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photo by Michel Polard

Detail of "kennel-hole" in the southern dolmen of the aligned megaliths at Wéris in Belgium (3 km ESE of Dubuy in the eastern Belgian province of Luxembourg).

Click here to see

large pictures of two of the most impressive tombs in the South of France







part II

text and photographs by

Anthony Weir

A sixteenth-century sketch of the Pierre Levée, Poitiers


The tombs shown on this site are mostly either the squat Dolmens simples which resemble the æsthetically more-impressive Irish Portal Tombs, or long gallery-tombs of the type known in France as Allées-couvertes (covered passages).

The well-known sepulchres of Brittany are mainly Passage-tombs, which are rare elsewhere in France - and relatively rare throughout Europe. In Gallery-tombs the gallery is the tomb, so to speak, whereas in Passage-tombs the passage leads to the tomb proper, which is a larger space or chamber. All megalithic tombs in France tend to be called dolmens (from the Breton for 'stone table'), and Passage-tombs are often - confusingly - called Dolmens à galerie. But they can, more accurately, be termed Dolmens à chambre et couloir.

Quite a few French tombs, especially Dolmens simples, still have their covering and surrounding mound (tumulus or cairn).

Some of the Allées-couvertes are huge. The Grand Dolmen of Bagneux East (now a suburb of Saumur) is the largest megalithic chamber in Europe. Dances and banquets have been held within it - and it has for over a century been part of a café-bar.
Tombs like this never had a covering mound or cairn, but were a kind of Temple-tomb rather more primitive than those found in Malta.

click for a high-resolution picture click for more

Bagneux East, Saumur (Maine-et-Loire)


Others - especially Dolmens simples of the limestone plateaux known as causses - are as small as a Megalithic Cist (Coffre in French) or the smallest Irish Wedge-tomb.

The Dolmen de la Madeleine, one of several Allées-couvertes near Gennes was adapted to become a bakehouse (long since disused), and others have, naturally, become storehouses and sheds.

Gennes (Maine-et-Loire): bread-oven inside a large tomb
known as the Dolmen de la Madeleine;
and the same tomb from the front, narrower, lower end.

click for a high-resolution image
click the picture for a high-resolution image

French dolmens rejoice in a variety of names. Whereas Irish tombs tend to be Giants' Graves or (after a couple of fleeing legendary lovers like Tristan and Isolde) Dermot and Grania's Bed, French tombs are mostly more prosaically described as Pierre-Levée (raised stone), Pierre Folle (crazy stone), Pierre Couverte (covered stone), Pierre-Pèse (heavy stone), or Pierres-Plates (flat stones) - though some, especially in the West, are associated with spirits or genii loci: La Grotte or La Roche aux Fées (Fairy Rocks or Grotto).

click to see old postcards
La Pierre Levée, in a south-eastern suburb of Poitiers (Vienne)

La Roche aux Fées, Essé (Ille-et-Vilaine),
with interior headroom of two metres and
big enough to be used for Kermesses

click for a high-resolution enlargement

In a more literary vein, one that I have not yet visited in the commune of Fargues
at Lumé in the département of the Lot-et-Garonne is known as 'Gargantua's Bed'. (But the name of Gargantua has been attached to menhirs and natural features all over France and beyond.)
More prosaically, a fine and large Gallery-tomb in Brittany is known as 'The Merchants' Table' because it made a handy stall for itinerant pedlars.

One was known as Le Caveau du Diable

click for high-resolution pictures

Dolmen de la Contrie, Ernée (Mayenne)

(The Devil's Cave) as well as Dolmen de la Contrie.

Others have been Christianised - most dramatically the Dolmen de la Madeleine on an island in the river Vienne, whose (preumably three or four) supporting uprights were replaced in the 12th century by four elegant Romanesque columns, to make it into a little shrine.

click to enlarge

Dolmen de la Madeleine, south of Confolens (Charente)

A menhir on the borders of Brittany and South Normandy was Christianised with a niche for a statuette now gone.

Menhir de Pierre Frite (Mayenne)

while one of the most beautiful menhirs in the world now stands
at the corner of the façade of Le Mans Cathedral.

click for a larger photo

Monolith at Le Mans (Sarthe)

Some menhirs attract legends like antennæ - especially one as remarkable as La Pierre Percée leaning 4 metres high at Drache in Touraine, with its natural hole through which troth was plighted by the exchange of bouquets. Children whose heads were passed through the hole were protected from scrofula (TB). Even the grass at its foot protected against evil spells and spirits.

click for another view

Drache (Indre-et-Loire): 4 metres high.

click for another view


a splendid standing-stone in the Lot

This selection of photographs has been made mainly from æsthetic considerations, for I think that the value of megaliths lies in their sculptural beauty and ambiance rather than their antiquity: after all, none is older - or more beautiful - than the stone of which it is composed.


click to enlarge

The author and Menhir at Cinturat (Haute-Vienne)

This selection of photographs has been made mainly from æsthetic considerations, for I think that the value of megaliths lies in their sculptural beauty and ambiance rather than their antiquity: after all, none is older - or more beautiful - than the stone of which it is composed.


Kermario Alignments, Carnac, Brittany


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