Plague of Marseille (1720)

The plague of Marseille from 1720 is a historical episode marking, always present in the collective memory of the Marseillais. It is the last outbreak of plague registered in France.

The Grand-Saint-Antoine, a boat from the Levant (the Syria region), docking in Marseilles on 25 may 1720 is the source of the epidemic. Indeed, its cargo consisting of fabrics and cotton balls is contaminated by Yersin responsible of the plague bacillus. Serious negligence, and despite a very strict protection device including the quarantine of passengers and goods, the plague spread in the city. The poorest and oldest neighbourhoods are the most affected. The plague spreads rapidly in the city where it leads to between 30 and 40 000 deaths on 80 to 90 000 inhabitants, and in Provence where she was between 90,000 and 120,000 victims on a population of 400,000 inhabitants approximately.

The responsibility of the disapplication of the regulation was sought at the time to the Commander of the vessel, the Captain Jean-Baptiste Chataud, and the first Alderman, Jean-Baptiste Estelle. No evidence could be found. However, it is certain that the stewards of health responsible for this regulation acted with great lightness: whether if they had sustained pressure on the part of the aldermen remains unanswered.

The diet of the population as well as the evacuation of the dead pose serious problems and mobilizing the aldermen who show great courage. The removal of the bodies of the neighbourhood of la Tourette by the galley from the Arsenal of the galleys mobilized for this purpose, and placed under the command of chevalier Roze is a major fact of this tragic event. The religious with headed Bishop de Belsunce bring a moral comfort to the dying.

This epidemic will give rise to many art performances among which those of the painter Michel Serre are particularly interesting because it was a direct witness of this epidemic.

Marseille on the eve of the epidemic

Economic situation

Despite the financial difficulties of the heavily indebted city of Marseille since the end of the 17th century, Marseille trade is booming after a momentary crisis resulting from the Treaty of Rastatt signed in 1714 putting an end to the war of succession of Spain. The value of the products of the Levant in the port of Marseille in 1714 amounted to twenty-three million pounds, sum ever previously. It is at this point where to begin better conditions of life and economic growth that a brutal case is launched by the onset of the plague.

Urban planning of the city

The city is completely surrounded by a new bulwark built on the orders of Louis XIV by Nicolas Arnulf. This forum builds on each of the two powerful placed fortresses of part of the entry of the port: fort St. John and fort Saint-Nicolas. The medieval ramparts were demolished and the area of the city walled is tripled from 65 to 195 hectares. In interior spaces and conquered are built new tracks intersecting at right angles.

As a result two types of urbanization that will not be without influence on the development and spread of the plague that appeared first in the old quarters. North port is located the ancient city which corresponds to that of the middle ages with narrow, winding, and unsanitary streets where artisans and traders; It is in this area that the plague will appear and will reach its climax. To the East and to the South is developing the new town with its straight avenues: street of Rome, rue Paradis, rue Saint-Ferréol.

Health regulations

The plague is a permanent threat to Marseille in frequent association with the Middle East where the disease is endemic. Epidemics hit the city on numerous occasions, including in 1580 when the plague was very deadly and made proportionally as much dead otherwise than 1720 more. A system is progressively implemented and shows its effectiveness as in 1720, Marseille has not been epidemic for sixty years. This protection is based on the one hand on a cordon sanitaire put in place at the Mediterranean level with issuance of patent in the ports of the Levant and on a health Office of stewards who decide the duration of the quarantine for crew, passengers and goods.

The patent

Each ship calling at a port in the Levant is issuing a patent, certificate issued by the consuls of the Eastern ports to masters of vessels wishing to return to France, which specifies the health status of the city. There are three types of patents:

  • the patente NET when nothing suspect exists in the region at the time of the departure of the vessel;
  • the patente suspicious when reigning in the country also suspected disease;
  • the patente gross when the area is contaminated with the plague.

If NET patent duration of quarantine is usually 18 days for people, twenty-eight for the ship and trente-huit for the cargo. These periods are credited respectively to twenty-five, thirty and forty if the patent is suspicious and thirty-five, fifty and sixty if the patent is gross.

The Office of health

A health Office is created in Marseille. Date of creation is unknown but is previously located at 1622 because a text from the Provence Parliament dated this year refers to this institution. This Office, renewed each year by the City Council, is composed of fourteen volunteer stewards selected among traders, merchant and former ship captains. The Presidency is held in turn each week by one of the stewards who then takes the name of intendant day planner. To ensure good coordination between the City Council and health, two aldermen out of Office are part of health law, bringing the total number of its members to 16. They are assisted in their task by staff: Secretaries, clerks, etc. A doctor and a surgeon are attached to this institution.

