Pirate-wanna-bes no longer need to sail treacherous seas in their quest of spectacular treasure. It’s right there at the Museum of Prehistory in Menton.
Shipwrecks and their treasures have made people dream ever since the first maritime accident happened, sending its cargo to the dark, unfathomable depths of the seafloor. And the number of casualties over time is not small: according to UNESCO estimates, three million wrecks are out there, waiting to be discovered.
A brand new and absolutely stunning permanent exhibit of marine archaeology at the Musée de la Préhistoire Régionale in Menton, under the high patronage of HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, is dedicated to some of the most fascinating artifacts recovered by shipwreck divers along the Mediterranean shores. The objects on display range from the Middle Ages to contemporary times, with the focus squarely on the 15th to 18th centuries.
Cross-Mediterranean ties go back thousands of years, and the 21 bordering countries, spread out over three continents, span cultures, history, and time in a unique way, from Cleopatra’s Egyptian Empire to Greek Enlightenment, from the rise and fall of Roman, Spanish, and Portuguese dominance to Italian rule … or more recently as the heavily disputed battleground of World War II enemies and their relevant allies. The Menton “Les routes maritimes de la Méditerranée / Trésors d’Épaves” exhibit is therefore “…a window into the tradeways of the Mediterranean, a homage to the people living along its shores who created maritime highways connecting countries and civilisations”, according to Deputy Mayor Jean-Claude Guibal upon the recent opening of the exhibit. “Thanks to the hard work of passionate researchers, precious testimony about times long gone by has been resurrected and restored for today’s audience who without doubt will appreciate its value and beauty.”
Among the treasure(s) on display, which hail primarily from the triangle trade between the French Riviera, Genoa and Corsica, are antique Greek and Roman amphorae and ceramics, but also Renaissance Venetian glass, elaborately painted Portuguese tiles, dishes from Provence, Spain, Naples and Sicily, objects of African and Northern European origin, and a motley assortment of jewelry, weapons, and household and decorative objects of various provenance. They all shed a light on the day-to-day life of the Mediterranean population, whether sailors, traders, travelers or soldiers. An exceptionally well-researched historic documentation, complete with facts and photos, accompanies this well-curated exhibit.
Complementary to this unique maritime collection, the Menton Museum of Prehistory – inextricably associated with the great Professor Henry de Lumley – features a wide range of fascinating terrestrial objects going as far back as the Iron Age and documenting man’s rise to civilization and dominance.
Musée de la Préhistoire Régionale
14-16, Place du Musée
Tel: + 33 4 93 35 84 64
All images courtesy Musée de la Préhistoire Régionale de Menton