Grotte Cosquer: Exploring Ancient cave paintings in Marseille

Explore the depths of history at Grotte Cosquer in Marseille, with its fascinating ancient cave paintings and prehistoric animals.
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One of the newest attractions in Marseille is also one of the oldest. With cave paintings dating back 27,000 years, Grotte Cosquer is one of several ancient caves with prehistoric paintings around France.

The cave is located in the Calanque de Morgiou in Marseille, France, with the entrance about 37 meters (121 ft) underwater. But don’t worry, you won’t need a scuba license, it isn’t the actual cave that is available to visit but rather a replica.

Like those other famous caves around France, Lascaux and Grotte Chauvet, a replica has been built next to the Mucem in the Vieux Port of Marseille.

With waters around Marseille rising due to to global warming, the actual cave is in danger. After a rainfall, waters are rising dangerously close to wiping out the cave paintings, making such a replica even more important.

So let’s take a look at why Grotte Cosquer has become such a sought-after tourist attraction in Marseille, shall we? Allons-y!

A Dive into History

The cave is named after diver Henri Cosquer who managed to explore the cave in 1991, and found the cave paintings. He was an experienced diver living in the area, and had heard of a cave here before from other divers.

He set off along in a boat ironically named “Cro Magnon” to explore the caves, with his brother as his emergency backup. (The boat was named Cro Magnon decades earlier, in 1970.)

It took Cosquer several attempts to navigate the long cave entrance which was underwater until he found the portion where he could breathe above water.

Grotte Cosquer: Exploring Ancient cave paintings in Marseille 1
Henri Cosquer’s boat, the Cro Magnon

It took a couple of more attempts before he realized that there were cave paintings here. Cosquer quickly realized that this underwater time capsule was going to be a unique chapter of human history in the area.

Dating back to the Upper Paleolithic period, around 27,000 years ago, the cave is adorned with a large series of cave paintings that offer a glimpse into the lives of our ancient ancestors.

The caves were classified as a historic monument in 1992, and since have only been open to scientists for research. In 2022, the replica Grotte Cosquer was opened to the public in the heart of Marseille, to share this exciting window back into time.

Inside the reconstituted cave

In keeping with the original cave, the access into the reconstituted Grotte Cosquer has been built underwater in the seas of the Mediterranean.

To access the caves, head to the ticket booth is next to the Mucem, and then take the underwater elevator into the exhibition hall. Another elevator takes you into the caves, with a tour guide and headphones.

Then visitors get to hop into a little cart, rather like an amusement park ride and travel through the caves, with the automated headphones providing commentary.

Once inside, the cave reveals the intricate drawings and paintings that adorn the walls. From horses to cattle, the artwork is a testament to the creativity and ingenuity of our ancient ancestors.

Grotte Cosquer
Penguin drawing on cave wall at Grotte Cosquer

But the most intriguing part of the Grotte is the handprints that can be seen over several parts of the caves. It was also very interesting to note the penquins drawn on the walls, indicating that those creatures once inhabited the shores around the French Riviera.

Once the cave visit finishes, head up the escalator to the second part of the exhibit where large models of ancient animals are on display.

Prehistoric animals exhibit at Grotte Cosquer
Prehistoric animals exhibit at Grotte Cosquer

How to get to Grotte Cosquer?

The roads around Grotte Cosquer and the Vieux Port have been restricted to one-way access, and it is not the easiest to drive to, even for locals! One recommended way to get to the Vieux Port is by metro, Line 1, stop at Vieux Port.

A simpler solution that many tourists choose however is to stay around the Vieux Port.

Where to stay around Grotte Cosquer and the Vieux Port?

There are several top areas to stay around Grotte Cosquer which is just a few steps away from the Vieux Port. Some recommended hotels are:

You can find more about where to stay in Marseille here.

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If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about other things to do in Marseille. A bientôt!

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