Italian immigrants in Marseille: Anne Sportiello tells their story
Un siècle d'immigrations en France
First broadcast date
In Marseille, Anne Sportiello recalls that the Italians came after the great plague of 1780 that decimated the sailors.
The Neapolitans invest the sea neighborhoods and trades and settle in "Little Naples."
Women go to work and solidarity prevails among a cosmopolitan population of Italians, Jews and Greeks ...
France 3 - Coproduction
- MEMVI - Coproduction
- Economy / Fishing and harbour activities
Credits / Cast
- Lallaoui Medhi - Director
- France - South East - Marseille
Italian immigrants: as told by Anne Sportiello
Among all the different peoples who have settled in Marseilles, there must surely be one who has marked the history of the town and its population more than the others. That could the Italians, whose country was only formed in 1861. In fact the people from the Italian peninsula have always been present in Marseille, either as permanent residents or passing through, partly because of the maritime and trading activities, but also because of the labourers, artisans and farmer-workers who for centuries have come who to find work in the town. By the 18th century they already represented 5 to 6% of the population, mostly coming from the north and the west, essentially from Genoa and Liguria. But it was in the second half of the 19th century that the great wave of transalpine migration began. The growth of Marseille, dependent on trade, on a processing industry but also on a strong urban development, always needed cheap manual labour. At the same time the Italian countryside was going through a serious agricultural and demographic crisis. Thousands of Italians left, crossing the Alps, going along the coast or – particularly at the end of the century – boarding ship in Naples or Genoa. Marseille was an essential part of this migratory journey. The first wave came from Piedmonet and Liguria. From the end of the 19th century but even more before the First World War and between the wars, they were followed by Tuscans, though fewer of them, and then by a flow from the south, made up of those who were called, for the sake of simplicity, Napolitans. If poverty and political harassment were the main factors in their leaving, this last population had nothing to do with the Piedmontese or Tuscans, either from the linguistic or the cultural – some went so far as to say "racial" – point of view .The southern Italians stood out in the Marseille population
By the end of the 19th century the number of immigrants was such that the Italian population were 20% of the Marseille population, or nearly 100,000 individuals. This figure does not include the second generation Italians and even less the floating population, and lets us understand the importance of their presence in the town. In fact many did not stay. A certain number went home regularly, sometimes definitively. Others were just passing through. Marseille had become the biggest French port for emigrating by 1887, with its transatlantic steamship companies, such as Messageries Maritimes or the Fabre Company which practically had a monopoly on the Marseille to New York crossing. Until the First World War Italian emigration was big business for Marseille. It was characterised by the number of families and by a regional re-grouping within Marseille.
After that even though the flow did not get less, fed notably by the refugees during the Fascist period, other migratory waves took over as the Italians became integrated in the local population. Even though the town was not really segregated, and Italians were to be found in every industrial district, the centre of the town crystallised the Italian presence and the image many had of them. In fact the old town had always operated as an airlock both for the transitory populations and for those hoping to settle in the town. Successive waves of Italians settled on the hill of Le Panier, despite the aborted attempt of repeating Haussman's Paris in Marseille by pushing through the Rue Imperial (sincebecome the Rue de la République). The narrowness of the streets, the shabbiness of some of the buildings, and the density of the population gave the area a negative connotation. From the 1880's there were violent demonstrations of hostility. The analogy between the degeneration of the buildings and the people who lived in them was like a global foil to what Louis Bertrand described as an invasion However over the generations the Italians integrated and the expressions of xenophobia were applied to the next batch of arrivals...
Émile Temime (dir.), Migrance. Histoire des migrations à Marseille, 4 tomes, Marseille, Jeanne Laffitte, 2007
Anne-Marie Faidutti-Rudolph, L'immigration italienne dans le Sud-Est de la France, Gap, Imprimerie Louis-Jean, 1964
Sportiello, Les pêcheurs du Vieux-Port. Fêtes et traditions de la communauté des pêcheurs de Saint-Jean, Marseille, Jeanne Laffite, 1981
Giuseppina Sanna,, Il riscatto dei lavoratori. Storia dell'emigrazione italiana nel sud-est francese (1880-1914)