We traveled to Carnac in the Southern part of Brittany, France, with our dearest friends to see the exceptional 6000 year old Neolithic sites. It is thought to be the largest collection of megalithic sites in the world because there are more than 3,000+ large, free standing stones scattered around the countryside of Carnac; which is only a fraction of what was originally there. The estimate for what was originally there was 10,000+ Neolithic Menhirs (from the Britton “Long / Upright Stones”), also popularly known as standing stones. The magnificent collection of standing stones in Carnac is one of the hidden gems of Brittany; it has been protected by UNESCO World Heritage since 1996.
It was erected by the pre-Celtic people of Brittany during the Neolithic era which is approximately between 4500 BC to 2000BC. The reason why those stones were erected remains a mystery. There are several hypotheses, such as: First, it might be related to astronomy, the way Stonehenge is supposed to be. Second, it might be related to religion. Third, successive generations might have visited the site and erected stones to see who had the biggest one. One might see a correlation with the way even humble villages all over Brittany had been building big churches with rather impressive bell-towers from the 15th century till the end of the 19th century to see who had the biggest one. Possibly. Occam’s blade and all…
We went there during the summer, July 2013, during which the number of people in Carnac swells from the influx of tourists, since this place is very popular, especially during July and August. We wanted to get inside the sites so that we could see the Menhirs closely and appreciate them even more, but when we arrived at the place there was no available guide and we couldn’t get inside the site without a guide even if we had tickets.
There are many sites which display outstanding collection of these upright megalithic Menhirs and if you wish to visit all the sites you need to buy a ticket for each site. The ticket costs €6 for an adult and free for children below 18 years old. It used to be free all, indeed it had been free for about 6000 years, but the UNESCO decided about 15 years ago that tourists were a danger to the standing stones. One even has to wear closed shoes to get inside the Menhir fields. Strange. Not even Petra, the Mont Saint Michel, the Angkor Wat or Notre Dame de Paris have so stringent rules for visitors. It seems to me that the UNESCO had turned a 5-star walk into a succession of graveyards for standing stones.
We walked around the sites in order to bring the prehistory to life for a short while since we couldn’t get inside the sites. I was told that 15 years ago, there was no fence and everybody was free to get closer to the Menhirs. There is a local association called “Menhirs Libres (Free Standing Stones)”, which still campaigns for the right to see those Standing Stones without having the feeling that both the visitors and the Stones are in some kind of jail-like cemetery.
Anyway, during this visit, I have learned that the size of each monolith varies from thigh-high size up to roughly 6 meters high. Awesome! Also, the megaliths include: Alignment which means rows of standing stones, Dolmen which means Lying Stone, Cairn which means a stone monument covering burial places, Enclosure which means a space which is closed off by adjoining or close megaliths, and Menhirs which means large, free-standing stones.
I would say that it was a lovely walk amongst the megaliths. Indeed, Carnac is a place one should not miss when you visit Brittany, France. 🙂
Have you visited the Megalithic sites in Carnac?