Saint-Chamas, Bouches-du-Rhône, France

Saint-Chamas is a French commune located in the department of Bouches-du-Rhône in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. It is part of the metropolis of Aix-Marseille-Provence.

Saint-Chamas is situated on the shore of the Étang de Berre, 15 km south of Salon-de-Provence and 50 km north-west of Marseille, in a part of the region that has not been industrialised. The highest point of the town is Le Verdon at an altitude of 121 metres.

The cove of Saint-Chamas is located at the bottom of a gulf which forms the northern end of the Étang de Berre. The small town has been able to protect itself from the wave of massive industrialization which has affected all the neighboring municipalities. The coastline is remarkable there for its high cliffs, the Moulières and Baou hills, both connected by an aqueduct, the “Clock Bridge”, which forms a natural border between the coastline and the interior.. The heart of the village is divided into two parts by a hill pierced with caves almost all inhabited today. It opens on one side to the pine forest and the hills and on the other to a pleasant little fishing port.

Prehistory and Antiquity
Archaeological investigation of rock shelters has proved that the site of Saint-Chamas was already occupied in the Paleolithic era. During the Iron Age, the site was used by the Ligures, who constructed an a fortified village, and then by the Celts. The Romans built the Pont Flavien in the 1st century BC, a triumphal bridge which crosses the River Touloubre.

The old Flavien bridge was built at the time of Emperor Augustus, shortly before the beginning of our era, to allow the road from Arles to Marseille to cross the Touloubre. It would have been financed by Flavius, a wealthy Roman citizen, as the dedication engraved on the monument suggests.

Middle Ages
in the 7th century, a chapel dedicated to Saint-Aman was built (Sanctus Amantus as we said then, bishop of Rodez, from which Saint-Chamas takes its name), many people have already passed by. The imposing Roman bridge, the “Pont Flavien” (1st century BC), at the southern entrance to the village, still proudly testifies to this. It is indeed since antiquity that the small fishing port of Saint-Chamas has been operating, which has long remained one of the most important in the pond.

The initial village was built on the Baou, a limestone hill which dominates the Berre pond, easy to defend and from where the region could be watched. Fortifications were built from the early Middle Ages since in 969, Boson, count of Provence ceded to Ithier the archbishop of Arles, the ruined castrum of Sanctus Amantius.

In 1347, the black plague, arrived by Marseilles, ravages Provence.

Modern times
In 1564 the castle was comfortable enough to accommodate the regent Catherine de Medici and the then 14-year-old King Charles IX of France.

The xvii th century is that of the construction of the modern city. The old village, which was too cramped, on the Baou hill is abandoned as the new districts of Perthuis and beyond are being built. A town hall was built (since 1959 it has housed the local museum which became Paul-Lafran in 2000). The port is developed, the parish church of Saint-Léger was built from 1660 to 1668 but the bell tower, built on stilts next to the church, was not completed until 1740. The church currently houses the Sainte-Anne altarpiecedating from 1519, in wood and painted by the Marseillais Étienne Peson. In 1690, the construction of the Royal Poudrerie began, which developed over the centuries to cover more than 100 ha. It remained for a long time the main enterprise of the municipality and ceased all activity in 1974. Now the property of the Conservatoire du littoral, it is a site of high ecological value, access to which is subject to regulations.

French Revolution
Shortly before the French Revolution, agitation rose. In addition to the fiscal problems present for several years, the harvest of 1788 was bad and the winter of 1788-89 very cold. The election of the Estates General of 1789 had been prepared by those of the Estates of Provence of 1788 and ofJanuary 1789, which had helped to bring out the political class oppositions and to provoke a certain agitation. It was at the time of writing the notebooks of grievances at the end of March that a wave of insurrection shook Provence. TheApril 5, 1789, a riot due to the fruit crisis takes place. For a few years during the Revolution, the village was renamed Port-Chamas.

In Port-Chamas, the supervisory committee was set up in 1793. It was recruited in part from ordinary peasants, sometimes illiterate, and its institution in a way marks the democratic apogee of the Revolution. The illiterate members take their place in the debates. The committee, in charge of monitoring the application of laws, devotes a large part of its activity to reading them, copying them, discussing their scope, thus participating in the political and democratic training of citizens. It also turns the tool of Terror against the enemies of Revolution.

Contemporary period
The two main districts of the village, which had developed, around the town hall for one and near the port for the other, were joined by a tunnel. In 1863, it collapsed; the municipality then decides on the construction of the Plan aqueduct or the Clock Bridge. Today, Saint-Chamas has become a large residential and tourist town which has managed to conserve some industries and preserve its heritage and its appearance as a Provençal village where life is good.

