The Riou Archipelago was created in prehistoric times by the Earth gradually heating and the rise in water level that followed and that submerged the vast plains at the foot of what is now the Marseilleveyre range of hills. The Riou Archipelago, property of the Coastal Preservation Project and is uninhabited. The islands are paradise for seagulls and to divers with a range of diving possibilities that is unique in the world. History and nature have combined to produce outstanding underwater treasures.
The Riou Island
The side of the island that faces the open sea is inaccessible due to the vertical rock faces and the crumbling ravines. The side that faces the Marseilleveyre range of hills has a gentler landscape and provides easier access. The Monasterio Creek, the most frequently visited creek. Tamarisk trees, the only ones on the island, grow near the beach..
The summit is 100 m high and provides a unique panoramic view of the calanques and the coast from the Camargue to la Ciotat. A number of footpaths can be taken to explore this wild island that is currently uninhabited but used to be home to Neolithic people who came here for shellfish.
On the top of one of the hills are the ruins of a watchtower built in the 12th Century to warn Marseille of any possible attacks from the Barbarians. The watchtower communicated with the look-out post on the summit of Marseilleveyre.
A stone's throw away from Riou are two small islands that are well-known to underwater archaeology enthusiasts.
more information: http://www.ilesdemarseille.fr/
The Large and Small Conglué Islands
In 1952 Jacque Cousteau's ship "Calypso" dropped anchor at the Large Conglué. Finally, after five excavation campaigns, the divers discovered the most famous Roman shipwreck in the world. 7,000 pieces of tableware were found as well as a cargo of wine amphorae.
Other wrecks were later discovered and together they constitute an extraordinary sunken treasure. It is not therefore surprising that research into underwater archaeology began in Marseille and that the national headquarters for this field of research is based in the Saint Jean Tower in the Old Port.
The Jarre Island
The Jarre Island lies facing the Marseilleveyre range of hills. It has been one of the main places in the Mediterranean where trading ships drop anchor for over 20 centuries. It was here that in 1720 the "Grand Saint Antoine", a ship carrying rich fabrics but also the plague from Smyrna to Marseille, was burnt and sunk. The island was the third quarantine stopover place along with Pomègues and Ratoneau, neighbouring islands in the Frioul Archipelago, for ships destined for Marseille.
The Maïre Island is located in the extreme south of the Bay of Marseille opposite Cap Croisette. The island has sharp limestone peaks that stand out against the sky. Despite being currently uninhabited archaeological excavations in 1903 showed the island was inhabited during the Neolithic Age.
Until around 1920 army and marine officers still maintained the photo-electrical station there and in the Second World War the German army had the Italians build fortifications on this exceptional site. A turret may still be seen today.
The top of the steep cliffs provides an outstanding view of the calanques, the coast and particularly of the twin "farillons", rocks that have caused so many shipwrecks since ancient times. The splendour of the underwater world lies at the foot of the island.
Planier lighthouse island
The Planier Island lies at water level 15 km out to sea from the Old Port. Five successive lighthouses have been built on the small island since the first lighthouse was erected in the Middle Ages to guide sailors and to warn Marseille of the arrival of pirates and invaders from the Barbary Islands. The lighthouse has no easy task as it must light up the largest port in the Mediterranean.
The present lighthouse dates from 1959. It is the tallest building on the Mediterranean coast and its lamp is almost 68 metres above sea level.
On this 3-hectare island a magnificent column is built of stone from Cassis. Only a few prestigious buildings in Marseille, such as the Courthouse, the Prefecture and the Palais Longchamp, have been built using this stone. The stone dates back 115 million years and has the unusual property of capturing the rays of the sun and expelling any impurities at night. It is for this reason that the lighthouse has remained perfectly white.
In 1992 the lighthouse was automated and the last keepers left, leaving the building uninhabited. Fortunately the lighthouse has seen new life due to the hard work of two dedicated groups of people, "Sea and Sun" and "Tiboulen du Planier".
In the words of Albert Londres (Marseille, Gateway to the South):
"There is a lighthouse two thousand kilometres out to sea. Every night it can be seen sweeping the sea and the coast with its light. The lighthouse is famous throughout the world; it is called the Planier Lighthouse. Remind yourself that people on all seas an under all skies are talking about the Planier, whatever time of night you may happen to look at it. When people are not talking about it they are thinking about it.
But if the Planier brings us back to Marseille it also guides us away. Young people of France, leave from Marseille on your journey and you will see the lighthouse. It will light a path for you that you probably did not know existed and maybe then you will understand.