The coat of arms
The earliest recorded representation of Marseilles' coat of arms dates back to the end of the 13th century (or the start of the 14th century). It is an illumination showing the swearing-in of the "viguier" (mayor) in the city's "Red Book". In the four corners is the "azure cross on an argent background", a souvenir of the crusades, taken from the emblem appearing on the back of Marseilles' coins.
This coat of arms was to be found increasingly on official registers, initially in the form of painted or drawn designs, and then in printed form from the 16th century onwards. Over the centuries imaginative engravers invented various types of ornamentations according to the tastes and fashion of their period (shells, leaves, angels, etc.).
The municipal posters are a fine example of these changes. But this symbolic image of the city can also be seen on its monuments (City Hall), on objects (keys, candles, tapestries, etc.) and during ceremonies where an official representation of the city is required.
Officially, this coat of arms was registered on 10th July 1699 following Colbert's edict regulating coats of arms. They continued to be used up to the Revolution. On the 21st June 1790, the Constituent Assembly abolished coats of arms, deemed to be too closely associated with the aristocracy and the former régime. The azure cross, therefore, was no longer used on public documents.
It was not until 17th May 1809 that an imperial decree allowed towns to use their coats of arms once again. Immediately the Marseilles municipal council took the decision to once again use the former coat of arms and seek authorisation from the emperor. This request was granted in 1810, but the new coat of arms representing not only the cross, but also bees and a vessel engraved by Poize in 1811 has almost never been used.
After the fall of Napoleon and the return of the monarchy, Marseilles decided to use its former coat of arms again, this time including a lion holding a caduceus and a bull holding a trident (letters patent from Louis 18th dated 25th November 1815). The layout of the coat of arms, surmounted by a mural crown in 1826, seems to remain unchanged from then on until 1883: a cornucopia and a trident with the motto 'Massilia civitas' (city of Marseille).
This coat of arms is used as the seal for the municipality's official documents.
But it is the model designed in 1883 by Joseph Laugier, curator of Coins and Medals Gallery on request from the Mayor that is used for administrative paper: it shows the bull and the lion and the motto of Marseille:
Actibus immensis urbs fulget Massiliensis (The City of Marseilles is resplendent through its heroic deeds).
(Text: The municipal archives – Chief Archivist for the City - Isabelle Bonnot)
In 1990, the coat of arms was remodelled by J. Lafaysse at the request of the City's communications office. It has been simplified to make it more legible; the two animal figures have been removed to lighten the effect.
The azure cross is still present, but the shield bearing it has become an inverted triangle giving it a more dynamic appearance. Its shape pointing upwards is intended as a reminder of the hill of Notre Dame de la Garde.