The headquarters of the Office of health is first on a floating pontoon based near fort St. John, then to the health policy, building built from 1719 on Antoine Mazin plans at the foot of the fort St. John. This building is still visible and has been classified as a historical monument by Decree of November 23, 1949.

The steps are strict: the captain of a vessel from the Levant leaves his ship in the island of Pomègues and went by boat to Office of health to present the patent issued to him and depending on the type of, health decides the duration of the quarantine to be applied to the goods and persons.

The quarantine locations

The scene of 40 vessels have been established in the jar Island, South of the harbour of Marseille if the plague is proven, or the island of Pomègues where five hectares of land and buildings and a small port was built to receive approximately thirty-five ships.

On the other hand, infirmaries, sometimes called lazarettos because they are placed under the protection of saint Lazare, have been built for passengers and goods. These clinics are located by the sea, between the Cove of the Joliette and Arenc, 400 m approximately North of the walls of the city. built under Colbert, they consist of hangars for the goods and houses for travellers on a right-of-way of 12 hectares, surrounded walls and having only three access points.

The arrival of the Grand-Saint-Antoine

The 25 may 1720, boat Grand-Saint-Antoine from the Middle East arrived in Marseille at the end of a long navigation. He brings a valuable shipment of fabrics of silk and bales of cotton, for a value of 300,000 books for sale at the fair of Beaucaire in July.

Part of the cargo belongs to several Marseille notables including the first Alderman Jean-Baptiste Estelle and the captain of the ship Jean-Baptiste Chataud. The ship was armed by Ghilhermy and warm, Jean-Baptiste Estelle, Antoine Bourguet and Jean-Baptiste Chataud, interested each for a quarter. How could this vessel brings the plague be contaminated?

Journey and mortality on board

The Grand-Saint-Antoine left Marseille on 22 July 1719 and connects successively Smyrna, Larnaca (Cyprus), and Sidon (Lebanon). In this city he embarks fabrics of silk and ash bags for ballast and to absorb moisture from the holds to ensure better conservation of the valuable fabrics. This ash was in Marseille to the SOAP which incorporated it in their manufacturing. (In 1978 of the divers who had spotted the wreckage of the Saint-Antoine Grand off the coast of the island jar have recovered samples of ash). The consul Poullard, which ignores that the plague is in Damascus, issue a net patent while loading is probably contaminated. The ship arrives at tyre (today safe), and complete its cargo by new probably also contaminated fabrics. The ship resumed sea, but must to call at Tripoli (Lebanon) to remedy damage caused by a violent storm. The vice-consul of Tripoli, Monhenoult, also issued a net patent. On April 3, 1720, the ship is heading towards Cyprus after carried fourteen passengers. On April 5, a Turkish died on board and his body is thrown into the sea. Passengers descend in Cyprus and the ship starts on 18 April 1720, in the direction of Marseille. Current road die successively five persons including flight surgeon.

The warning is serious and Captain Chataud decided to stop then in the Brusc near Toulon Harbour. This harbour well sheltered by the island of the Embiez, is appreciated forain anchorage of the Mariners since ancient times. It is indeed the former Tauroentum. The reasons for this stop are quite mysterious, but some historians believe that Chataud wanted to take the advice of the cargo owners to set the course.

The Grand-Saint-Antoine then turned to reach Livorno where he arrived on 17 May. The Italians prohibit the entry of the ship into the port and do put at anchor in a Cove guarded by soldiers. This is all the more appropriate that the day after three people die on board. The bodies are examined by doctors concluded that a “dreadful malignant fever”; This term should not be misleading, because to the physicians of the time it does not refer to the plague. Livorno authorities refer to the back of the patent of Tripoli that they had refused the entry of the vessel in the port because of the mortality of a part of the crew, because of this fever.

The ship returns to Marseille: there since the departure of Tripoli on board nine deaths.

In quarantine

Upon arrival the captain Chataud goes to health to make his statement to the intendant, day planner Tiran. He produced net patents and can only inform him of the deaths which occurred during the crossing. On May 27, two days after the arrival of the ship, a sailor died on board. The Office of health, unanimously decided to send the boat to the island of jar, then is changed and in a second deliberation, decided to transfer the body to infirmaries for examination and to send the ship to the island of Pomègues, in the archipelago of Friuli. May 29, this same Office decides, something unusual to deplane in infirmaries goods of value while cotton balls must be transferred to the island of jar.

