A little bit of levant island’s history before Durville

Full text: Frédéric Capoulade

Levant island is located in an area where, for thousands of years, one circulating by boat along the coast. As such, it was to be used by sailors, inhabited at least intermittently by fishermen farmers. It is usual, without any solid proof, to admit that the Levant island would be that which Pliny the Elder designates by the name of Phila.

Prehistory: from 7,500 to 5,500 BC Punctual presence, fishing activities. On the “Avis” harbor site were found ancient bronzes with a flat bottom and a careneed vase.

Iron Age: 1000 BC On the “Liserot” site (near Titan beach), traces of Deus-cabins with poles reinforcements, a stone foundation laid in line field (VI to V century BC), amphoras and antique ceramics.

Gallo-Roman era 1st and 2nd century It is agriculture valorization.In the Titan vale, one found habitat traces with concrete broken tile fragments, also in “Jas-vieux”, at castle, “les Grottes” beach and valley..

To earliest centuries of Christianity , hermits were living. Around the year 400, Around the year 400, the island Levant island has a great reputation. Lerins Islands monks establish an annex of their convent, led by Theodore, a holy man, became in 426, the 3rd Frejus bishop.

From year 900 to year 1200, it is barbarian invasions period. Island is property of the house of Fos.the Barbarian pirates loot the continent villages and come to take refuge in islands

Middle Age Presence of a fortified habitat and a cemetery above Castellas’s tip XIIe in XIVe

Around 1400, Benedictines settled on Levant island and built a convent which one find some remains to “Jas Vieux”, near the Titan’s Tower. Despite barbarian pirates invasions, island is still inhabited in 1536, when the dreadedful Kair-ed-din, said Barbarossa, then King of France allied, came to stay in Hyeres islands.

The Golden Islands Marquisate

July 1531:  Bagaud, Port-Cros and Le Levant islands are establish as Golden Islands Marquisate  by François 1er. This marquisate is given to Bertrand d’ORNEZAN, Baron of Saint Blancard, to put it in tillage and guard it against corsairs. Donation is bestow to him, his heirs and successors, against the annual royalty of ten France gold meshes and delivery at each lord mutation, from a falcon carrying golden bells and falcon “vervelles” (bird  rings) to the royal arms, with a silk bird hat also to the royal arms and, at the bottom of the kidneys, the Marquis of the Golden Islands arms.

December 1549: following at return to the Crown, the three islands are again establish as Golden Islands Marquisate by Henry II in favor of a German lord Christophe de ROCQUENDORF.

February 14, 1552: The count of ROCQUENDORF give by notarial act the marquisate to Gabriel de LUTZ, Aramon lord and France Constantinople ambassador

1560: Gabriel de LUTZ dies. His heirs are Jaumette GRASSE and Jacqueline ESTARDES who make tribute to the king because for the Golden Islands possession on October 15.

July 6, 1573: Albert de GONDI, RETZ’s Baron, France’s Marshal, Metz’s governor, is qualified Golden Islands Marquis. At his death, in 1602, this marquisate passes to son, Philippe-Emmanuel de GONDI, Joigny count, lieutenant general of  Levant seas  , general of France galleys. This marquisate is confirmed by Louis XIII on May 22 1624.

August 1656, the marquisate is bought by Gaspard de Covet, Trets and Bormes’s baron, Parliament of Provence advisor. He dies without child and leaves his goods, including Golden Islands, to his nephew, Jean-Baptiste de Covet, Marignane’s Marquis and of Golden Islands. He pays tribute to these two fiefs on November 7, 1672.

Joseph-Gaspard of Covet, Marignane’s Marquis, his son, succeeds him and pays tribute on May 24, 1696.

Joseph-Marie de Covet, Marquis of Marignane, succeeds his father.

1752: Emmanuel-Anne-Louis of Covet, Marignanne’s Marquis, Port-Cros governor  , Mirabeau count’s father-in-law, famous National Assembly tribune, was, in  turn, Marquis of Marignanne and Gold Islands at his father death. He paid tribute in 1760, 1764 and 1778.

