A piece of history
First santons in Marseille date back from the 12th century. These small sculpted figurines representing the Nativity used to stand in churches. A famous provençal expression says “stop standing still like a santon”.
In 1223 appeared the first live cot in Italy with human characters on the will of St Francis of Assisi, thus introducing the tradition. Soon, the usage spred throughout the country and was later introduced by Franciscan monks in Provence.
During the French Revolution, Nativity plays were forbidden in churches and the people of Provence recreated the scenes at home in privacy.
That is how the santon industry developped in 1789 with the creation of specific moulds. The mass production enabled each family to have their own nativity scene for Christmas.
In the 19th century, the first santon-makers master appeared and enlarged the characters taking inspiration from the everyday life. Marseille became, then, the capital of santons.
The city decided in 1803 to hold the first “santon” fair on « Cours St Louis », the largest and most central alley of the time. Since then, they have been held in various squares downtown.