Located in Morbihan, one of the four Britton départements, Carnac stretches its vast surface between the Morbihan Bay and the peninsula of Quiberon.
The name Carnac comes from the Celtic word “cairn” meaning butte, and numbers of hillocks emerge from an otherwise flat land: they were used as landmark for the construction of megaliths that made the site world famous. The place has been inhabited for 450 000 years, as we know from the vestige found in the village. The oldest monument found on the site was built between 5000 and 3400 BC: it is a massive burial mound apparently intended for the elite (all the discovered mortuary artefacts are on display in the Prehistoric Museum), but because of degradation, it is no longer open to the public.
You still have a lot to see: some 3000 menhirs are scattered on a surface of 40 hectares and 4km long, determined upon an architectural design, sorted into three major alignments named Le Mennec, Kermario and Kerlescan. These megaliths were erected between 4500 and 2000 BC, during the Neolithic age. A new era was starting for mankind, with the use of polished stone, emerging technologies like agriculture and stockbreeding, and stoneware development. It was the age of settlement. The word “menhir” comes, of course, from the Celtic words “men”, stone, and “hir”, long: they are, indeed, long upright standing stones, and in Carnac their height ranges from four meters to sixty centimetres, from west to east. Legend has it that Saint Cornély, chased by Roman soldiers, turned around and froze them into stones. But the origin of these alignments is still a mystery, although it is now almost certain religious beliefs prevailed, as well as astronomical purposes; they are lined up in regular semi-circles with such precision that some researchers believe they could have been a giant calendar, or a reproduction of the sky. Controversy remains about who, how and why these huge stones were erected on this site, the largest in Europe.
Another type of stones exists on the site: the dolmen (from the Celtic words “tol”, table and “men”, stone). They are Neolithic tombs consisting of two (or more) upright stones, and a capstone with a central opening.
Note that the site is closed to the public now, unless you join a tour to get inside the circles.
The visit to the Prehistory Museum is really a must if you want to understand the historical importance of the site: all the knowledge gathered here tries to answer the questions about the origins of the megaliths.
And there are more monuments in the area, like the Locmariaquer site, where you can see the longest menhir in the world, today laying on the ground; it once was 20 meters long and was brought here from another place. It has been calculated that moving it on tree trunks required the strength of 1200 men or 250 oxen. How important these monuments must have been to the not so primitive men!
After such a voyage in the ancient times, you might want to relax a little. Well, Carnac, luckily, is a resort, and a very nice one, with fine sand beaches, and all the activities you can think of. And why not try Quiberon? It is one of the favourite places for the French rich and famous, mostly because of its thalassatherapy resort. Once an island, the Quiberon peninsula protrudes in the ocean on a 14kilometers long spit of land. It has two faces: the east is very quiet with downwind sandy beaches, while the west is a wild coast ragged by pounding waves. Both sides are very attractive for sea lovers. And in the village you will find the best salted butter caramels in the world. Indulge yourself!