Carnac is a small town in southern Brittany just north of the seaside resort of Quiberon. The town itself is pretty but in itself unremarkable. When Dad and I arrived there on a Tuesday afternoon we were amazed how sleepy it seemed, saying “If this was in England it would be heaving with visitors.” However, Carnac is world famous for something that lies just beyond the edge of the town: its standing stones.
There are, literally, thousands of these stretching for several miles to the west of the town, they all stand neatly in lines although there are occasional “Dolmen”, that is a group of standing stones together.
Each stone represents a burial site, the Dolmen is a group burial site. What makes these stone stand out further is the fact that they were erected between 5,000B.C. and 4,000B.C. during the stone age with extremely primitive tools used to carve and erect them.
If you are to visit the stones then you are advised to go first to the Town and visit the Museum of Prehistory which tells the story of the stones, shows you the tools used to make them and also tells the story of those who have excavated the sites and found out how these things came to be and why the came to be. It is from these excavations that they found the stones to be burial sites, they worked out the alignment of the stones in those straight lines to be linked the “lay-lines” and placed as they were with great ritual.
Going to the Museum makes sense of the stones before you go to see them. (A piece of advise: check when the museum is open, its closed on Tuesdays in June for example and Wednesday is market day, which is one of the biggest markets I’ve seen when the sleepy town really comes to life!).
After learning about the stones visiting them is stunning. You see how they are all aligned, you can make out rough carvings on some of them, but you are always thinking “how was it possible to do this with such primitive tools and knowledge”. You can walk the site in several hours or you can move from site to site by car (there are also bus trips but they are all delivered in French which is a problem if you have no French like me!).
So why has this site been a place of pilgrimage for so long? Partly because of why the stones are there: a place to remember the dead, a place to pray and hope that they are safe beyond death. The questions that humanity has been trying to answer for centuries, why are we here and what happens beyond this life. Also, later, there came two legends, amazingly similar, that linked the stones to the Christian world. The first concerns St Cornelius, to whom the Church in Carnac is dedicated. In the 1st Century A.D. during Roman persecutions of Christians he is said to have prayed as the people were being attacked by Legionaries and these were all turned to stone after his prayer (hence the stones all being in lines). The other story is from the Legends surrounding King Arthur, he was being attacked by his enemies in the Carnac area and the Wizard Merlin turned his enemies into stone! Both stories are amazing in that local folk accepted them even though the stones themselves pre-dated and pre-existed them!
Whether you go for the Legends, for the History of simply to see a man made wonder you cannot go to Carnac and leave without a sense of awe, amazement and wonder.