La Ciotat, Land of History…

Of all time, men were attracted and kept by the protective haven of La Ciotat’s bay. The excavations in Ellianac and in Terrevaine cave vouch for the presence of men and the settlement of sedentary tribes in the end of the Neolithic Age (3000 – 2000 B.C).


It is estimated that the first settlement on the maritime route of the seafarers dates back to the 5th Century B.C.

The 1429’s Charter explains how La Ciotat has become a city in its own right. In the 16th Century, the city’s population rose due to the emigration of a part of the Genoese aristocracy, chased away from Italy because of local revolutions.

In 1622, important shipyards were setting up. After the 18th Century’s decline, the city modernises and develops. In 1836, Louis Benet gives the shipyards an industrial dimension. The shipyards changed ownership several times during the 20th Century and were the economic lungs of the city.

… and Inventions

Antoine Lumière, a great industrialist from Lyon, and a photography enthusiast, took a deep interest in the discoveries of Niepce and Daguerre.
His two sons, Louis and Auguste Lumière, were also brillant researchers and inventors. Antoine was enthralled by La Ciotat. He acquired 90 hectares of land by the beach area where he had a sumptuous mansion built up called « Le Château du Clos des Plages ». Louis wished to create a device that would broadcast moving pictures on a screen. One sleepless night, he thought up about the mechanism capable of achieving his goal…he had just invented Cinematograph!
train en gare de la ciotat After a few screenings in Paris, others took place at Château du Clos des Plages on September 21st 1895. «L’arroseur arrosé» (The Watered Person Who Waters) and particularly, «L’arrivée du train en gare de La Ciotat» (The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat’s Station) impressed the audience during a private screening. After this first successful attempt, on December 28th 1895, the very first public screening was held at Grand Café in Paris. The Cinematograph was born!

It was in 1910, on a lovely afternoon of June, that Jules Lenoir – a rheumatic – invented, in spite of himself, the game «la Pétanque» whilst playing bowls, with his feet «tanqués» (meaning « rooted in the ground » in Provencal), hence the name «Pétanque». The Pétanque strip called Boule Etoilée, where the very first Pétanque game was played, commemorates this historical event with a plaque.

The Coat of Arms

The coat of arms of La Ciotat, as shown in official documents, reminds of the origin of the city.
It represents a fully fortificated large village situated by the seaside where the first settlers were fishermen, symbolized by a sardine that has always constituted an abondant catch in La Ciotat. The fishermen’s suzerain was the Abbot of Saint Victor whose crozier, in the middle of the coat of arms, stands above the city’s ramparts and gates that are, nowadays, gone.
The last update dates back to November 11th 1948 when the city was granted a bronze Military Cross for its bravery during the Liberation. Since then, the bronze star has been featuring in the city’s coat of arms.

The Jousts

Some historians think that the origin of the jousts is a water version of chivalrous tournaments in the Middle Ages. The small boat and the « tinteire » (a small platform on which the joust players stand) replace the horse, whilst the plastron is used as the knight’s armor. For others, the jousts may be inspired from ancient Roman battles invented by Caesar. What is certain is that they have been practised in Provence for a very long time, long before the French writer Frédéric Mistral (1830-1914) made a full description about them in the 19th Century. Indeed, it seems that some texts describe this tradition as being practised in Toulon in the 15th Century, in 1410. Later, in 1777, there are also traces of « water celebrations » during royal visits.
The joust games have always had the favor of the crowd and they have usually taken place every summer for the last 300 years on August 16th during the city’s celebrations. It was not until September 4th 1921 that the joust players of La Ciotat gathered to set up an organization: that’s how the 30-member circle called « Targaïres Ciotadens » was born. From then on, the game is no longer an occasional event and becomes a real sport that is played the whole summer for the delight of both the residents and the visitors.
At La Ciotat’s Museum, guardian of the local heritage, there can be found the description of the jousts as followed: « the two players face each other from a lifted platform called tinteire, located at the rear of the boat, a wooden shield protecting them from the opponent’s long spear. The best player would destabibize the other one and would make him fall down the water. »

La Ciotat's Famous Citizens