Presentation of the book of Prof. Alain Blondy : « Malte et Marseille au XVIIIème siècle » [fr]
Intervention of Ambassador Michel Vandepoorter for the presentation of the book "Malta and Marseille in the eighteenth century," in the presence of President Emeritus Dr. Ugo Misfud Bonnici and Minister of Culture Dr. José A. Herrera.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The book that brings us here today, "Marseille and Malta in the eighteenth century," written by Professor Alain Blondy in collaboration with Xavier Labat Saint Vincent, states that "The History of Marseille and its commercial influence in the eighteenth century needs no longer to be told”. Nonetheless, Professor, your book was more than worthy of writing due to the rich and abundant sources that had been used for the first time, proving that the book will surely be essential to future readers.
The book clearly shows that the decision to make Valletta a free port in 1723 had given a new dimension of trade between Malta and Marseille. The islands had found the prosperity it had once lost whilst Marseille, recovering from the terrible plague of 1720, had regained its status as a prominent actor in maritime trade in the Mediterranean. Most importantly, however, the Maltese islands have developed very close relations with Marseille and Provence in all areas. Provencal families had settled in Valletta, developing their activities in the port, through various initiatives in the chartering and banking fields. They became instilled within the population by binding themselves to the Maltese families, combining the two cultures and acclimatizing the French language, which, at that time, was not uncommon to hear on the banks of the Grand Harbour. Let us not forget Nicolo Isouard or the two visits of Jean Pierre Houël, who was not from Provence but had surely found the idea of coming to the islands as a result of these cultural exchanges.
The remarkable work that was based on the consultation of the Lazaretto records and consular letters received by the French chargé d’affaires in Malta accounts for the diversity in business and human relations between Marseille and Malta, together with political and economic issues that were at the heart of the Mediterranean economy throughout the eighteenth century.
Thank you, Professor, for the time and talent that you devoted to this work.
Let me add three remarks that inspired me the reading of this book.
One of the major interests of Professor Blondy’s work is to highlight a lesser known page of the common history between Malta and France. We often refer to the many knights of l’Ordre de St Jean de Jérusalem, des langues de Provence, de France ou d’Auvergne, who lived in Malta or to the outstanding contribution of the French grand masters to the remarkable heritage of the islands beginning with Jean de La Valette, who went on to design this capital. We also recall the six decisive days that saw General Bonaparte residing on the island in 1798. What is often forgotten, however, is this century of shared economic interests and every day life between Maltese and people from Provence.
Another benefit of this book is to show that the partner France had changed at that time. The court of Versailles was interested in the Order of Malta on which it exercised a real influence. Meanwhile, the merchants of Marseille and Provence were attached to the population and territory of Malta and its ideal geographical location for trade within the Mediterranean. The book thus describes the emergence of Malta as a nation in the late 18th century.
The relations between Marseilles and Malta were brutally questioned in 1800. It is difficult to evoke, without a hint of regret, the fact that many French or Franco-Maltese families had left the island where they were settled; some of them for several generations, and which Prof. Blondy lists.
Coming back to the present days, we find that the links remain strong, and that other Maltese families who had lived in Tunisia or Algeria and acquired French nationality, have now settled in Marseille and Avignon. Besides, today the Malta Freeport, one of the largest and most modern in the Mediterranean, is managed by a Marseille-based company. This is an example of the solace of permanence in history.
The reminder of this common memory in Malta and Marseille is legitim as Marseille Provence, European Capital of Culture in 2013, is celebrating the richness and diversity of people from the Mediterranean and of their heritage. In 2018, the attention will be brought upon Valletta, elected as European Capital of Culture. There is no doubt that, during this period, Marseille will appear as a privileged partner.”
The book takes us into the history of the Mediterranean in a period marked by the size and splendor of the commercial and cultural exchanges between the great French port in the Mediterranean and the Maltese archipelago.
Lacking natural resources, Malta only really developed from 1723 onwards, after a free port was set up. The island became an important storage destination for the region, with a privileged geographical location for trade, situated midway between the Atlantic and the Levant. The island attracted many travelers from Provence, and Marseille in particular, who settled there.
* Professor Alain Blondy, specialist in the Mediterranean world in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, has been teaching history since 1968. He began this profession in Bordeaux before continuing his career at the Sorbonne where he was elected professor in 1995. From that date onwards, he endeavored to work primarily on the history of Malta, the Order of Malta and the barbarian regencies.
Professor Blondy actively participated in the creation of partnerships between France and its Mediterranean neighbors, notably with the establishment of the French department at the University of Malta. He then taught at the University of Malta from 1998 to 2010 and was a visiting professor at the Universities of Tunis and Cyprus.
Professor Alain Blondy is Officer in the Legion of Honour.
* Xavier Labat Saint Vincent, a historian and engineer from the University Paris IV Sorbonne, is a specialist of 18th century history. His fields of study are specialized in Franco-Maltese trade, trade within the Mediterranean, Marseille as a port of trade and consuls in the Mediterranean.
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