Menhirs and Dolmens

November 9, 2010

Today was the one I’ve been waiting for and it exceeded my expectations!  As I sit here writing, everything that could – hurts.  My back, my butt, my legs, my feet are all screaming in pain and I’ve never felt better.

We did it.  In the morning we spent three and a half hours hiking in the plain after a storm.  The locale was about ten minutes south of the Devil Village.  We started out with a little trepidation since we had breakfast watching rain clouds come and go over the valley below the village.  We kept seeing sun teasing out from a distance and it looked like the clouds were being pushed away from us.

Our goal was a series of three Neolithic sites called the Megaliths of Cauria.  We followed directions and arrived as promised at a road that was not negotiable by car.  We parked in the area provided and took off on foot.  There were little signs indicating the Stentari and we followed down a sandy road with ruts that could eat a medium large SUV, 4-wheel drive or not.  We dodged puddles when possible, and one was so large I rolled up my pants, took off my shoes and tried to walk through until I found myself up to my ankle in squishy mud.  Then I kept to the edges where it was not so deep or soft.

Yuck!  My feet were muddy, sandy and my sox were toast.  I cleaned off as best I could and trekked along.  There had been a car of four French people in the parking and we all took off together.   After my foot debacle (the rest went around in the bushes and over a barbed wire), the French people were quite a bit ahead of us. About a half hour of walking later we came to a little sign pointing to “Site” and we followed it through a field where a cow and a bull were grazing but paying no attention to us.  By now the clouds had disappeared and the sun was out in full force.

We came up to a small clearing fenced off by a wire fence and there was our first sighting of the menhirs.  Menhirs are standing stones from about six and a half feet high to about three feet generally thought to be representations of men.  There were about eight or ten of them, different sizes, and lined up in the sun.  Faces and weaponry were clearly indicated on several.  A couple of them had the design of swords.  No one knows who put them there, or exactly when they were made, but it is thought the first settlement was 5700 years ago and the stones date from at least 4500 years ago.  There is much discussion as to their purpose, religious, protection or whatever?  No one knows.  They’re placed in certain designs in relation to the sun so they might be part of a sun worship cult.  The cows watched us as we photographed the stones.  It was amazing the stones have lasted so long and still showed the details so clearly.  Perhaps their placement in the sun has saved them as there is no fungus or moss growing on them.  We appreciated the lack of garbage, debris or defacement in the area.  It appears the French have much more respect for their heritage.  How nice to see something not defaced by some morons’ initials spray painted on!

As we walked around the site there was another discreet green arrow pointing to the “dolmen.”  We walked for another half hour and on the top of a little mound all by itself was the dolmen, a monument built of large stones.  This one was thought to be used for funeral purposes as an ossuary with belongings  of the deceased.  All those were removed over the centuries.  The construction was of six very large flat stones, two on each of three sides, the fourth side open and one very large stone on top.  It was constructed mainly of rose granite.  The top stone looked as if it had cracked over the centuries, but the rest of it was in perfect shape.  It’s dated as Bronze Age and is thought to have been in use through the late Middle Ages.  From the look of the stones in relation to the ground, it appeared to have always been on a slightly raised piece of earth.

Another sign directed us to more of the standing stones and we walked for another half hour to a quiet grove that held dozens of menhirs of all sizes from two and a half through almost seven feet tall.    These were supposed to have been placed in three stages and are dated older than the first set we had visited.  In the shade and cool damp of the grove of trees where these stand, they have picked up another skin of mould, lichen and moss that have erased or hidden the details clearly visible on the others.  But it was stunning nevertheless.  We were able to walk freely among the stones and touch them.  Putting your hand on something that was made over four thousand years ago has a certain odd feeling.  You make a connection to a people we know nothing about, but still, their work has remained for you to touch and see.  If you could only touch their thoughts by touching the stones they carved.

We got back to the car with little incident other than the cow and bull taking a bit more interest in us when we left the grove, but the big boss decided we weren’t going to steal his chestnuts as we walked past them and away.  One of Melinda’s feet slipped into the big puddle on the way back but I managed to navigate it with shoes on this time.  She had another pair of shoes in the car so she could change and not have a wet f eet all day.

It was late for lunch and we realized we had been hiking through the field for over three and a half hours.  I hate hiking.  I never would go hiking when I was much younger.  But it was worth it.

On the way to the site we passed nothing that looked like a place to eat, so we went down the road to Tizzano, a lovely small seaside village.  Nothing was open but we watched the edge of the storm that passed earlier, pound its force on the beach, rocks and small marina of Tizzanno.  We ate some cookies we found in the car and scrounged up a few nuts and raisins at the bottom of a bag.  France is very shirty about eating times.  Lunch is twelve to two and if you’re late, too bad for you.  We missed lunch so we went on fortified by expectations.   Our next stop was to be the Alignment of Palaggiu.  It was only a few minutes back from Tizzano, we had passed the entrance and it was filled with very large granite boulders.  Not very enticing.

