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National Parks of France # 2: The Calanques National Park

The latest of the ten national parks in France, the Calanques National Park is the first peri-urban national park in Europe, both land and sea.

Au heart of the metropolis Aix-Marseille Provence, the Calanques National Park extends over a land core of 85 km2 and a marine core of 435 km2. This land of meetings and exchanges is rich in an exceptional natural, landscape and cultural heritage. Creeks diving into the sea, the underwater canyon of Cassidaigne, the archipelago of Frioul, the Massif de Saint-Cyr and the Soubeyrane cliffs, are emblematic. They all offer breathtaking landscapes. Each of them is home to natural treasures to be discovered on land, at sea, but also under the surface.

Geological heritage

The alternation of rocks in mille-feuilles of Soubeyrane cliffs between white limestone, sandstone and puddingstone is particularly recognizable. It breaks with the immaculate whiteness of the limestone of Calanques massif. The islands and islets of the Frioul and Riou archipelagos emerge on the surface of the water. The Cap Canaille, the Bec de l'Aigle, Les Goudes and Mont Rose are the pride of the inhabitants. In this preserved park, the coasts are jagged by erosion, hollowed out by deep valleys and faults.

Soubeyrane cliff and creeks massif
Soubeyrane cliff and creeks massif

Seemingly inhospitable, these rocky coasts actually host a rich biodiversity. On land and at sea, the Park's teams passionately preserve exceptional flora and fauna.

Iconic marine fauna

At sea, 60 heritage marine species and 5 habitats of community interest are considered rare and fragile. They constitute the interest of this Mediterranean ecosystem. The famous and endemic Posidonia herbarium is a precious refuge for the saupe, the sar, the wrasse, the seahorse, the diadem sea urchin and the largest seashell in the Mediterranean, the large mother-of-pearl. On rocky bottoms, or inside a fault, it is not uncommon to encounter a brown grouper or a corb. At depth, divers can admire colonies of red coral and gorgonians. Offshore, cross cetaceans and some loggerhead turtles. You can also admire bottlenose dolphins, blue and white dolphins, or even majestic fin whales.

Mediterranean red coral in the Calanques National Park
Mediterranean red coral

Terrestrial fauna to be preserved

As for fauna, the famous "gabian" is particularly present as everywhere on the French Mediterranean coasts, but leaves room for the most discreet. gray shearwaters and crested cormorants. By looking up, it is even possible to admire one of the 32 pairs of Bonelli eagles from France, and at night one of the largest bats in Europe, Cestoni's hound and its 40 centimeters wingspan.

The Mediterranean flora of the Calanques National Park

On earth, 43 of the 900 plant species that coexist are recognized as remarkable. Mediterranean rosemaries, thyme, holm oaks and kerms, arbutus and Aleppo pines, rub shoulders with cistus, coris, aphyllantes and maritime asterisks, as well as some remarkable species such as the sabline of Provence, astragalus from Marseille and Lobel's broom. All these species are particularly adapted to the extreme conditions encountered on these coasts subjected to winds, heat and spray.

Arbutus unedo
Arbutus unedo

Historical patrimony

Throughout history, these coasts have been a haven of peace for people. The cave of the Hoppers reveals the oldest human traces of the Calanques, contemporaries of Neanderthals. In the Cosquer cave, these are negative hands of 27 years that appear on the rock. The men of prehistory have left behind many representations of animals such as ibex, chamois, bison, aurochs, deer, antelopes, felines and even penguins and seals.

During Antiquity, Ligurian and Etruscan sailors have given way to the Phocaeans and to the development of the ancient port of Marseille located a stone's throw away. In the middle Ages, agricultural and pastoral activities are intensifying in the land. There are also remains of sheepfold from this period. Military batteries bear witness to the fights and the fight against piracy of the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries. Later, men will turn to fishing and rock mining, which will shape the identity of the place.

Life in the Calanques National Park

Creeks are a great playground for strolling, hiking, climbing, diving, coasting ... But they are also a place of study. Many biologists, botanists, geologists, geophysicists and even chemists work there. They observe and analyze the data collected on site. The underground source of Port-Miou for example, is an extraordinary underground laboratory. Teams take turns to protect and preserve this unique territory on the edge of the metropolis. They educate and inform visitors, many of whom flock to the paths to discover the wonders of the creeks.

Seen on the Calanques