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French Riviera Amphorae Speak

Amphorae at St Raphael Museum The Amphora isn't just an ancient container, it's an epic tale that feeds our imagination.

Tucked in the underbellies of boats, it carried wine, oil, grain. In Xenophon's Anabasis, the ceramic urns even carried chunks of salted dolphin. It criss-crossed the Mediterranean Sea from Greece to North Africa to Italy to France and Spain, filled with precious food.

Amphora RhodesOn the French Riviera, at the site of Le Dramont, between St Raphael and Agay, divers discovered numerous ancient amphorae, hidden underwater and spattered about under the tumultuous waters around the cape.

Divers found amphorae from Rodes dating back 2BC to 1C that harbored wine and fruit. 

Even more ancient is a Massala amphora (from Marseille, France), discovered at the site of Camp Long also close to Le Dramont. It's believed to be as old as 6th C BC.

Mortars used to make garum (a fish sauce reminiscent of nuac mam) were also uncovered at le Dramont.

Looking at the pointed shape of these ceramic vats, you can't help but ask:

How did they stash these fragile and bottom-less vases in the small space of a boat?

The amphorae rarely are discovered arranged in the same way they traveled. But texts and some precious ship wreck findings point to a parallel alignment of the recipients. On smaller vessels, 100 to 500 amphorae were typically arranged in one level, tucked and secured with ropes and wood. Some of the larger boats could carry thousands of vases.

And why in the world do amphorae sport a pointed bottom rather than a flat one?

Amphora Massaliote, St Raphael MuseumThe more precious decorated amphorae were often built with a ringed base that could support them upright. These were not the ones to travel the Meditteranean Sea. The functional amphorae that carried commodities around were produced with a pointed base to ease their stacking in the boat's belly. The pointed vats were also less fragile.

Where were/are most of the amphorae found by the French Riviera?

A Few French Riviera Wreck SitesSome of the very rich underwater archeology sites include the Islands of Hyères (Port-Cros, Porquerolles,
Levant - find out more about these islands on this site!), Cap Lardier, the St Tropez Peninsula, St Rapael, Cap Dramont, Cannes, Antibes, Nice.

Where can I get more information on Underwater Diving Sites and Finds on the French Riviera?

100bellesplongesvaroisesThe best books on the subject are in French (know of a great English-language one? Drop me a line).

100 Epaves sur la Côte d'Azur by Anne Joncheray, from the St Raphael Museum of Archeology and Jean-Pierre Joncheray.

As well as 100 Belles Plongées en Côte d'Azur. This one discusses diving sites from the Esterel to Menton

While 100 belles plongées varoises talks about diving sites in the Var (west of the above), from Saint-Cyr to St Raphael.

What Museums can I visit on the French Côte d'Azur about underwater Archeology?

The St Raphael Archaeological Museum homes a number of incredible underwater archaeological finds.
It helps that one of the region's foremost diver and underwater archaeologist is also the museum's curator, Anne Joncheray.

The Musée Archéologique d'Antibes hosts a generous collection of ancient amphorae. Musee Archéologique d'Antibes: 40 boulevard Albert 1er (Bastion Saint-André), 06600 Antibes, Phone: 04.93.34.00.39.

The Musee d'Archeologie de Nice in Cimiez hosts a wonderful collection of ancient ceramics. Among its underwater objects, you'll find a few objects pulled from the 1BC fish wreck of La Fourmique pulled from the Golfe-Juan.

Interested in exploring of the French Riviera on firm land? Take a look at our latest hiking guide to the Western side of the French Riviera and discover stunning natural sites:

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