On 3 June the bureau returned to his position and takes a decision more favourable to the owners of the cargo: all goods will be landed at infirmaries. If no written evidence exists, it is likely that interventions have taken place to pass the less restrictive regulations; It is impossible to know the people who are actually agreed, but the entanglement of the interests of the families of traders and authorities who ruled the city are sufficient to understand the reasons for these many neglect. The Declaration of the Chataud captain is falsified by the addition of a reference indicating that the crew members who died at sea died of bad food. Stewards of health probably wanted to save the cargo to the Beaucaire fair to be held on July 22, 1720. On 13 June, the day of release of 40 passengers, the guardian of health of the vessel died. The le chirurgien Surgeon service port, Gueirard, examines the body and finds a death by old age, without observed marks of plague.

A foam fell ill and died on June 25. Several porters who have manipulated the bales of cotton die from that day. Health worries very seriously and decides to transfer the vessel to the island of Jarre, burning the herds of deceased persons and to bury the corpses in quicklime. But these measures are too late as fabrics out in fraud of the clinics have already transmitted the plague in the city.

The epidemic of plague

Spread of the plague

Ten deaths occurring on board the vessel were not apparently the characteristic symptoms of the plague that are the coals and the mucous. These obvious events will appear in the city when will begin to spread the tissue from the Grand-Saint-Antoine infested with chips of the bacillus of Yersin.

The map legend

A – Door of the Joliette, B – Royal door or door of Aix, C – door Bernard-du-Bois, D – door of Chartreux or slackers, E – Gate of Noailles, F – door of Aubagne, G – door of Rome, H – door of paradise, I – Gate Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde, J – gate of Saint-Victor, K – Arsenal des galères, L – boom insulation the galleys, M – Abbaye Saint-Victor, N – Fort Saint-Nicolas, O – Fort St. John.

1 Church St-Laurent, 2 – the Major Cathedral, 3-Church of Agde, 4-Church Saint-Martin, 5-Church Saint-Ferréol, 6-Church of Augustinians, 7 – the old charity, 8-hospital of Holy Spirit (Hôtel-Dieu), 9-convent of Présentines, 10-convent des Récollets, 11-convent of the Visitation, 12 – Rue Belle – Table, 13-Place du Palais, 14 – Street scale, 15 – Rue Jean – Galant, 16-Place des Prêcheurs, 17 Rue of the oratory, 18 – Street great-Carmes, 19 – Street of the Fabres, 20-course Belsunce, 21-City Hall, 22-Place des Moulins, 23-Place de Lenche, 24 – La Canebière, 25 – Rue Saint – Ferréol, 26 – Rue Paradis, 27-Place of field staff (Place Montyon), 28-construction site.

The first cases

The 20 June 1720, rue Belle-Table, vennel close and dark older neighbourhoods, a woman, Marie Dauplan, died in a few hours. At that time doctors doubt that this death is really due to the plague. It seems indeed that a first pesteux home in the crew has been content to unpacking of cotton balls that would spread of disease carrying fleas.

On 28 June, a tailor, Michel Cresp, died suddenly. On 1 July, two women, Eygazière and Tanouse, remaining of the scale, another neighbourhood disinherited of the city street, dying one coal on the nose, the other with Bubo, signs evident of the plague.

July 9 it is clear that the plague is present; that day Charles Peyssonnel and his son Jean André Peyssonnel, all two doctors, called to the bedside of a child of a dozen years Street Jean-Galland, diagnose the plague and warn the aldermen. The dead are buried in of the quicklime and their homes are sealed. Aldermen still hope that it is a limited contagion. The ship’s cargo is transferred from infirmaries to jar island. July 21 the number of deaths is growing; the father Giraud may write that “God declares war on its people.

Peak of the epidemic

The measures taken, such as the combustion of sulphur in houses, are less effective. The plague epidemic is progressing in the old city. The wealthy leaving Marseille to take refuge in their bastides in the vicinity. The body of the galleys, at the request of the galleys physician which States that it is the plague, subtracts in the arsenal that is isolating itself from the sea by a boom of floating beam. Modest people create a huge encampment on the Saint-Michel plain (currently place Jean-Jaurès). On July 31, 1720, the Parliament of Aix is ban the Marseillais out of their terroir and the inhabitants of Provence to communicate with them.

