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République des Maurins (Marseilles, France)

Last modified: 2013-08-03 by ivan sache
Keywords: marseilles | republique des maurins |
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[Maurins flag]

Flag of République des Maurins - Image by Ivan Sache, 3 July 2004

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Presentation of République des Maurins

République des Maurins was set up in Marseilles between the two World Wars by a funny group of friends in Marseilles. The Marseillais enjoyed so much the Maurin agenda and activities that the Republic turned into an extremely respected philanthropic society, without losing its essence, "having great fun".

République des Maurins was proclaimed on 14 July 1919 in the small hamlet of Les Maurins, located in Marseilles in a place called La Fève. Marseilles was not directly damaged during the First World War, being located far from the frontline, but its main activity, trade, was severely restricted by the war years: the shipoweners lost most if not all their ships, the scheduled lines to the eastern Mediterranean basin were suppressed etc.. The Maurins were a group of enthusiastic friends who decided to have fun in spite of the unpleasant economical situation.
The grounds of the Republic were mostly a small group of cabanons built around the house of Paul Ratier, who was then the single permanent inhabitant of the hamlet. The cabanon is an important element of the local culture: every inhabitant of Marseilles, whatever his wealth is, wishes to own a house where he could spend the warm summertime far from the crowded and hot downtown of the city. There are different kinds of cabanons, ranging from the small fishers' huts to the bastides owned by the great dynasties of shipowners Fraissinet, Paquet and Fabre. The most famous of these summer houses is probably the small house located in the hamlet of La Treille where young Marcel Pagnol spent his holidays and related them, years later, in his books La gloire de mon père and Le château de ma mère.

The first President of the Republic was named Albono. His Prime Minister was the perfumer Caillol. The Treasurer and Finance Minister, Sardou, set up a toll at the entrance of the Republic, which existed until 1939.
The Republic was also a municipality, with the hairdresser Julien Calinaud as its first Mayor, and also a region, with Charles Bourelly as its Préfet.

Due to the lack of convenience in the cabanons, the Maurins could live in the Republic only in summertime. They opened an embassy in the Phocée Bar, located Vacon street, close to the Vieux-Port of Marseilles. The Grand Conseil de la République met in the bar, but never before midnight, because la nuit porte conseil ("it is best to sleep on it", lit., the night shall counsel you).
The Maurins organized burlesque parades on the Canebière, the most famous street in Marseilles, which became so popular than the newspapers announced them. They paraded dressed in fanciful costumes and playing noisy and weird instruments, such as bigophones made of pasteboard. The main organizer of the parades was the Minister of Leisure Henri Blanc.

The creativeness and the humour of the Maurins were acknowledged by the professional artists of Marseilles, who encouraged them to organize more ambitious events. Those events were a ball on Saturday evening at the embassy, a café-concert on Sunday afternoon in an outdoor theater and a weekly banquet. The banquet was the most important of the Maurin event and was presided by the most famous artists of the time, such as Raimu, Fernandel and Alida Rouffé. At the end of the banquet, the benefactors were awarded a "medal" made with the label of the Mireille sausage.

Those popular events yielded a lot of money, and the Maurins progressively turned into a philanthropic society. They contributed to the revamping of the hospital of Allauch, a small city neighbouring Marseilles, and officially sponsored the municipal orphanage of Marseilles. The entrance fee to the Saturday night ball was set to two new toys. The collected toys were distributed to the children twice a year, on 1st January and 14th July, during a big ceremony presided by the Mayor of Marseilles and the Préfet of the department of Bouches-du-Rhône. Therefore, the Republic had no official status (and could not have any, and did not want to have any), but its members were extremely respected, especially because they never lost their sense of humour.

The Republic disappeared in 1939 when the Second World War broke out. During its relatively short life, it aroused the foundation of similar philanthropic societies in Marseilles (République Libre de Balthazar), Rives (near Grenoble) and la Colle-sur-Loup (near Nice).

The son of the Préfet of the Republic Bourelly, Henri, was a pastrycook. However, he became rapidly one of the celebrities of the opérette marseillaise, a very local version of the light opera, under the name of Rellys. Rellys (1905-1991) started his career as a comique troupier (coarse comedian), with his buddy Fernand Contandin, later famous as Fernandel. He was later hired by the 4,000-song composer Vincent Scotto, the main composer of opérette marseillaise, and triumphed at the Alcazar music-hall in Scotto's light operas Au pays du soleil and Un de la Canebière. The Alcazar was a legendary music-hall, where for instance a young Italian emigrant named Ivo Livi started his career, before being later famous as Yves Montand. Rellys was also an actor, who played in several of Marcel Pagnol's movies, in which the Maurins showed up from time to time. At the end of his career, Rellys played more serious roles, again with his old friend Fernandel, in Crésus (1960, written and directed by Jean Giono) and Heureux qui comme Ulysse, an underestimated movie directed by Henri Colpi (1970).

Source: Les Marseillais du Monde website

Ivan Sache, 3 July 2004

Symbols of the République Libre des Maurins

Such a serious and respected Republic had to have symbols.
The flag of the Republic was horizontally divided yellow-blue. Yellow symbolizes aioli, a local garlic (in French, ail) mayonnaise eaten with codfish, olive oil and sun. Blue symbolizes the sky and the sea.
The anthem of the Republic was entitled La Maurinoise, its motto was Faire le bien en s'amusant (Doing good while having fun), and its "profession of faith" s'estrasser de rire (doubling up with laughter).

The Republic also had its national hero, Martin Pichou, who died desseché à cause du mauvais sang qu'il se faisait pour les autres (more or less, dried up because he cared too much for the others). The main - and only - square of the Republic was named after him. Unfortunately, the square was renamed place des Maurins in the 1980s. Nobody seems to have ever seen Pichou, whose portrait, however, was placed into the main room (above the counter) of the bar-embassy of the Republic. The Maurins claimed it had been painted by the famous painter Utrillo, which was not confirmed by any serious art specialist.

The Republic had a real mascot, a street singer named Étienne Carbonetto (1879-1953), who murdered the songs of the famous Maillol (including the standard Viens Poupoule) for the greatest pleasure of the Marseillais, who nicknamed him le chanteur mondain (the society singer). He was even allowed to perform at the Alcazar, but only once. The Maurins persuaded him to be candidate for the office of Mayor of Marseilles, which he did with a single item in his program faire nickeler le pont transbordeur. This, non nickel-plated, transporter bridge was a huge metallic structure which allowed people to cross the narrow Vieux-Port. It was a main element of the local landscape and culture until its destruction by the Germans during the Second World War. Carbonetto was unfortunately not elected.

Source: Les Marseillais du Monde website

Ivan Sache, 3 July 2004