Step again in time as we head to Morbihan, in Brittany, to discover the enduring standing stones at Carnac.
Saint Cornelius wasn’t too keen on pagans. Again within the third century BC, discovering himself pursued by a military of Roman legionaries, he used his non secular powers to rework all of them into stone. The results of his curse survives to today within the type of 3,000 megalithic stones, standing sentry in row upon row and unfold out throughout southern Morbihan, close to the coast of Brittany. That’s in case you consider the legend.
They’re known as the Carnac alignments. Stretching for 4km or so northeast from Carnac, the big, gray granite boulders are upright, evenly spaced, vaguely symmetrical and embedded into the soil. There are different formations, too: cairns, stone tombs known as dolmens, burial mounds known as tumuli, and enclosures, the place the stones have been positioned shut collectively, typically in a half circle or horseshoe form. Altogether, they represent the most important group of standing stones on the planet.
The person boulders – or menhirs, as they’re known- vary in peak: some are only a metre excessive, others a lot taller than your common human. Essentially the most spectacular of all, known as Le Géant du Manio, which stands guard a brief means west of Kerlescan, is round six metres excessive. Even Asterix’s sidekick Obelix, who was moderately keen on a menhir, would have had a tough time carrying this one.
A formidable sight
Taken singly, the stones aren’t notably spectacular; actually not on the dimensions of Stonehenge, for instance (which they pre-date by not less than 1,000 years, by the best way). However if you view them as a bunch, from up excessive, the impact is awe-inspiring, particularly when you think about the bodily effort concerned of their placement. It was on a cool morning this previous spring from the terrace of the Maison des Mégalithes (the customer centre for your entire website) that I bought my first aerial view of Carnac’s stones.
From right here you possibly can look throughout Le Ménec alignment and instantly you perceive why historic Gauls might need thought this was a Roman military turned to stone.
That afternoon, I adopted the lengthy footpath that runs alongside and largely parallel to the teams of stones. There are 5 separate alignments in all, beginning simply north of Carnac with Le Ménec, which lies near the hamlet of the identical identify. Then come the Kermario, Le Manio and Kerlescan alignments, ending with the smallest group of all, Le Petit Ménec alignments.
Throughout the winter months, you’re allowed to mingle freely among the many stones, however in summer season, as vacationers descend of their droves on this a part of Brittany, you’re obliged to hitch an official guided tour. Steel inexperienced fences encircle every alignment, and among the native residents are distinctly sad concerning the restricted entry – at a number of factors alongside the road of the fence, they’ve positioned indicators complaining concerning the state of affairs.
There may be one group of locals, nevertheless, permitted entry all yr spherical: the flocks of sheep which wander and graze between the stones. As a type of grass administration, it’s a nifty resolution, particularly since even probably the most intrepid gardener would have a job getting an industrial mower in between the hundreds of stones.
Perusing these prehistoric monuments, the primary query any modern-day customer asks is, ‘how on Earth did they get there?”. Over the centuries, archaeologists have pored over the menhirs, finding out them intimately. The consensus now’s that they have been erected between 4,500 BC and three,500 BC, in the course of the Neolithic interval, by early farming communities dwelling within the area, utilizing granite from the native bedrock beneath the soil.
The Centre des Monuments Nationaux, France’s authorities physique in command of the nation’s historic websites, printed a brand new ebook this yr known as The Carnac Alignments: A Panorama of Prehistoric Megaliths.
“Have been they erected over a interval of a number of months or years by numerous individuals participating in a extremely organised constructing venture, or did the development take dozens, even a whole bunch of years, with a a lot smaller group elevating the stones solely on particular events?” the authors ask. “Are the alignments the results of a large collective effort or of gradual particular person acts? Probably each.”
The second, extra urgent, query is, ‘why on Earth have been they put there?’. A lot ink has been spilled in makes an attempt to reply this. Maybe they have been non secular monuments, associated to the worship of the solar or the moon. Or a message for future generations? Or, since this was a interval in historical past when people had lately switched from hunter-gatherer to agrarian societies, have been they linked someway to the farming calendar? Did they maybe act as a form of territorial boundary between completely different tribes? One idea is that, way back, this area was much more inclined to seismic exercise and the stones have been an early-warning system for earthquakes, since even small tremors within the floor would dislodge them barely from their positions.
Looking for which means
Probably the greatest-informed specialists on the phenomenon is Serge Cassen, a researcher on the College of Nantes. He suggests we must always observe the areas between the standing stones simply as carefully as we observe the stones themselves. “If you cross between the stones it’s such as you’re crossing a frontier,” he as soon as defined.