From August 9, he died more than a hundred people a day. The hospitals can no longer receive the sick; the bodies are thrown in the streets. In mid-August of doctors, Chicoyeau and Verny, of the University of Montpellier, come to Marseille on the orders of the Regent, advised by her first doctor Pierre Chirac. Followers of the Salerno medical school, their diagnosis, opposing Marseille scholastic training physicians, is obvious: it’s the plague.

End of August all districts of Marseille are affected, including shore-Newfoundland district separated from the city by the port and the huge arsenal of the galleys. Despite actions by Roze Knight who was captain of this district, it had been impossible to cut off all communication with the old town from which contaminated the extension of contagion. He died while three hundred people per day. Entire families disappear, no street of the old town is spared. Churches closed their doors one after the other: he died then thousand people per day.

Many regulations are implemented by the various local authorities and parliaments. To harmonize the regulation, the Council of State takes on September 14, 1720 a judgment which annuls all the measures taken, declared the blockade of Marseille and rule the maritime police. But it is already too late: anthrax spread in the Interior of the land and it will take even two years of struggle to eradicate the plague of the Languedoc and Provence since 22 September 1722 that last quarantine is ordered in Avignon. It attempts to protect themselves, without success, by constructing the wall of the plague in the Monts de Vaucluse.

Extension to the neighbouring communes

Marseille is not the only Provencal city attacked by the epidemic affects Arles, Aix-en-Provence and Toulon. The small municipalities located in the vicinity of these cities are also affected by the plague: Allauch, Cassis, Aubagne, etc. Only the commune of La Ciotat, protected by its walls, is spared the plague.

The Languedoc and the Comtat are also affected with the cities of Alès and Avignon. The town of Beaucaire is spared, probably with the wise precaution to remove the traditional fair. Gévaudan is also contaminated with the cities of Marvejols and Mende.

In total, the epidemic is between 90,000 and 120,000 victims about (Marseille including) a population of 400,000 people. Last homes are extinguished at the end of 1722 in the communes of Avignon and orange.


From the month of October 1720 plague starts back in Marseille and sufferers recover more easily. daily mortality fell to about 20 people. This decline continued early in the year 1721 with daily mortality of one or two people. Shops reopened, work resumed on the port and fishing is practised again. Among the signs which mark this renewal activity in 1721, may be accepted for example resume February 19 of the deliberations of the Chamber of commerce who had interrupted since July 19, 1720. June 20, 1721 Bishop de Belsunce organizes a great procession on the feast of the Sacred Heart despite the reluctance of Langeron, who fear a return of the plague.

Relapse of 1722

New cases of plague occur in April 1722. This is panic. At the request of Bishop de Belsunce, the aldermen are 28 may 1722 following this relapse the solemn wish to hear mass at the monastery of the Visitation at each anniversary date and provide “a candle or torch of wax white, of the weight of four books, with the crest of the city to the burn date there before the Blessed Sacrament”. This vow of 28 may 1722 continues to be accomplished until the revolution. From 1877, the Chamber of commerce and industry Marseille-Provence is the vow unless there is more interruption to the present day, was responsible for the Organization of a religious ceremony marked by the offering of a sparkler as described in 1722. The ceremony was held in the Church of the sacred heart of the Prado.

From the beginning of the month of August 1722, the epidemic is halted, there was more sick or death caused by the plague.

Causes of the spread and type of plague

Ignorance in the 18th century of the causes and modes of spread of the plague is responsible for the lack of effectiveness of the time and taken precautionary medicine: responsible for the plague bacillus was discovered by Alexandre Yersin as in 1898. But what kind of plague occurred in Marseille? Descriptions of the time, it is possible to say that the plague of Marseilles was bubonic or more exactly bubo-sepsis. On the other hand the lung, transmissible form by only breathing of the patient, must be rejected. If this type of plague had occurred, some historians believe that the disease could affect the whole of the country with a considerable number of deaths. This statement is absolutely wrong for others.

How is the plague transmitted? Since the famous novel by Albert Camus thought immediately to rats and fleas of this animal as vectors of disease. However, the descriptions of the time made by contemporaries such as Dr. Bertrand or Pichatty of Croissainte are no mention of mortality of rats. The vector of transmission is however well the chip, but transmitted from man to man through their clothing and fabrics. However, some believe that the rat has played a role because at the time only the black rat was in the France; the behavior of this rodent is different from that of the grey rat which is currently widespread. The sick black rat would die in separated places, while the grey rat will die in the streets.


