Some say that there are three things that you could see from outer space – although they don’t mention whether you would need a telescope. The first is the Nazca Lines drawn in the desert sands of South Peru; the second is the Great Wall of China. The third is … would you believe it, the Stones of Carnac in Brittany, France?
There’s a lot of hype around the dolmens and menhirs that decorate the landscape near Carnac on the west coast of Brittany. They certainly are old. In fact they probably date from 4,500-3500 years ago, in Neolithic times. Quite why the builders chose to place them where they did though, and why they did so is a matter of opinion.
At Ménec just outside Carnac there’s a narrow field with a rounding at each end that contains upwards of a thousand standing stones or menhirs - that’s the thing the giant carries round in Asterix cartoons. There are eleven rows of stones up to ten feet high, each stretching for three-quarters of a mile.
There are numerous gaps left by stones taken for use in buildings elsewhere. At either end there’s a ruined dolmen or stone grave. You get there from the Ménec car park. Walk back to the village for a super view down the rows. Just don’t drive. The locals enjoy their peace and quiet.
Kermario has a similar display of rows of standing stones, except that there are only seven rows and these fan out a little towards a stone circle at one end. Some call it the house of the dead and it certainly is a peaceful place. These stones are large; especially the ones nearest to the visitor centre that has useful information.
The best views are from several stopping places along the road outside the field which is fenced off with a single entrance. There’s also a large stone grave or dolmen on the edge of the village that’s surprisingly intact. All in all, Kermario is a great place to see the Stones of Carnac.
Kelcerscan is perhaps the most interesting of the three rows of standing stones near Carnac. That’s because, although the rows are shorter and there are only 565 stones, there’s a complete stone circle at one end, and signs of another one at the other. This is an important clue as to what the roundings at the other sites were for.
If you spot rows of stones when driving past you need to turn around and find the car park near the riding school. Follow the widest path through fields to where the largest stone Géant du Manio stands twenty feet tall. This is the least visited of the three fields of Carnac menhirs, and the best one to think about what you’ve seen.
What the Stones Mean
The short answer is that nobody knows for sure. Some people once believed that they are tombstones in giant cemeteries. If that is true, then the acid Brittany soil will have eaten away the bones, so we’ll never know. The stone circles might provide a clue. Like Stonehenge, these are often associated with religion and astronomy.
Other suggestions are more imaginative. They certainly align with other relics at St. Pierre and Quiberon on a narrow isthmus across the Gulf of Morbihan, creating an equilateral triangle useful for observing movements of the stars (scroll to the bottom of the linked-page). Others think they functioned like airport landing lights for visitors from another galaxy.
The Musée de Préhistoire
If what you have seen has fascinated you, then definitely visit the Musée de Préhistoire in Carnac. It has over six thousand exhibits that explain the standing stones in scientific terms. It’s open all-year round except for January, May 1st and 25th December. An adult ticket costs €5.
More than Just Standing Stones
Carnac is also a seaside town on the west coast of Brittany where there’s more to see than the Stones of Carnac, however fascinating they may be. These include pretty fishing harbours, lovely sandy beaches and rugged cliffs. These invite you to explore them, after a morning spent wondering at mysterious relics from the past.