Grotte Cosquer

The Cosquer Cave

Useful Information

Location: Cape Morgiou, near Marseilles.
Open: cave closed
Fee: cave closed
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave ArchaeologyPainted Cave
Light: none.
Dimension: A=37 m b.s.l., L=175 m.
Guided tours: cave closed
Bibliography: Jean Clottes, Jean Courtin: The Cave Beneath the Sea.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1985 cave discovered by Henri Cosquer.
1991 Henri Cosquer discovered the paleolithic paintings. He invited Yann Gogan, Jean-Claude Cayol, Pascal Oriol, Cendrine Cosquer, and Thierry Pélissier to examine the cave.
1992 three scuba divers died trying to reach the cave.
1994 an examination of the cave by Jean Courtin and Jacques Collina-Girard made it the best dated prehistoric cave.


Grotte Cosquer, named after its discoverer Henri Cosquer, is today submerged under the Mediterranean Sea. The entrance, which is now 37 m below the sea level was - during the Ice Ages - above the sea level. Changes in the sea level of up to 100 m happened in the last 30.000 years several times.

The cave shows 125 images of animals, 55 stenciled hands and several geometrical designs. Extraordinary are numerous paintings of sea animals. They include fish, jellyfish or squid, and the now-extinct auk, a sea bird.

In 1994 Jean Courtin and Jacques Collina-Girard have taken a number of samples from a dozen drawings made with charcoal. They were used for the ArchaeologyC14-dating at the Low Radioactivity Laboratory at Gif-sur-Yvette (C.N.R.S.-CEA). Now the Cosquer cave is unique amongst painted caves with more than two dozen datings.

Two major phases have been confirmed:

  1. phase: dating around 27.000 years ago, length undetermined.
    This phase includes thousands of finger tracings left on the soft wall surface, at least 55 stencilled hands and perhaps some animals and geometrical signs drawn with fingers. Many of them are located in recesses, in almost inaccessible corners or at heights (3 to 4 m) which would have required the use of artificial means (ladders, tree trunks).
  2. phase: between 18.000 and 19.000 years ago.
    It comprises the majority of animals represented, about 125 to date. Horses are the dominant animal by far, followed by caprids (ibex, chamois), bovids (bison, wild ox), cervids (megaloceros, red deer) and marine animals (seals and penguin). Most of the animals are engraved, less than a third painted. A number of geometrical signs were discovered in 1994, several of them, rectangular and having a sort of appendage being quite original in franco-cantabrian art.

As it is impossible to visit the real site, a three-dimensional virtual reconstruction of the cave developed by Electricité de France, allows everybody a nearly natural experience. An expensive laser sensor performed a "three-dimensional" survey of the cave. The laser rotating on a tripod is able to produce round views with a high resolution and containing depth information for every pixel. Multiple views were matched to reduce the problems of shadowing. On the resulting threedimensional surface high resolution images of the walls were projected, producing an impressive experience.

Unfortunately it is not possible to see this three dimensional reconstruction. As far as we know there is no museum or other institution showing it to the public. The site is under the management of the French Ministry of Culture, who mention the map but do not give any further information. We read that it was shown during an exhibition at the Musée d'Histoire de Marseille (Museum of History of the City of Marseilles), but this was back in 1992. Today they do not mention the cave any more, and do not even sell a postcard. It seems the best way to visit the cave is by buying one of the beautiful books which were published.