We pulled into the entrance, parked the car and looked over the rocks.  There was a road, rutted and pitted from the rains.  This one would have eaten a tank from the looks of it.  Melinda cheerfully announced that the alignment was only a kilometer and a quarter ahead.  I had no sox, feet stuffed in closed shoes with mud and sand between my toes.  The sun was shining brightly.  Like hot.  The sign out front announced “Private Property” and I thought the large rocks shouted their own message.  Loud and clear.

Melinda was much more pragmatic.  “Look, if they didn’t want us to come, why is it marked on all the maps and guide books?”  There is a definite logic to that.

We locked up the car, slid around the rocks and started off up the road.  Did I say I hate hiking?  This time I left my coat, long red scarf and denim hat in the car.  I had schlepped them all morning and they kept getting in my way once the sun came out.

We walked up the hill, down the hill, over the flat area, around several large puddles left from the morning’s rains.  At the top of a hill we came to a very large house and I was worried we were trespassing on someone’s driveway.  Then we realized the house had no roof.  It was ruined and deserted on the top of a hill with a spectacular view of the valley and out to the sea.  Yikes!

The road went down steeply from the house and all I could think of was having to climb back up.  By then nothing hurt anymore, it had all gone numb.  I couldn’t feel my feet, my hips or my back, that is except once in a while when a spasm would hit.  Luckily not very often.

Then we came to a long stretch over flat land.  I heard dogs barking.  There were shots in the distance.  Hunters?  Then Melinda said, “What do you think those big footprints are from?”

I had been looking at them too.  Very large four toed prints in the wet sand in front of us.  Hummm, I thought they were left by a giant Labrador with a hunter.  I was trying not to think about it.

Melinda insisted.  “There are chestnuts all over; could they be from wild pigs?”

“No, I don’t think so.  I think they are from a big dog, hopefully with someone who will keep them busy.”  I had thought of the sanglier too, but then remembered they had cloven hooves.  At least we didn’t have to worry about a wild pig jumping at us from the woods.  We were in the middle of nowhere, no people around for miles, other than those hunters I kept thinking about.

After about another half hour, I said to Melinda, “I’m about done in.  I don’t think I can go on much longer.  I keep thinking about having to go back and the hills.  Did I say I really hate hiking?

“Look, we got this far, we can’t quit now, let’s just go around the next bend in the trail and see what’s what.  Don’t give up because it’s been uphill both ways.”

I had seen some likely looking stones up a very high hill and over from where we were standing.  There was no way…all I could do was groan.

Melinda when on ahead a short way and yelled, “Come on, we’re here!” And we were.  Or at least we were at a clearing with two short stone columns off to the left.  The trail went straight.

“Which way do you think we go?  Straight or what?” Melinda said.

I pointed to something on the ground.  There was a large stick, looks like a handle to a rake or something, and some thoughtful person had placed a green metal angle in front making an arrow pointing at the pillars.  Also, someone had scratched “menhirs” on a totally rusted  sign.  We were there and just a few seconds after we walked through the pillars we were in another world.

According to the books there are 246 menhirs in this alignment, the largest ever found.  We didn’t count them, we marveled at them instead.  They were in all sizes from tiny ones under two feet to large ones well over eight feet tall.  They were standing, leaning, flat on the ground.  Every place we looked there were menhirs hiding in the maquis.  Melinda pointed out there were a lot that were narrowed at the bottom as if they were tapered on purpose to be inserted in the ground.

There were larger stones that looked like they may have been there for a grotto or a small altar, and some even appeared to have been carved.

We walked among these treasures left to by…who?  I photographed my hand on one of them.  It was a stunning connection to people who lived from four thousand to six thousand years ago.

These were in a grove on the lowlands and were subjected to damp and shade.  Many of their details were obscured by fungi growing over them in orange, white and green spots.   But here they were, a few miles from the Stentari we had seen in the morning, and they were facing in similar directions and again, an alignment.  Were they at war with each other or had they been created by the same people?

Melinda touched one on them and said something very profound.  “I wish I knew what they represented.  They were made with great passion by people long ago.  Just think, they had to survive, feed their families, but these stones were so important to them they put everything else aside to build these images.  And now, all those years later here we are and the images survived.  And we don’t know what they mean.”

I turned and looked at the stones, over a hundred of them clearly in sight, and built with an unbelievable cost in human energy and passion.  Here they were, clearly standing so far into the future it had to be unimaginable to their creators.  And here we are touching them, looking at them.  Trying to fathom, through the lichen, fungus, mold and time what the message was that these mystery peoples worked so hard to leave for us.  And we will probably never know.  How sad is that?




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