This year’s Summer Solstice was set to be special for us. Solstice in Carnac, Brittany, to feel the vibes of the past, feel the communion with Nature’s wonder of rebirth in Spring and the celebration of Summer as its start.
The shortest night of the year that we were awaiting impatiently, started with watching the evening sky over the sea through the huge, HD_screen_like window from our gite. The Bay of Morbihan is tranquil, all you could wish å from the seaside, secluded, quiet and still wild beaches with rocks sticking out from the seabed and marine pines giving some shade from bleaching sun.
We had some naive idea that it would be possible to experience the sun birth while standing between the rows of the ancient stones, exposing ourselves to the magic of this unique place. But, of course, it turned out that civilisation took the better of it and the site is closed off for the public by fencing. With sad hearts, we decided to visit the old chaps another day
Instead, we opted for Summer Solstice on the beach in our village. The Nature’s spectacle was very soul nourishing, blissfully beautiful for all of us. Our children, like real troopers were happy to get out of beds after 5 am to trot over to the beach with us. And they enjoyed themselves scouring for seashells and crabs between the rocks. When the first golden light peered from between the marine pines branches, the show started. As cheesy and as magical it was, I was thrilled to experience my first Summer Solstice on the beach.
We chose to explore the Carnac stones another day. The monuments are situated on the west side of Morbihan Bay, quite away from the seacoast, and it took us a good40mins drive to get there. As we approached Maison des Megalithes from Auray direction, we already met the first stone alignments. The road was built in the ‘50s specifically to improve access to the monuments. There was heated an argument about the route and its position, but eventually the Le Menec road towards the Le Menec, the most western alignment, was built.
In the ’90s all the Carnac alignments were fenced off to protect natural environment around the stones and prevent soil erosion due to high level of visitors. At the same time the sheep breed of Landes the Bretagne was introduced to maintain the site in ecological way.The Carnac site consists of five alignments, tombs or dolmens and menhirs, tall standing stones within alignments. Le Menec alignment is the first starting from the west, it comprises of eleven straight lines, arranged north east and south west. Megalithic builders used the terrain and always put the menhirs on the higher ground while the smallest stones were placed in lower grounds. It is believed some menhirs were erected well before the alignments themselves.
The Kermario alignment is about one km long with the Kermario dolmen at the end. Dolmens were a type of collective tombs, with a passage leading toward a burial chamber, covered by a barrow. In the middle of the Kermario, the remains of a mill were turn into a vantage point to view the monument from above.
On the way towards the Kerlescan alignment, there is smaller one, called Le Manio alignment. It is where the Geant du Manio is found, the tallest of menhirs in the Carnac stands. The Kerlescan alignment is the smallest at Carnac, oriented east – west, which is different to the other alignments. Surprisingly, only small part of the menhirs is buried in the ground and quite often in pits underneath them archeologist find evidence of some kind of foundation ceremonies.
The last alignment is Le Petit Menec, quite damaged as the some of menhirs were used as building materials for nearby walls.
Many of menhirs bear some grooves which are a result of erosion and not what one might think the evidence of some carving. Some of the stones even have some notches because until recently Carnac stones were a source of building material.
The Carnac alignments were build between 5000 and 2500BC, according to one theory, by neolithic people who were being transformed into farmers or according to the new one they were erected by the last hunter gatherers. Which ever you would be inclined to believe, it is difficult to really work out the purpose of them. How the site was important to the people in the past is obvious by the number of tombs in the area: dolmens and tumuli alike.
Through many centuries, Carnac stones were thought to be built by giants, like Gargantua, and it was not until the 17th century the first scholars took interest in them. Later, inspired by William Stukeley’s believe that Stonehenge was built by Celts, it was thought that Carnac alignments were too built by them and they were the site of human sacrifices or astronomical observatory.
It was later in the 19th century, that attention was drawn to the damage and destruction of the stone rows which were always a source of materials for locals – to this day you see farmhouses built within the stone rows. The preservation movement started with the aim to save the monuments as its historical and cultural importance was becoming obvious. The French government started to purchase the land around the megaliths and in 1888 the Carnac alignments were listed as historical monuments. It was then when the first archeological research started in Carnac. It continued even through WWII when Nazi scientists tried to back up their theories about people with “Nordic blood”.
Carnac remains very popular with visitors, you can only get inside the fenced off area with a booked guide or you can walk along the alignments, which is about 4 km route. Otherwise you can drive along the road with carparks available next to every alignment.
To be honest, we were a bit disappointed about restricted, understandably, access to the megaliths. Still while walking along them, you are getting the sense of scale of its undertaking and spirituality of the place. Its mighty presence in the landscape speaks of the enormous effort, dedication and ingenuity of people who decided to construct the alignments within the new environment, the moor and long after these people were gone the place was used to some extent even until Middle Ages. And no wonder the Carnac stones stirred human’s imagination, inspiring legends and artists alike.