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Historical heritage
The town has three monuments listed in the inventory of historical monuments (one “classified” and two “registered”) and one monument listed in the general inventory of cultural heritage. In addition, it has 26 objects listed in the inventory of historical monuments and no object listed in the general inventory of cultural heritage:

the Flavian bridge spanning the Touloubre at the entrance of Saint-Chamas, built in the i st century is classified since 1840
the Saint-Léger church, listed sinceDecember 6, 1957;
the viaduct of Saint-Chamas which supports the railway line which connects Avignon to Marseille via Arles and Tarascon and crosses the Touloubre, registered since theDecember 28, 1984.

Saint-Pierre chapel

Initially dedicated to the patron saint of fishermen, it has alternately served as a hangar for fishermen’s boats, as a warehouse for the city’s technical services and as a dojo. Superbly restored by the architect Serge Ricard, it has housed the Saint-Chamas Tourist Office since 2006. A cultural center of the city, painting exhibitions are regularly organized there and its picture rails have already supported the canvases of great painters. Among them are René Seyssaud, Antoine Serra, Guy Toubon, Pierre Gartier… You can also come and listen to musical formations and conferences.

Culture heritage

Paul Lafran Municipal Museum
Located on the Place des Pénitents, in the heart of the old village, the Paul Lafran municipal museum, Musée de France, has been housed since 1952 in the former 17th century Town Hall. It makes us discover our local history thanks to its ethnography room mainly made up of donations from Saint-Chamasséens: documents relating to the National Poudrerie of Saint-Chamas, textiles, clothes and Arles ribbons, objects of daily life, instruments of music…. Very beautiful ex-voto from the Notre Dame de Miséricorde chapel adorn the staircase leading to the second floor where a magnificent room houses many paintings by René Seyssaud, Pierre Ambrogiani, Vincent Monte, Maurice Berle, Jean Ordonneaud and many local artists. An archeology room presents the results of the excavations of Paul Lafran and his team. The ground floor is reserved for temporary exhibitions.

Events and festivities
Saint-Chamas is a festive and traditional town, each year around twenty different festivities flood the streets of the town. The favorite traditions are the abrivado, the soupeso festival, the carnival, and the port festival with its fireworks. But Saint-Chamas also gives pride of place to younger festivals such as “The Run Color”, the music festival, the port festival with its rides and many more. According to the seasons, the festivities each bring a varied animation and festivity: winter with its Christmas magic and the arrival of Santa Claus, as for the summer season, the festivities highlight sport, the pond -bouille, the medieval adventure and its famous harbor festival.

Natural Spaces

The Port of Saint Chamas, strongly committed to blue growth – AFNOR Ports Propres labeling (1st port in the Etang de Berre to have obtained certification), was the first in the Etang de Berre to experiment with Biohut, artificial habitats designed by the Montpellier company ECOCEAN, intended to promote fish reproduction on the coasts. In collaboration with Gipreb, the project was initiated in 2017 and finally saw the light of day in 2019, 2 years of work around a large-scale project for the port.

The Blowing Snow Park
The Coastal Conservatory, owner of the Poudrerie, and the Sianpou, which manages the site for the towns of Miramas and Saint-Chamas, are working to preserve and restore this exceptional heritage. Open to the public, but governed by a Prefectural decree relating to the regulation of the movement of people and vehicles in sensitive areas, the opening of the park in the summer remains uncertain.

The Little Camargue
An exceptional natural space classified as a natura 2000 zone, with its 100 hectares, this area is one of the last wetlands in the Etang de Berre. Its supply of fresh and brackish water is at the origin of the wide range of humid natural environments that it presents and has earned it its name of “Petite Camargue”. You will find remarkable flora and fauna: more than 200 species of birds, 4 species of amphibians including 2 species of rare toads, 7 species of bats, 8 species of reptiles including 4 snakes, all protected and harmless, 31 species of dragonflies, 36 species of butterflies and 5 species of protected plants.

Communal Parks
The Creusets site hides the oldest known habitat in the town: rock shelters at Collet du Verdon, the highest point of Saint Chamas at 121 m. altitude. The results of the excavations undertaken by Mr. Lafran can be seen at the Municipal Museum.

The Ports
First Clean Ports certified in Etang-de-Berre The Municipal Nautical Center of Saint-Chamas has just obtained its Clean Ports certification by the French Association for Standardization. Ports Propres is the first and only environmental management approach for marinas on a European scale. It reflects a strong desire on the part of the managers of marinas to make concrete commitments to fight in favor of the preservation of aquatic environments and the sustainable development of coastal and marine activities. After committing to this qualitative approach, the Port Notre Dame is the first certified Clean Port of the Étang de Berre.

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