InspireKeith Van SickleProvencal History & Traditions

Olbia a Lost Mediterranean City and its Mysterious Port

An Ancient Greek Colony

Long before the Romans conquered Gaul (France), the Greeks established a series of colonies along its Mediterranean coast. Marseille, the oldest city in France, was once the Greek colony of Massilia. It, in turn, established smaller colonies in the area around it. One of these was Olbia—now called Olbia de Provence—near the present city of Hyères.

Founded in 325 B.C., Olbia was both a colony and a fortress built to protect the sea trading routes between Massilia and Italy. It had a population of about 700 people and was surrounded by thick walls and guard towers.

Here is a video look at the site.

Olbia prospered under the Greeks, then become part of the Roman Empire when Julius Cesar conquered Gaul in the 1st century A.D. It survived after the Empire’s collapse but was abandoned in the 7th century when the coastal region became insecure. Even worse, the port—the city’s lifeline to the outside world—had slowly submerged.

A Lost City is Rediscovered

Olbia was forgotten until 1909 when pottery fragments were discovered that made reference to the ancient city. Excavations took place throughout the 20th century and are still ongoing. Today, tourists can visit the site and learn what daily life in the city was like over 2,000 years ago.

Olbia en Provence Lost Mediterranean City

©Site Archéologique d’Olbia

Olbia’s submerged port, however, remains something of a mystery. How was it laid out? How was it used? The clues are scattered on the seafloor, a jumble of stone blocks just a few meters below the water’s surface.

Thanks to a project funded by Arpamed (Archaeology and Patrimony of the Mediterranean), the mystery may soon be solved. Under Laurent Borel’s direction, archaeologists and divers are teaming up to make sense of that jumble, and the effort is proceeding in several stages.

A Giant Puzzle

First, the stone blocks must be cleared of all the gunk built up over the centuries. Divers have spent countless hours chipping away at the blocks, gradually revealing their original form.

Olbia Lost Mediterranean City

Next, thousands of photos are being taken with high-resolution underwater cameras to capture the blocks from multiple angles. These images will then be stitched together by powerful computers and sophisticated software, creating a 3-dimensional map of all that lays below the sea. It will be like a giant puzzle, challenging anyone to put the pieces back together.

Olbia Lost Mediterranean City


This is where the fun begins. Borel’s team will try to solve the puzzle, painstakingly fitting together piece after piece until the ancient port is revealed. You might say it will be like the lost city of Atlantis emerging from the sea!

How You Can Help

This work is receiving some government support but is not fully funded. Arpamed is launching a fundraising appeal between April 6 and 23, 2021, to raise 10,000 euros. Those interested in this important project and who wish to donate can do so.

Practical Information

Olbia tourist brochure (in French)

Site Archéologique d’Olbia (Facebook page)

Image Credits:

Olbia from the air: Site Archéologique d’Olbia Facebook Page
Olbia with tourists: Site Archéologique d’Olbia Facebook Page
Stone blocks with diver: (no attribution is shown)
Diver with camera: © L. DAMELET CNRS/CCJ

Please share this with friends and family.

All rights reserved. Perfectly Provence articles and other content may not be published, broadcast, rewritten (including translations into other languages) or redistributed without written permission. For usage information, please contact us.
Syndication Information
Affiliate Information
As an Amazon Associate, this website earns from qualifying purchases. Some recipes, posts and pages may have affiliate links. If you purchase via these links, we receive a small commission that does not impact your price. Thank you in advance for supporting our work to maintain Perfectly Provence.
Previous post

Discover Socca, the Delicious Specialty of Nice

Next post

The Bridge Club a Book that Celebrates Friendship

Keith Van Sickle

Keith Van Sickle

Keith and Val Van Sickle made their first trip to Provence decades ago, and it was love at first sight. After that, they came back every year until 2008, when they began a part-time life there, splitting their time between Provence and California.

Over the years, they’ve travelled all over Provence, seeing sights both well-known and obscure. Their French friends have introduced them to favourite restaurants and wineries and picnic spots and taught them funny local expressions (not all for polite company).

Keith now shares this local knowledge in his new book, An Insider’s Guide to Provence. Packed with the Van Sickles’ favourite things to see and do, it’s a must-have for anyone travelling to this glorious corner of France.

Keith previously published two books about the couple's experiences in Provence. One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence, and Are We French Yet?, both are available from Amazon.

You can see all of Keith’s blog posts at Life in Provence.

No Comment

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.