Summer Solstice in Carnac
That Summer Solstice was set to be special for us. We were planning to spend solstice morning in Carnac, Brittany, a landscape so important to our ancestors to find out if the magical atmosphere is still there and to welcome Summer as it starts.
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 from the seaside, secluded, quiet, wild beaches dotted with rocks sticking out from the seabed and marine pines giving some shade from bleaching sun.
We had somewhat 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, it turned out that civilisation took the better of it and the site is closed off for public by fencing. With disappointed 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, set away from the coast, and it took us a good 40mins drive to get there. As we approached Maison des Megalithes from Auray direction, we already saw the first stone alignments. The road was built in the ‘50s specifically to improve access to the monuments. There was a heated argument about the route and its position, but eventually the 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 local sheep breed Landes was introduced to maintain the site in a natural 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 a higher ground while the smallest stones were placed in lower grounds. It is believed some menhirs were erected well before the alignments themselves.
The Alignments of Carnac
The Kermario alignment is about one kilometre 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 stands, the tallest of menhirs in the Carnac. The Kerlescan alignment is the smallest at Carnac, oriented east – west, which is different compared to the other alignments. Surprisingly, only small part of the menhirs is buried in the ground and quite often in pits underneath archeologists find evidence of some kind of foundation ceremonies.
The last alignment, Le Petit Menec, is quite damaged as some of the menhirs were used as building materials for nearby walls. Many menhirs bear some grooves which are a result of erosion and not an evidence of carving. Some of the stones have some notches because until recently Carnac stones were a source of building material.
Who Were the Carnac Builders
The Carnac alignments were build between 5000 and 2500BC. According to one theory, neolithic people, who were going through a transformation into a farmers society, erected the stones as to mark a beginning of the new era. However, there is a new theory around stating that the alignments were created by the last hunter gatherers dealing with the end of their way of living. Which theory you would be inclined to believe in, it is difficult really to figure out the purpose of undertaking such a big project. The importance of the site for its creators and their ancestors is very obvious: it was sacred ground strewed with number of tombs: dolmens and tumuli alike.
Through centuries, people believed the Carnac stones to be built by giants, like Gargantua, and it was not until the 17th century the first scholars took interest in them. Later, following William Stukeley’s believe that Stonehenge was built by Celts, it was thought that Carnac alignments alike were built by them and they were the site of human sacrifices or astronomical observatory.
It was later in the 19th century, that the attention was drawn to the damage and destruction of the stone rows. They were often a source of materials for locals – to this day you see farmhouses built within the stone rows. The preservation movement started with an 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 Still Inspires
Carnac remains very popular with visitors, you can only get inside the fenced off area with a booked guide. You can walk along the alignments, which is about 4 km trail. 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. Long after these people were gone, the place was used to some extent even until the Middle Ages. No wonder the Carnac stones stirred human’s imagination, inspiring legends and artists alike.