cultural events and festivities of Cassis

The celebration of fishermen and the sea (last weekend in June)

The two days are devoted entirely to fishing and the sea. The major event of this feast is the blessing of St. Peter in St. Michael’s Church on Sunday morning. The Mass is followed by the procession of the “Prud’Hommes” (skilled workmen) and blessing of the boats at sea. Throughout the weekend many activities related to the sea succeed one after another.

The feast of the Cassis wine and harvest (early September)

This celebration, that takes place each year in September, honors the vineyards of Cassis according to a well established program. A Mass in Provençal language is held in the St. Michael’s Church. It is followed by the dance of the strain on the front of the church with local folkloric groups and the start of the Great Cavalcade of St. Eloi with the blessing of the carriage driving, the parade of carriages and folkloric groups from the region. Finally a tasting and sale of wines of Cassis (AOC) is organized by the winemakers of Cassis.

The Christmas festivities

The city of Cassis organizes during the celebration of the Sainte-Barbe, when wheat which will decorate the Christmas table is planted in all families, a large market which takes place over four days in the heart of the village. This market allows visitors to buy Christmas dishes from the best artisans and producers from all over the region.

La Pastorale Maurel is interpreted in the Cassis city each year since 1930. This piece played and sung in Provençal language tells the "march of the star", the departure of persons from Provence to Bethlehem, after the angel Boufareu told them "the good news", that of the Nativity.

The half-marathon of Marseille-Cassis

The half-marathon of Marseille-Cassis is a foot race that connects each year the cities of Marseille and Cassis. This race is organized since its inception in 1979, by the club SCO Sainte-Marguerite.

If the first edition of the race counted only 700 participants, it is today complete with 15,000 runners and walkers. Each year, all available shirt numbers found taker in a few days. So do not wait to register (from 1 March 2011) for the 33rd edition of the Marseille-Cassis International Classic which will be held Sunday, October 30, 2011.

Since 1990, the hike "The other Marseille-Cassis" is organized the day before of the race. The hike also connects the two cities, but thought the Massif of the Calanques.

In 2006, a Sportive Walk made its appearance. It allows walkers to participate also in the race.

The route of the half-marathon Marseille-Cassis makes this race of 20.308 km relatively difficult because it requires, in particular, to cross the col of the Gineste, a mountain pass about 5 km long and having the altitude of 327 meters. The descent is often described as difficult as the climb. The departure takes place on the Boulevard Michelet, in front of the Stade Vélodrome. The race offers riders a beautiful sight, especially in passages that allow for an unobstructed view of the sea. The arrival is located at the port of Cassis.

The wines of Cassis

Cassis is one of the oldest places of winemaking in France. Vines already existed on the site of Marseille and its surroundings before the landing of Greek sailors (the Phoenicians) near 600 BC.

Cassis wine, produced only on the territory of Cassis commune, was the first AOC recognized in Provence in 1936 (The Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) translates as "controlled designation of origin"). So they have been one of the first French wine to obtain the AOC along with Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the Vaucluse department and Sauternes in the south of Bordeaux.

Nowadays, the AOC Cassis is very small and produces only a million bottles per year on a very distinctive terroir of a little less than 200 hectares.

The white wines are the main production and are sold after a year of breeding. Dry wines, round, complex aroma with floral notes (lime), fruit (quince), balsamic (resin), they blend perfectly with seafood or fish soup.

Rosé wines are fruity and full of finesse thanks to the Cinsault, its dominant grape variety.

Reds remain marginal in production. Grenache gives them a generous character, sometimes tannic.

The stone of Cassis

The stone of Cassis of is an orange colored limestone with extreme resistance which is extracted in the region of Cassis. This limestone was used to build, among other things, the docks of Alexandria, the port of Algiers or the great lighthouse of Planier off the coast of Marseille.



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