Curiously, again when the stones have been erected, 6,000 or so years in the past, the land on this a part of Morbihan was very flat with few bushes. It wasn’t lengthy after the final ice age, both, so melting glaciers meant sea ranges have been rising, making the gulfs alongside Brittany’s coast – together with the Bay of Quiberon that Carnac sits in – extraordinarily weak to flooding.
The reality is, nobody can actually be certain why the stones have been erected and maybe we’ll by no means know. In response to the Centre des Monuments Nationaux, the jury could be very a lot nonetheless out. “The standing stones of Carnac haven’t but revealed the rationale for his or her existence,” they are saying. “Seemingly with no hyperlinks to the celebrities, solar or moon… The spectacle of the megaliths provides an concept of the unimaginable story that was written right here over a number of hundreds of years, by the need of women and men searching for to convey some form of message.”
It’s an announcement I need to confess to discovering slightly underwhelming. Absolutely in any case this time, some shiny archaeologist would have lastly cracked the enigma?
One summer season, whereas on vacation close to Carnac with my household, I used to be pondering this very query. I used to be on the Plage de Saint-Colomban, simply west of Carnac, constructing a sandcastle with my two youngsters. Because the tide started to come back in, they labored furiously to guard their fort from the ocean, utilizing increasingly more sand to rebuild the partitions every time an incoming wave overran it. In the end, although, they knew full effectively it was a fruitless process.
So if I’ll advance a idea of my very own… Maybe the Carnac stones are just like my youngsters’ sandcastle, and in an period when sea ranges have been rising, these industrious locals erected these spectacular Neoliths as a symbolic however flawed defence in opposition to the incoming tide.
Visiting the Carnac alignment
An excellent place to start out is the Maison des Mégalithes, the customer centre on the western finish of the alignments, only a kilometre north of Camac-Ville city centre. Open all yr spherical and free to go to, it has reveals and movies explaining the importance of the entire website. Standing on the terrace, you’ll get a unbelievable aerial view of Le Ménec alignment.
From right here it’s greatest to discover the stones on foot. From October to March you possibly can wander freely between them however, from April to September entry is barely permitted with a tour information. You’ll be able to, nevertheless, view the stones from past the encircling fences. Much less cell guests can drive alongside the D196, which runs parallel to the alignments, stopping to view stones alongside the best way.
One other website price visiting is the Musée de Préhistoire which traces human historical past throughout Brittany from the Paleolithic period to the Center Ages.
Extra data right here: www.carnactourism.co.uk
Break up into two distinct districts – Carnac-Ville and Carnac-Plage – this beautiful seaside city is the proper summer season vacation spot. Like lots of the extra upmarket Brittany seaside resorts, it has a preppy really feel to it (or BCBG – bon stylish, bon style – because the French say).
Carnac-Ville boasts some fascinating (and really touristy) outlets and eating places within the streets across the Renaissance-style Église Saint-Comély. Way more thrilling, although, is the grid of streets set again from the primary seaside at Camac-Plage. Right here, on heat summer season days, you possibly can wander down the bar and restaurant-lined Avenue Miln, Avenue des Druides and Allée du Parc, mingling with well-heeled French holiday-makers and second-homers wearing crusing manufacturers and cashmere jumpers. No matter you do, don’t miss the ice cream parlour l’Igloo, on the nook of Avenue Miln and Allée du Parc. Based again within the Seventies, it serves all of the basic flavours you’d anticipate, in addition to some moderately palate-challenging ones. Candy potato and cinnamon? Flambéed banana in curry? Pomegranate and hibiscus flower? Come on, be daring. You’re on vacation.
Carnac has 5 seashores to select from in all, letting you observe the solar from moming to nightfall for the rising solar, strive the Plage de Beaumer: dealing with south is the primary stretch of sand, la Grande Plage, ignored by some huge and exquisite villas lining the Boulevard de la Plage; additionally south-facing are the smaller Plage de Légenèse and Plage de Ty Bihan; by sundown you’ll have moved to the west-facing Plage de Saint-Colomban. All 5 boast fantastic sand and sheltered waters, making them excellent for bathing and water sports activities.
By ferry – Dominic Bliss travelled to France on Brittany Ferries which sails every day direct to Brittany on two routes: Portsmouth to Saint-Malo and Plymouth to Roscoff. Costs begin from £125 every means for a automobile and two individuals. Go to www.brittany-ferries.co.uk
From France As we speak Journal
Lead photograph credit score : © CHRISTIAN GLUCKMAN
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