Physicians are powerless before this epidemic that they know that the apparent symptoms. Preventive measures are largely traditional, or even superstitious, such as the use of phylactères. Some doctors as Chicoyeau, son-in-law of Pierre Chirac first physician of the Regent, believe that the disease is not contagious. It affects the sick, dissects the bodies without any precaution: it is a real miracle that it has not contracted the disease.

The disease is unknown, it follows a traditional therapeutic for the time: sweating, vomiting, purging and of course and especially the inevitable bleeding with no other result than to shorten the suffering of the patient. On surgical practices, they are cutting the serology when they reach maturity.

However all is not unnecessary. The attire of doctors with their apron of leather or waxed canvas reduces the risk of flea bite. Fragrances used to disinfect homes in base of sulphur and arsenic can have an impact on the destruction of the chips. On the other hand the famous vinegar of the four thieves have no effect. The origin of this potion is the following: four thieves are arrested while they détroussaient the plague during the epidemic of Toulouse in 1628-1631. To have life, they reveal the secret of the composition of a cure which allowed them to save the contagion. The preparation was from absinthe, Sage, mint, Rosemary, rue, lavender, cinnamon, cloves and garlic. Despite the revelation of this secret thieves would have been hanged. This antiseptic vinegar experienced hours of glory and not disappeared from the Codex and in 1884.

The relief organization

In General disarray, few officials remain in their position. Under the authority of the viguier, Louis Alphonse Fortia, marquis of batteries, the aldermen of the year, Jean-Pierre Moustiès and Balthazar Dieudé, and those of the previous year, Jean-Baptiste Estelle and Jean-Baptiste Audimar, to binging and show great courage. Few of their staff remain in service except Capus, archivaire General Secretary of the City Hall and Pichatty of Croissainte, Attorney for the King. Remain also to their position, Jean-Pierre Rigord, subdelegation of the intendant of Provence, and Jean-Jacques de Gérin, lieutenant of the Admiralty.

A Chief of wing, Charles – Claude Andrault Langeron, arrived in Marseille on 4 September 1720 coated extraordinary powers: he has under his command all staff, including the viguier and the aldermen. Other civilians contribute their help: the painter Michel Serre or Dr. Bertrand, leaving each testimony very interesting on what they saw in the form of paintings depicting scenes of this epidemic for one and a paper entitled historical relationship of the plague of Marseilles in 1720 to the other.

Cardin Lebret collects titles and functions because it is both intendant of Provence and President of the Parliament of Provence. High School of major officials who were directly inspired by the methods of Colbert and Louvois, he likes before any order; He is the representative of the King in Provence and its activity and its jurisdiction encourages and stimulates the aldermen. But he fights plague remotely and is following the evolution of areas contaminated with Aix-en-Provence, then Saint-Rémy de Provence and Barbentane. It is in this last city that it hosts 21 March 1721 a group of twenty-one apprentice surgeons and doctors from Paris bring help. These volunteers include Jacques Daviel, which became master surgeon and oculist of King. Similarly, the Parliament of Provence far follows the evolution of the epidemic and to spread withdrew to Saint-Rémy de Provence and Saint-Michel de Frigolet.

Under the direction of the aldermen municipal provides a threefold task: the resupply of populations, the maintenance of order and especially the removal of the corpses. Wheat purchases are made for individuals, consuls of the province and the intendant of Languedoc. The viguier and the aldermen are invested with the agreement of the intendant Lebret of extraordinary powers and offences are punished with severity. The removal of corpses is the most agonizing task due to lack of manpower and risks of contagion.

Antoine Dominique Magaud table entitled “the civil Courage: the plague of 1720 in Marseilles” painted in 1864 and currently presentation at the Museum of the fine arts de Marseille, shows a meeting of the main persons responsible for the administration of the city. The represented characters are: standing, Knight Roze showing her left arm Bishop Belsunce in the background; around the table are the aldermen Estelle, Dieudé, Audimar that turns its back, and Moustier; Roze is represented to the right of the Knight Commander Langeron relying on his elbow and seeming immersed in a deep meditation. In the background and the left are distinguished painter Michel Serre, Milley father and a Capuchin.

Disposal of the dead

At the beginning of the month of August 1720 the vaults of the churches or cemeteries are more authorized to receive the bodies of plague that must be taken to the hospitals by “Ravens” (croque-morts). From 8 August the opening of mass graves is necessary. A company of grenadiers removes force of peasants in the countryside to dig out the walls some 15 pits.

