The Sanguinaires Islands are an exceptional nature site. Classified “Natura 2000 site” and more recently “Great Site of France”, they’re renowned for their fiery red sunsets.
The archipelago, at the north-west tip of the Gulf of Ajaccio, comprises four little rocky islands, of volcanic origin and consisting largely of a very dark diorite.
The origin of their name is unknown, and many conflicting theories add to the mystery surrounding these islands.
Is it the sunset color which bloodies the rocks? Is it the caption “Sagonares insulae” that appears on a 16th-century map from the bishopric of Sagone? Or is it the nickname given during the 19th-century to the coral fishers back from North Africa, the « Sanguinari », forced to purge their quarantine in a hospital on the main island before being allowed back into Corsica?
Many travellers’ tales mention traces of life on these islands. One of the most famous is “The Sanguinaires’ Lighthouse”, from Alphonse Daudet’s « Letters from my Windmill ».
Human presence on the islands dates back to the 16th-century, with the construction on Mezzu Mare (or Great Sanguinaire) of the first Genoese tower, on the site of the current lighthouse.
At the beginning of the 19th-century, Mezzu Mare became a medical station with the construction of the « lazaret » (quarantine hospital) today in ruin. With the automation of the lighthouse in 1985, the last inhabitants left the islands.
These islands today are a haven of tranquility for seabirds colonies such as seagulls « leucophée », black headed gulls or ashy puffins.
Mezzu Mare hosts a great diversity of plant life, including some species peculiar to the islands such as the fly-eating arum. Exposed to the onshore winds, the bushy vegetation mainly consists of mastic trees.