December 2, 1783: Mr. SAVORNIN Jean Joseph Bartholomée Simon buys Hyères Islands to Mr. Emmanuel Louis Covet MARIGNANE for 80,000 pounds.

March 19, 1786: Auguste-Antoine de Sauvan, the Aramon Marquis, Dragons captain  to Conti regiment, following his wedding with Stephanie de Mellet de Fayolle, is authorized by King Louis XVI to bear title of Golden Islands’s Marquis (him and his descendants). This title had belonged to his grandfather, Jean de Lutz, Aramon lord, only if, him or his descendants “take up permanent residence in said islands. “Conditions imposed to previous owners were no longer; title and fief have been dismembered since 1785.

In 1794, inspecting islands, General Bonaparte realizes Hyères Islands importance to Toulon and region defense. He plans install on there batteries  , then the Arbousiers Fort is built in 1812 on Levant island.

16 Vendémiaire Year V (October 7, 1796): Mr. Jean-François GAZZINO, merchant and Mrs. Marie PULMERO, his wife, buy Hyères Islands. He bases soda and potash factory in Port-Man cove and decimating the two islands forests to heat kilns.

July 5, 1838: Mr Antoine PASCAL, owner merchant buys Hyères Islands for 155 525 French Francs of this time.

December 12, 1838: Mr ALBANASE de Retz, owner, buys Hyères Islands for 170000 French Francs of this time.

1841: Titan’s lighthouse came on service

August 26, 1842: Mr. Adolphe Joseph Henri STANISLAS, LAS CASES’s Marquis, Léoville castle owner, ST JULIEN’s commune (Gironde), buys Hyères islands for 100 725 French Francs of this time.

April 6, 1844: Mr. Louis Joseph Stephen BATAHO DE NOIRON, owner, Mrs. Cécile Elisabeth Agathe BROQUARD OF BUSSIERE, his wife, residing in Noiron castle, buy Levant island  for 50 000 French Francs of this time.  He clears 300 hectares, establishes pathes, builds and repairs houses. He had idea to creating free and civil society under the title “Society of Levant Island”.

This philanthropic society, in its promoter spirit, was to make of the island, a “settlement” where inhabitants would live in good intelligence, safe from all ills. Work, religion and good mores respect were the conduct rule. Potential breaches would be brought before a court of honor established on island. Thanks to also to orphans that It was to welcome, educate and instruct, the Levant Island Society had for object exploitation of all production and agriculturial elements, horticultural, vinaceous, forest, mineral, maritime resources, industrial. But, Sir de Noiron did not have necessary time to create this Society and this orphanage;

December 16, 1853: Mr. MELCHIOR Fidel, Grivel’s Count, residing in Paris and Mr. Ernest Henri Fidel of GRIVEL, his cousin, residing in Muyre (Jura) castle buy Levant island for 50 000 French Francs of this time.

February 17, 1858: Mr. Henri de POURTALES GORGIEZ and Mrs. Anna Marie d’ESCHERNY, his wife, residing Gorgiez (Neuchâtel) castle Switzerland, buy Levant island for 200 000 French Francs of this time.

In 1861 he founds an agricultural colony of sad memory. ill-treatments of which children of penitentiary are victims provoked, in 1866, a revolt harshly repressed (This story is told in Claude Gritti’s book “Children of Levant Island” Ed J.C. Lattès).

1878: purchase by Mr. Simon PHILIPPART, Belgian industrialist, who continues to be penitentiary’s manager, but State closes it definitively. He creates an acclimatization garden in “Jas-Vieux” valley. we observe always in it today, yuccas, cypresses, eucalyptus and the elegant feather dusters of gynerions 1880: purchase by Mr. Edouard OTLET, Belgian, streetcars’s king. He reconstitued island vineyard  and he plants cork oaks. J. Linden, his father-in-law, famous horticulturist-botanist acclimates around castle many exotic plants. His son, Paul OTLET, writes at the age of 14 a little book about Levant island little book; he will be later bibliographic classification system inventor. 1883: The State, which still owned 65 ha for Navy needs, sells its goods. From 1883 to 1892,  island’s totality belongs at particulars. 1892: through a seizure favor, State acquires  Mr. Otlet’s 930 ha, on Navy behalf  for 162 000 French Francs of this time. Excepted of 65 hectares remaning to OTLET family’s heirs as well as road leading to Titan lighthouse. 1928: The Rhône real estate Society buys these 65 hectares and rents island’s rest to Navy. It becomes Golden islands’s Real Estate Company.