On 9 August, the stretchers are no longer enough and appear the first dumpers for the removal of the bodies. In mid-August, infirmaries can no longer receive the sick or the dead, the bodies are left in the streets. Trucks come to Miss; the aldermen make authority of the couplers in the countryside. Dumpers could not circulate in the narrow streets of the Saint John of the old city district, stretchers are made to bring the bodies to the trucks. To drive trucks and remove the dead bodies, he is then appealed to the convicts from the arsenal of the galleys, chosen from among worst rowers. But the labor for the less unruly requires close monitoring. The Alderman Moustier in person, preceded and followed by four soldiers bayoneted gun, lead itself every day a detachment of convicts.

If the aldermen come to clean the city of a large part of the corpses, the neighbourhood of Tourette’s is not released. The area inhabited by families of sailors and located near the St. Lawrence church was totally ravaged by the plague. Only the Roze Knight who distinguished himself in the clean up of shore-new district, accepts the mission to rid of its bodies the neighbourhood of Tourette’s. At the head of a detachment of one hundred convicts, he lay in two old strongholds a thousand corpses are covered with quicklime. It is the most famous episode of the fight against the plague. Among the convicts five only survived.

The excavation of a mass grave

Throughout the 19th century many old graves have been discovered in various works. These mass graves were never judged worthy of archaeological interest and human remains have been réinhumés or landfill. It is against this regular destruction of archive that was undertaken in 1994 an excavation of a mass grave discovered in the corner of the streets Jean-François-Leca and compliance.

This pit was in the former gardens of the convent of the Observance in contrast low of old charity. This convent belonged to the Friars Minor of the close observance, called thus because they kept to the letter the rule of saint Francis. It was used as a hospital during the epidemic of plague and was then sold as national asset to the revolution.

Nearly two hundred skeletons were exhumed between August and September 1994 and were the subject of anthropological and biological studies. Archaeologists have found that the pit was unevenly loaded. Three areas appear: one East area populated with stack of the body, at the centre an area low density with individualization of burials and West a zone density near zero. This variation reflects the successive phases of the epidemic is rapidly declining. This relatively low number of burials grows archaeologists to estimate it’s a pit that would have worked during the second period of the epidemic, from May to July 1722.

Death by plague of individuals buried in this grave is no doubt because the DNA of the bacillus of plague has been highlighted. The bodies were systematically covered with quicklime. Except for a body with a belt loop, there is no element of adornment. Fragments of sheets show that the corpses were buried naked in and shrouds. A bronze pin in the first phalanx of the big toe has often been found: it is standard practice at the time to verify the effective death of the individual. This multidisciplinary approach revealed facts and information unknown before the epidemic of 1722 like evidence of an anatomical gesture of opening of the skull of a boy of about 15 years. The restoration of this skull in the laboratory has to reconstruct the technique of Anatomy used for this autopsy, which seems to be identical to the one described in a book of medicine dating from 1708.

The epidemic makers and stakeholders

During this epidemic, several people intervene to provide material or moral assistance to the population particularly proven. The various responsibilities for the spread of the plague are difficult to establish with accuracy and impartiality.

Civilian personalities

The Grand-Saint-Antoine should perform its quarantine Island jar as a statement of 1716 and should never have been landing directly its goods to infirmaries because the ship had experienced several deaths on board during his return to Marseille. Why the regulation has not been met and what are the various responsibilities?

At the time, the first person in question is Captain Chataud. He probably knows that the plague was his ship but it made a meets the statement, without hiding the deaths which occurred during the crossing. It is however imprisoned on 8 September 1720, at the castle of yew and will be released on 1 September 1723, although its not guilty has been admitted long.

The second character that is the subject of numerous controversies is the first Alderman of the city of Marseille, Jean-Baptiste Estelle, who is owner of part of the precious cargo. This merchandise worth is estimated between 300 and 400 000 books belongs to two thirds to a large number of small owners, the remaining one-third of the value, divided equally between four owners including Estelle. The first Alderman is owner of goods with a value of about 25,000 books, certainly high but not considerable amount for a trader of this importance. Estelle is first suspected trafficking of influence with the stewards of health both for its own account for other traders. With the support of the intendant, Lebret, it will be recognized innocent by the King in 1722 which granted him letters of nobility and he gives an annual pension of £ 6 000. Estelle is not long for such a favour because he died soon after on 16 January 1723 at the age of 61. The potential liability of certain individuals in the origin of the epidemic should not obscure the great dedication of the aldermen and one of their collaborators.

