An intriguing new exhibit opened in Marseille, France, less than one year ago. Cosquer Méditerranée is a unique “cave museum” featuring a full-sized reproduction of the famous grotte Cosquer, an underwater cave in the South of France that was hidden for tens of thousands of years until a brave scuba diver ventured inside and discovered spectacular prehistoric cave art.
There are many reasons to add the Cosquer Méditerranée museum to your Marseille itinerary. As one of the city’s newest attractions, you can be among the first to experience this unique museum. For history lovers, the immersive recreation of the underwater cave is unique and thought-provoking. For kids, the underwater-themed ride has a Disney-esque feeling of adventure and excitement. And for everyone, the upper floor museum galleries have views of the city that you won’t believe until you see them.
Cosquer Méditerranée Architecture: Villa Méditerranée
Cosquer Méditerranée is located inside the Villa Méditerranée building. This waterfront building is near Marseille’s Old Port (Vieux Port), beside MUCEM (the Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean), and between Fort Saint-Jean and the Cathedral of Marseilles.
Villa Méditerranée was built in 2013, when Marseille was awarded the title of European Capital of Culture, as an interactive exhibition space. The €70-million building took ten years to design and build. The exterior celebrates the interplay between the land and sea, and from its interior offers unique views of both the city and the Mediterranean.
When 2013 ended and the European Capital of Culture moved (to Riga, Latvia), the building needed a new purpose. Several possibilities were explored, but ultimately it was decided to renovate the building, at a cost of €23 million, and convert it into a museum celebrating the Cosquer Cave (la grotte Cosquer) and the region’s earliest human inhabitants.
The Cosquer Méditerranée Cave Museum Ride
Ride photo provided by Cosquer Méditerranée
Your visit to the Cosquer Méditerranée begins on street level, as you pass through a recreation of a 1980s scuba diving shop. It was a shop like this where Henri Cosquer, the professional diver who discovered the actual grotte Cosquer, was based. He spent years exploring the underwater caves along France’s Mediterranean Coast before eventually discovering the cave that inspired this museum.
Your next stop will be the elevator that takes you below sea level. Before you enter the elevator you’ll receive an audio guide, which is available in six languages (French, English, German, Dutch, Spanish and Italian). The default language is French, and you’ll need to let the staff know if you want a different language. Equipped with your headset you’ll descend to the underwater level, where you’ll board the ride.
The Cosquer Méditerranée ride takes about thirty-five minutes, during which time you’ll travel through a realistic reconstruction of the actual grotte Cosquer. The audio guide will explain Henri Cosquer’s route through the cave, from the entrance, through the unique geological formations, all the way into the depths of the cavern where he discovered some of the best-preserved prehistoric cave drawings on the planet… all at 37 meters under the sea!
Your vehicle will be a small pod that moves along a fixed track. The car automatically rotates 360°, ensuring everyone has a clear view of the important features, so it doesn’t matter which side you sit on. Both levels of the pod seat three adults (or four children) and while I preferred being on the lower seat, I think the view would have been fine from the upper seats as well.
It’s important that you don’t take any photos on the ride, as the bright screen or flash would seriously detract from the feeling of actually being in the real underwater cave. (The photo that you see above was provided to me by the team at Cosquer Méditerranée so that I could show you the ride without taking any photos during the experience.)
The Cosquer Méditerranée Cave Museum Cinema
After your thirty-five-minute cave simulation experience, you’ll head to the cinema to see a short documentary (about fifteen minutes in length) explaining how Henri Cosquer discovered his eponymous cave. If you’re pressed for time, or if you are with small children, this would be the part of the experience to skip… but that being said, I enjoyed the documentary (especially because I’m a scuba diver!).
Cosquer Méditerranée Cave Museum Exhibits & Galleries
Your final stop will be the Galerie Méditerranée, the museum space located in the upper floors of the building.
From here, you have a magnificent view of the modern city of Marseilles (my photo here is unedited – that’s the actual view!) contrasted against various exhibits about the historical human and animal occupants of the Mediterranean coast.
If you’re traveling with kids they will love seeing the life-sized replicas of many of the prehistoric creatures that once roamed the land (and sea…). Adults may be more interested in the reproductions of the cave art that you saw during the simulation, but now in a much more well-lit area and where you can examine them up close.
Cosquer Méditerranée Tickets
I almost didn’t get to visit the Cosquer Méditerranée cave museum in Marseille because I didn’t realize how popular it was! As you can see from the photo above, I showed up in the mid-morning and they were already sold out of tickets until 6:00 pm! In the high season, tickets often sell out at least one day in advance. In the low season, you can usually find same-day tickets, but not always at your preferred entry time.
One thing that is really unusual about the Cosquer Méditerranée billeterie (ticket office) is that they offer many short entry windows throughout the day. At other tourist attractions in France you might get a thirty-minute entry window, but here it’s a mere ten minutes – don’t be late! The advantage of these short entry windows is that they eliminate any congestion and backlogs at the entrances to the elevator and as you board the ride itself.
I recommend that you buy your tickets online through the official Cosquer Méditerranée website once you know the date and time when you’d like to visit. If you can’t get tickets online, head to the on-site ticket office on your first day in Marseille to pick up tickets for later in your trip.
Hours vary seasonally (check the site linked above) and ticket prices are currently €16 for adults and €10 for kids, which I think is totally reasonable in light of the unique experience.
Overall, I highly recommend a visit to the Cosquer Méditerranée in Marseille. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the ride through the recreated cave, and the beautiful views from the upper floors made my time in the exhibits and galleries worthwhile too.
Don’t miss my guide to all the best things to do in Marseille!
I spent an entire summer exploring the South of France – check out all my regional travel guides here, and let me know in the comments if you’ve visited the Cosquer Méditerranée (or if you want to!).
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