Sources: Joseph Fournier, “the Golds islands Marquisate”, Bulletin of Historical and Descriptive Geography, 1905 http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k5422528x/f263.image Emile Jahandiez (Charles Richet preface, Albert Jahandiez illustrations), The Hyères Islands: Islands’s monograph, Giens peninsula, Porquerolles, Port-Cros, Levant island: history, description, geology, flora, fauna, 1929 http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k9676715x/f11.image

The International Naturist Center of Levant island , Heliopolis naturist city

Gaston and André DURVILLE are doctors. They created Natural Medicine Institute in 1919 which becomes the Naturist Institute with 25,000 patients. They also edit many books (naturist cure and many other publications) and a magazine, created in 1923, “LA VIE SAGE”, then, an other one “NATURISM” in 1929, the great weekly about human culture.

In 1929, it is their first center “PHYSIOPOLIS” wich opening on one of Seine river island near Paris, Platais island on Villennes and Médan communes, with a tent village and sports facilities. But Paris proximity does not allow them to carry out the naturist center project. They discover then, that a part of Hyères islands, the Levant Island, is for sale;

Doctors de DURVILLE buy of gold islands real estate company shares in early 1931. This is creation of the International Naturist Center on Levant island, Heliopolis naturist city.

February 22, 1932, a Prefect decree approved subdivision project.

June 29, 1932, deposit in Master Picard office, Paris notary, of Statutes and the charges fixture list of the future owners Union.

October 15, 1934 legal publishing in “La Vie Hyéroise” of Union statutes.

November 22, 1934, syndicate statutes deposit to Var’s Prefecture

Adepts and pioneers period 1931-1944:

First works are gigantic; In fact, the only island port is Avis port located approximatly 3 km to domain entrance. it is to building roads and then a ledges network servicing the future plots. Then having to route all necessary materials.

From the beginning, are proposed tents, and then, different models rustic bungalows; first constructions appear in 1932: These are gold island hotel at Domain entrance, bakery and “La Pomme d’Adam” on village square which called at the time “Le Rond-point Arbousiers”. But, very quickly, owners build villas. Drs. Durville for their part, amenage Arbousiers battery, named “Fort Napoleon”  to make it their home.

A real village emerges, little by little, from maquis with its little annex town hall, its post office, its school, and even,  a pretty chapel built by inhabitants in the 50’s. Island is rented to French state.Island is rented to French state. Summer vacationists, after registered, can go camp throughout island. But that doesn’t prevent Navy reactivating Levant shooting range (from sea toward land) and during these shots, a red flag is hoisted to the Madonna and island access from east is forbiden. Summer vacationists participate in physical culture sessions hosted by Gaston or André Durville, on Rioufrède beach, soaking up sun and the swim in the others island beaches; Beaches of “l’Ane, l’Huile, des Grottes and Titan”. lighthouse hikes, whose lighthouse-keeper do host table constitue one part of traditional parkways. Weddings and baptisms are object of news paper articles. And nudity? Nudists’s island, as it is already called in most serious newspapers, is not a nudists’s island. One wears little, very little clothes, one bathes naked when one can escape of guard vigilance. Nudism is forbidden by law. “NATURISME” newspaper firmly recalls it before beginning of 1939 summer. Article specifies that beaches are all located outside Héliopolis Domain. Nudism on beaches is strictly prohibited. To put himself naked in sun, we choose an isolated and discreet place. Overall, for merchants, nudism is a bad deal which wrong to hotels and restaurants customers. At village entrance, panels have been posted indicating it is a private domain open to public respectful its by-laws. The June 30, 1933, municipal bylaw, prohibits nudism and bathing suit outside beaches. It is applicable it to Levant as everywhere in the communauty.  at that time is designed and created the minimum, a small cache-sex by Mrs Druard (foundress with her husband of the “Bazar”), which allows speaking about nudity in relation to complete nudity. 1978 – 2005 – 2016: By municipal bylaws, Nudity is finally the sea front rule, tolerated everywhere else and prohibited on port area.