Health stewards probably have a heavy responsibility. Indeed they are judges and parties: non-independent dealers and the municipal power, is probably left decline to adopt less stringent rules for quarantine of goods of the Grand-Saint-Antoine. On the other hand widespread laxity can be explained by the containment of contagious diseases during 60 years. The lack of discipline in the infirmaries led output in fraud tissue contaminated including various junk belonging to the crew. They are most likely these fabrics came out in fraud of infirmaries which spread the plague.

Among the civilian personalities, figure that stands out the most is the Roze Knight who, appointed captain of shore-new headquarters, organizes supplies and committed all his property to find the wheat. The clean up of the area of Tourette’s is the most famous. The modesty of the Roze Knight holds it to argue its merits.

Finally among the civilian should not forget the doctors who, despite a fledgling science at the time, sacrificed. The name of Dr. Peyssonnel should be recalled but it must also be remembered that twenty-five surgeons thirty died. Similarly one hundred teenagers served as nurses and died in large numbers.


The most famous religious personality is the Bishop of Marseilles, Bishop de Belsunce. If the characterization of heroic conduct may seem too high, do not forget his tireless dedication. To this unprecedented epidemic, he decided to visit the sick in their administering last rites. The saw also distribute abundant alms to relieve his flock. On the advice of Anne-Madeleine Rémusat, he decided on 1 November 1720 to dedicate the city to the sacred heart of Jesus in a sacrificial ceremony on the course that today bears his name. The Bishop celebrated mass bare head, bare feet and a torch in hand.

The 31 December 1720, he organized a general procession on the mass graves located outside the ramparts. the blessing is given to each of these pools. To provide material assistance to the sick, he disposes of a large part of its heritage.

On more than two – hundred and fifty religious, a fifth of them, as the Jesuit father Millet succumb to the epidemic in nursing and bringing relief to the plague. These courageous attitudes are not generalized. Thus the monks of the Abbey of Saint-Victor contain behind the walls of their monastery and just send a few handouts. Similarly the canons of the Church Saint-Martin, which will be demolished in the 19th century for the realization of the rue Colbert, took refuge in the countryside.

Balance and economic consequences

The city of Marseille had before the plague, in early 1720, about 90 000 people. The number of deaths caused by this epidemic varies according to the estimates. It would be between 30 and 35 000 deaths for some, while others retained the figure of 40,000 for the city and 50 000 for the city and its soil together.

This loss of population is quickly compensated in just three or four years. Such a phenomenon is explained by the fall of mortality and a thrust of the birth to a multiplicity of marriages but also and especially by immigration from areas near (current Department of the Alpes) or distant. Immigration has repaired most of the losses.

For the economy of judgment is harsh because the port is closed 30 months and arrested mills. But the only consequences of the plague are easily identifiable because they entangled with those caused by the collapse of the system of Law. It is however clear that the paralysis of the port had multiple repercussions on the economy. In addition, a distrust of the ports to that of Marseille which does end as in 1724, well after the end of the epidemic in 1722.

The plague and its representations

The memory of the plague of 1720, tragic event of exceptional magnitude, seems always present in the collective memory of the Marseillais. Thus, in the 1940s, pour dire say shit, the Marseillais were sometimes the name of Moustier. This may explain the large number of achievements of paintings, engravings or sculptures and publications of books, historical, or novels about this epidemic.

Paintings and prints

A decade of works appear to have been made during or shortly after the epidemic: three paintings of Michel greenhouse, four engravings of Jacques Rigaud, an ex-voto of François Arnaud, a painting by Jean-François de Troy and a sketch attributed to Dandré-Bardon. The paintings of Michel greenhouse, brave Commissioner of headquarters Saint-Ferréol, are all the more interesting that he was a direct witness of the event. These contemporary works can be classified into two groups.

The first represents scenes from the streets. It’s two large paintings of Michel greenhouse: “View of City Hall” (h. 3.05 x l. 2.77) and “View of the course” (currently course Belsunce) (h. 3.17 x l. 4.40), and four engravings of Rigaud. The two paintings of Michel greenhouse are purchased by Mr. de Cannis which they expose in England and Holland. They are part of the collection given by Bishop de Belsunce to the Jesuit college that bears his name. They remain there until the suppression of the order in 1762. They are then acquired by deliberation of the city as of October 24, 1763 to be placed at the City Hall where they will be transferred in 1804 in the new Museum located in the former convent of the Bernardine, current lycée Thiers. They are now at the Museum of the fine arts in Marseille. The “City view” canvas is remarkably made since the scenes of removal of the corpses to the flag of the City Hall and of the building which borders with its Windows with mullions. This painting came mutilée of his left side, at sunset of the City Hall.

