Phare de Planier

IALA Heritage Lighthouse of the Year 2023 Nominee

Location: FRANCE - Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur. Marseille.

Lighthouse Operator: Phares et Balises de Marseille

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Source: (photos as submitted to accompany nomination form by Phares et Balises de Marseille 2023)

Lighthouse Description and History

(Text extracted from nomination form submitted by Phares et Balises de Marseille 2023)

From 1320 onwards, Robert d’Anjou had a lighthouse tower built.

In 1774, a cylindrical tower made of stone with a diameter of 5.85 m and a height of 9 m was rebuilt (elevation of 13 m above sea level). The wood fire was replaced by a reflector light with 14 oil lamps (Tourtille-Sangrain).

In 1829, the lighthouse was replaced by another cylindrical tower made of cut stone, with a height of 36 m (40 m above sea level). It featured a first-order light with long white flashes every 30 seconds.

In 1881, it was once again replaced by a new cylindrical tower made of cut stone, with a height of 59 m (63 m above sea level). It had an electric light with 3 white flashes separated by a red flash. This lighthouse was destroyed in August 1944 by German troops.

In 1945, a temporary light was installed on a mast.

In 1947, construction began on the new lighthouse and its annex buildings. The current lighthouse was lit in 1959. The ensemble is designed in a unique architectural style envisioned by architects Arbus & Crillon. The Planier lighthouse is a cylindrical tower made of cut stone with a square platform carrying the lantern. Large annex buildings, on two levels, house the caretaker’s accommodations and technical facilities.

It has an old siren with 3 horns. Since August 1959, it has been a light with white flashes every 5 seconds.

It has been automated since 1986.

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the show Thalassa, the lighthouse was honored among 30 others, and Florence Arthaud is its godmother.

Reason For Nomination

(Text extracted from nomination form submitted by Phares et Balises de Marseille 2023)

Intrinsic Heritage Interest of the Lighthouse

An island battered by the waves

This “beacon heritage” of the maritime heart of the Calanques National Park is located in the bay of Marseille, approximately 9 kilometers from Cape Croisette. While its name comes from the island’s flat topography, the lighthouse that rises vertically on it makes it a major landmark in Marseille’s maritime landscape.

It is surrounded by superb protected underwater reefs, now part of a Marine Protected Area. These reefs have been fatal to numerous ships, as evidenced by the wrecks that have now become famous diving spots. Among them are boats like the Chaouen and the Dalton (one of Cousteau’s first filmed wrecks), as well as military planes dating back to World War II.

The tallest lighthouse in the Mediterranean

The current lighthouse was built between 1947 and 1959 and consists of several buildings forming a monumental complex. The highlight is the 72-meter-high column tower, which has 362 steps! It is made of concrete (with mortar composed of Riou sand) and adorned with Cassis stone. Initially recognized as a 20th-century heritage site on March 1, 2001, and then listed as a historical monument on September 2, 2002, the lighthouse has been officially classified since September 13, 2012. It is the tallest lighthouse in the Mediterranean and the only one that is both active and protected as a historical monument on the French Mediterranean coast.

Being one of the important lighthouses in the Mediterranean from the beginning, Planier has gone through its entire history, from coal to photoelectric cells, and from oil lighting to increasingly taller towers. The island has been occupied by a lighthouse since medieval times: the first one dates back to 1326 and measures 12 meters, the second was built in 1774, the third was completed in 1829 and reached 59 meters. The lighthouse we know today is the fifth and replaces the one from 1881, destroyed by the Germans in August 1944.

An emblematic structure

As the first and last point of contact for travelers and migrants with the city of Marseille and France, Planier holds a special place in the hearts of Marseillais, seafarers, and writers.

Alexandre Dumas mentions it in his travel impressions, but most notably in “The Count of Monte Cristo,” where Edmond Dantès sees the lighthouse “shining like a star.” In “Naïs Micoulin,” Zola describes it as follows: “the rotating lighthouse of Planier reappeared every minute, piercing the darkness with a yellow beam that suddenly went out; and nothing was sweeter or more tender than this light, constantly lost on the horizon and constantly found again.” It serves as a reference point for Alphonse Daudet, Blaise Cendrars, and Joseph Conrad. But the most beautiful evocation is undoubtedly the one by Albert Londres in his report “Marseille, Gateway to the South…”

“There is a lighthouse two miles from the coast. Every evening, its light sweeps over the sea and the shore. This lighthouse is famous worldwide; it is called Planier. No matter the hour you look at it, know that at that moment, people are talking about it on all seas and under all constellations. When people don’t talk about it, they think about it. But if Planier brings you back home, it also presides over departures. Take the journey to Marseille, young people of France; you will go to see the lighthouse. It will show you a great path that perhaps you don’t suspect, and maybe then you will understand.” Albert Londres


The keepers who worked there, always in pairs until 1992, were able to live autonomously thanks to a bread oven and a small farm with chickens and rabbits. After their departure and the automation of the lighthouse, a diving center was established at Planier before leaving the premises in 2004. Today, managed by the Lighthouse and Beacon Service, the site is no longer inhabited. Several missions are performed by authoritied to maintain this Lighthouse and reinforce its history and strengths.

Public Access and Education

Unfortunately it is not accessible but several efforts have been made to educate the public about the heritage of the Planier Lighthouse and the wider context of aids to navigation. Here are some examples:

Interpretive Exhibits and Displays: The Planier Lighthouse may have interpretive exhibits and displays within its premises or in nearby visitor centers or museums. These exhibits often provide historical information, artifacts, photographs, and interactive elements to engage visitors and educate them about the lighthouse’s heritage, its role in navigation, and the broader context of aids to navigation.

Publications and Documentation: Books, brochures, pamphlets, and other publications are created to document the heritage of the Planier Lighthouse and aids to navigation. These materials provide in-depth information about the lighthouse’s history, architectural features, technological advancements, and the broader context of lighthouses worldwide. They serve as educational resources and can be distributed to visitors or made available online.

By employing these educational efforts, the public can gain a deeper appreciation for the Planier Lighthouse’s heritage and its significance within the broader context of aids to navigation. These initiatives aim to foster awareness, inspire curiosity, and encourage the preservation of lighthouse heritage for future generations.

Photos and Diagrams