The 2nd World War in Levant

Since hostilities beginning, one can no longer access to Titan lighthouse  and camping is prohibited outside of Heliopolis domain. otherwise, one can continue walking and swimming everywhere.

There are a lot of people on holiday to Levant early summer of 1940. Then, island access is regulated because it is military zone.

In 1942, Italians occupied Levant island. Italian troops burglarize villas, steal vegetables in vegetable gardens, and cut wood everywhere.

Also still are 60 persons on island in 1943. In September, German troops attack Italians and take the three Hyeres islands. Thereafter Islands are occupied by two Armenian regiments until July 1944 where Armenians are replaced by Germans. Then, inhabitants must evacuate island. Some persons may stay to inform authorities: Mr. and Mrs. Jean Meyer, Paul Augier, Mr. and Mrs. Roger Manuel, Léopold Pégliasco, Jeremy Bailly, Louis Viale, Antoine Piacenza.

The 1944 August 15 disembarkation: A very large cannon battery has noticied at Titan. It must be neutralized at all costs. Second FSSF regiment (First Special Service Forces) intervenes at Levant. They are all volunteers, American and Canadian, selected and trained for commando actions. They are covered by naval artillery and air support is unlimited.

To defend Levant island, 90 Germans of  second Grenadier’s KP Regiment 917 (in Port Cros, they represent 50), no planes, some arms … and a big pile logs. The Titan’s famous battery was a lure

The island renewal and “naturism”: 1947 – 1985

At the war end , inhabitants come back and activities resume, Ayguade harbour is landscaped and protected by throught the setting up one first wreck, the Polyphème in 1948.

Levantine naturism is revived by an association in 1947, the Levant Island Naturist Friends, which published a review until 1956.

Many trades and campsites open and houses are built.

Artists and writers regularly come to Levant: Michel Simon, Madeleine Renaud and Jean-Louis Barreau, Jean-Albert Foëx, Michel Aubriant, Flore Rousseau, Annie Girardot, Jayne Mansfield, Rita Renoir, George Moustaki, Bernard Heuvelmans, Monique Watteau, Henri Vernes, Michel Aubriant, Errol Flynn.

Village life elapse with its festive activities such as annual of “Miss Levant” election and its different evenings at  “La Caravelle and Arbousiers”, sports events (swimming, canoe, volleyball) and, of course, its recurring problems like water, sanitation, roads and cornices, buildings,harbor…

1951 – 1960: that’s installation of the Special Equipment Testing Center and then Missile on Levant island. Firstly managed by the Navy, that’s Directorate General of Armament which is today site manager. The Rioufrède beach access is restricted and afterwards forbidden. A Domain part, acquired by Durville brothers (behind the Chapel) is expropriated in 1960. Héliopolis’s Domain is what it is today with its only beach, “des Grottes” beach.

1956: a fire broke trigged at “des Grottes” campsite. It’s the end of “des Grottes” campsite. The campsite then continues in property owners.


1989: Arrival of electricity with a laying of an underwater cable feeding Port Cros and Levant islands. That changes Levantine life: Noisy and polluting generating sets disappear and reside year round becomes easier.

1993: Creation of “Arbousiers” Voluntary Reserve (20 ha) following acquisition in 1984 by landowners Union located at north of domain SCI of gold islands, Jacques Durville owned (Gaston Durville son).

Dressed or undressed, all visitors are welcome if they agree to be as tolerant as villagers, for few hours, few days or more if, you too,falling in love with this island. Durville brothers naturism is still present. the Levantine conviviality and simplicity life give evidence of it.

To know more, books about Levant island history, fauna and flora. http://www.iledulevanthodie.fr/2015/01/des-livres.html