The second group represents the burial of plague corpses of the esplanade of the Roze Knight Tourette’s; This is the third canvas of Michel greenhouse, “Scene of the plague of 1720 to Tourette’s” (h. 1.25 x l. 2.10) exposed at the Montpellier Atger Museum, table of Jean-François de Troy, “The Knight Roze to Tourette’s” (h. 2.28 x l. 3.75) painted in 1725 and at the Museum of the fine arts de Marseille currently. This last table served model for Thomassin to achieve an engraving in 1727 located at the Navy Museum in Marseille. The sketch attributed to Dandré-Bardon at the Museum of the fine arts of Rouen also concerns the Roze Knight. The “Scene of the plague of 1720 to Tourette’s” canvas Michel greenhouse would have belonged to the Roze Knight in person; It is the where the plague are the most present with the convicts whose dramatic aspect is reinforced by a cloth soaked in vinegar banner which is supposed to protect them from the contagion. The presence of the Roze Knight, the aldermen and pickets troupe at the corner of the streets is made necessary by the dreaded conduct of convicts. This canvas is also in the background the better representation of the former Cathedral of the Major baroque portal, destroyed in 1851 to make room for the new Cathedral.

Other artists have, subsequent to the event, made different tables the representative: include Paulin Guérin with “The Knight Roze that bury the plague”, canvas painted in 1826 and exposed at the Museum of fine arts Marseille, J.B. Duffaud with “The Knight to the rise of the Agde Roze”, canvas, painted in 1911 and exposed to the civil Museum of old Marseilles and D.A. Magaud with “the Courage”. “: the plague of 1720 in Marseilles” on display at the Museum of the fine arts in Marseille.

These paintings are participating in the glorification of heroes, the Roze Knight civil, religious to Bishop de Belsunce, by highlighting the courage and dedication of these characters. The Roze Knight personifies the exemplary nature of the intervention of the State, new and decisive element in 1720.

Sculptures and stained glass Windows

The most famous statue is that of Bishop de Belsunce, conducted by Joseph Marius Ramus and built in 1853 on the course that today bears his name; It is currently located on the forecourt of the Cathedral of the Major. During the second world war this statue has been hidden by of resistance in a warehouse of the boulevard de Louvain so that it is not taken by the army of occupation for the recovery of the bronze after redesign.

Other monuments and sculptures commemorate this event: the statues of Bishop de Belsunce, Roze Knight and the intendant of Provence Lebret found on the facades of the Prefecture. the bust of j. Daviel at the Hôtel-Dieu de Marseille and the Roze Knight. Dr. Peyssonnel and the surgeon Daviel portraits are on the walls of the station of Metro La Timone.

Two stained glass windows of the Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur de Marseille are the consecration of the city of Marseille to the sacred heart of Jesus by Bishop de Belsunce on the advice of the visitandine Anne-Madeleine Rémusat and the other the wish delivered by the aldermen on 28 may 1722, after this consecration.

To honour the heroism of the Marseillais during the plague of 1720, a monument is erected under the first Empire place Estrangin-Pastré and opened September 16, 1802 by the prefect Delacroix. The monument consists of a sculpture of Chardigny representing the genius of immortality placed at the top of a fetched column of the Crypts of the Abbey of Saint-Victor. This monument is transported in 1839 place Félix-perch (former place Saint-Ferréol), and then to the garden of the library where it is in 1865 still visible.

The plague and literature

This event is taken up by many writers.

In the memoirs of afterlife, François-René de Chateaubriand spoke of the plague and Marseille in particular: “In a neighbourhood in which all the inhabitants had died, on had trapped them at home, as to prevent out.” These avenues of large family tombs, it was a crossroads which stones were covered for sick and dying on mattresses and abandoned without aid. (…) On the esplanade of Tourette’s, by the sea, we had, for three weeks, brought the body, exposed to the Sun and melted by its rays, were more than a rotting Lake. On this surface of liquefied flesh, only to printed some movement pressed, indefinite, forms that may have been human effigies. »

In the 1950s, Marcel Pagnol wrote a text on the epidemic that will become, as the plague, the nine chapter of his posthumous book the time to love (1977).

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