Opposition between Paris and Marseille: Myth or reality?


20 minutes

  • Many historical events come to reinforce the thesis of Marseilles seen as a rebellious city which is opposed to the authority of the central State.

  • "By dint of being called rebels, there is a phenomenon of identification with this discourse, even of claiming this discourse", analyzes Céline Regnard, lecturer in contemporary history at the University of Aix-Marseille.

  • Marseilles elected officials are now using the argument of the stigmatization of their city as an electoral tool towards the local population.

On September 23, the government announced that bars and restaurants would close in Aix, Marseille and Guadeloupe, due to the resumption of the Covid-19 epidemic.

Unlike those in the overseas territory, Marseille's elected officials immediately spoke up to protest against this decision "coming from above".

Michèle Rubirola, the new mayor of Marseille, has announced her intention to create her own local scientific committee to manage the coronavirus crisis.

The Minister of Health, Olivier Véran, wanted to calm things down by assuring "I thought I saw here and there lying around symbols or wishes to stigmatize the city.

It's totally irrelevant.

But this decision has rekindled tensions between the capital and the Marseille city.

The opportunity to wonder if this opposition between the two cities is a myth or a reality, and, if it really exists, to know where it comes from.

A historic opposition

"It is an opposition constructed from a historical point of view," recalls Céline Regnard, lecturer in contemporary history at the University of Aix-Marseille.

Since its attachment to the Kingdom of France in 1481, a succession of events has opposed Marseille to Paris.

The first took place in 1660. Louis XIV returned from the war in Spain and returned to Marseille before returning to the capital.

“The tradition was that the kings of France passing through Marseille go to the gates of the city and be given the keys by the consuls of the city.

But the king forced the entrance to the city and disarmed the population.

The city over which he did not have full control is then put under his control.

Insurrections against the central power

At the end of this event, Louis XIV launched the creation of forts Saint-Jean and Saint-Nicolas at the entrance to the port.

These guns, which were initially to serve to protect the city, were in reality turned towards the interior of Marseille to protect the power of the central state, and not outwards, where potential marine invaders could have arisen.

“This event had a great impact on the city of Marseille.


This succession of events helped to build this idea of ​​a rebellious city in collective representations.

Later, during the French Revolution, but also when Napoleon I came to power, reversals and insurrections followed one another in the Phocaean city.

"The town of Marseille will be the subject of particularly severe repression from the central state," recalls the historian.

The city was placed under siege for five years, from 1871 to 1876, to sanction this rebellion.

She will be placed under guardianship again years later, in 1938.

A stigmatized city

"This succession of events has helped to build in collective representations this idea of ​​a city rebellious to the authority of the capital, and a rebellious city," explains Céline Regnard.

“I think that all Marseillais, and even elected officials, do not know this whole story, but it is anchored in the culture.

Today, it works as a sort of identity mark.


The rebel side of Marseille is not the only one to stick to the skin of the Phocaean city.

Because there are stereotypes about the city.

A rebellious, poor city, plagued by corruption and crime.

“There is a bad national image of Marseille, and the Marseillais see this as a sign of stigmatization on the part of the central state.

They have the impression that we are giving an image of them that does not correspond to reality which is less dark, ”considers geographer Laurent Chalard.

A global imagination of the South seen by the North

The collapse of a building rue d'Aubagne on November 5, 2018, which left eight people dead, accentuated this vision of the city.

“It came to reinforce the idea of ​​a corrupt and incapable city.

Marseille has become a sort of municipal anti-model, ”laments Céline Regnard.

“There are facts which are there, in particular a bankruptcy of the public authorities or a Marseilles environment.

But the imaginations of the city are also powerful.


By dint of being called rebels, there is a phenomenon of identification with this discourse or even of claiming this discourse.

Because, as the historian reminds us, the opposition between Paris and Marseille is based above all on a global imagination of the South as seen by the North.

“There is this idea that the South is a cultural and geographic area in which people are naturally unruly, rebellious, livelier and more prone to revolutions and manifestations of temper.


The reversal of the stigma

“These are stereotypes but they matter.

Because by dint of being called rebels, there is a phenomenon of identification with this discourse, even of claiming this discourse.

In sociology, this phenomenon is called the "reversal of the stigma".

The stigmatized city takes over the stigma, and makes it a positive element of its identity.

“We saw him emerge from the start of the Covid-19 crisis with the character of Didier Raoult.

He is a character who absolutely embodies what Parisians want to see in Marseille and what Marseillais would like to see for themselves, ”smiles Céline Regnard.

Paris seen as the central state

But this vision of the North against the South does not apply to other large cities in the north of France, such as Lille.

“You will never see such opposition between Marseille and Lille, for example.

" And for good reason.

“Paris is the capital.

It is the central state, and it is there that decisions are made.

This is also where the Marseillais are indirectly reminded that they are dependent on the central state because Marseille benefits from a lot of state subsidies.


It is the one who will cry out the loudest to the stigmatization because the elected representative knows that the population is sensitive to this argument.

Sociologist Michel Peraldi adds: “We live in an extremely centralized country where the State merges with Paris.

So Marseille, like other provincial towns, sometimes reacts virulently to this Parisian centralism.


Political use

But for the sociologist, this opposition between the capital and the Marseille city is above all a political game on the part of the elected officials of Marseille.

“A left-green list is now in town hall and has replaced sixty years of patronage.

This list wants to do battle.


Céline Regnard supports Michel Peraldi's analysis, believing that it is an electoral tool towards the local population.

"It is the one who will cry out the loudest to the stigmatization because the elected official knows that the population is sensitive to this argument.

Other personalities, like Renaud Muselier (the president of the Paca region), rushed into the breach in an almost irresponsible way.

In the name of a supposed stigmatization of Marseille, a call for disobedience is launched.

»Michel Peraldi tries to put things into perspective.

“Behind these games, we feel political tactics and identity theater.

So we shouldn't take it all too seriously.



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