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L'or rouge : un objet de fascination (Red Gold: Object of Fascination) - 13/09/2006 by Jo Harmelin
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© Jo Harmelin, COM-Dimar  Seaman Biologist                   

The red coral of the Mediterranean Sea is a fascinating marine organism capable of stirring passions, whether one is a coral harvester, historian, jeweller, artist, scientist or simply a diver.
The first traces of coral used by man, in the form of remains found in tombs, dates back to the Neolithic period. As in antiquity, mankind has been fascinated by this sublime red colour to which they attribute magical powers,and red coral has always been used as an amulet, as medication and material for jewellery and luxurious decorations.

Red coral is an essential element of Mediterranean culture and its mythology. The magical and therapeutic powers bestowed upon it for thousands of years created an aura which has spread well beyond the banks of the Mediterranean, right through to the borders of Asia and Africa by way of the great caravans.

Mineral, Vegetal or Animal?
In 1706, Luigi-Fernandino Marsigli, Italian military officer, but above all, a naturalist, comes to Marseille. The first modern book on oceanography, ‘L'Histoire physique de la mer’ (The Physical History of the Sea) is published in Amsterdam in 1725, with a surprising accuracy in its descriptions…
Systematic positions of red coral. Corallium rubrum (Linnaeus, 1758) is a relatively primitive invertebrate.

  • Phylum (or branch line): Cnidaria (Cnidaire or Coelenterata)
  • Class: Anthozoa (Anthozoa); sub-class: Alcyonaria (Octocoralea)
  • Order: Gorgonacea (Gorgonarea); family: Coralliidae


Red coral is an emblematic species of the Mediterranean bedrock, but is unequally distributed in this Sea and also exists in the East Atlantic

  • Presence of red coral
  • Dubious signalling

The coenenchyme and fossilized axis have a lovely red colour. The red of the ‘skin’ is lighter than at the axis, which is more or less dark, depending on the regions. This beautiful colour comes from the thermolabile carotenoid pigments. A few rare colonies can be albinos.

Red coral is never in a hurry to grow! The depletion of the exploited stock gives indirect signs of this, but the first precise indications were revealed by the monitoring of marked colonies on experimental plots over several years.  
South Riou Grotto, Marseille
a-b: 19 months
a-c:   4 years
Growth of a young colony growing on an experimental grid square.

The term ‘coral' is often misleading since red coral shares the term with tropical coral, builder of barrier reefs.


The coral with the highest commercial value is the Paracorallium japonicum, the Aka or Beef Blood, which lives in Japan. Some of this precious coral, living over 1000m deep in the Pacific Ocean, can reach more than a meter in height and several dozen kilos in weight. The colour of these Corallium and Paracorallium when cut into jewellery, runs from deep red (Aka, P. japonicum) to pink(angel skin, C. secundum) to white (C. konojoi).

Mentions Légales| |Glossaire La Taillerie du Corail : OR Rouge
La Taillerie du Corail : OR Rouge English