We visit Andorra 3-4 times a year to see friends in Arinsal and walk the mountains. Since our friends are not as ‘stone mad’ as me, I have so far not suggested we go hunting for megaliths. But last weekend I persuaded them that it might be interesting to go looking for dolmens and menhirs – and so I checked on the Megalithic Portal map – where I found a big blank space – not a single mention! I thought I must have made some mistake, so I began searching the Net – but the only information I found was on the blogs of David Gálvez Casellas and Jordi Casamajor. And the news was not good : there are, it seems, no megaliths in Andorra.
David is a teacher and journalist, and Jordi a sculptor and graphic artist, whose interest in rock carvings has taken him all over the Pyrennees. His blog documents his researches, which reveal that while Andorra may be poor in dolmens and menhirs – it is rich in cupulas and carvings, from the late Neolithic up to recent centuries.
David leaves us with tantalising possibilities : there is documented evidence of at least one standing stone – carved subsequently with a St. Christoper figure – but mysteriously removed in the late ’70’s. There are slabbed stone stuctures which may be dolmens, though not in any ‘classic’ form – and there are the suggestive remains of groups of stones, which may simply be accidents of nature.
He acknowledges the impact that the construction of modern Andorra has had on elements of the old ways. I also suspect that the Catholic church may well have been determined to erase as much of the ‘pagan’ past as possible. I would be interested to discuss other theories as to why there are megaliths in all the surrounding areas of this region – like the harrespil (basque cromlechs) – but none in Andorra itself.
Research by archaeologists seems to show that during the Chalcolithic/Early Bronze age, dolmens and grottoes were linked in the funerary practices here in the Languedoc/Catalunya region. The grotto was a place of primary inhumation, open to the elements and to animals. When the bones had lost their flesh, they were transferred to the dolmen and sealed in. Dolmens were built a short walk from grottos and could be part of a ‘religion’ that saw both as some sort of ‘womb’ of ‘Mother Nature’ – places to which the dead should be returned.
Frequently, springs are found in the same immediate area, thus forming a three-part system: springs and ‘holy wells’ are life-sustaining elements vital to these small communities, while the need to satisfy the requirements of the dead were provided by the grottos and the dolmens. Of course this is pure speculation – by me and a few others.
Thus, if one has located some important and significant spring or well (often ‘taken over’ by the Church) then there may be also a grotto or cave nearby – and near to that again, a dolmen.
The dolmens in our region nearly all point south-east, south, or south-west, and they are all on a high place, looking out over a valley or plain – but they are rarely on the very top of a hill.
With these three elements in mind, I will be back next spring with map and compass and hope – and I might just meet up with these keen searchers on the mountain-slopes.
Note: David’s blog does describe his visit to the cist-graves discovered in 1991 at Juberri, known as La Feixa del Moro ( The Moor’s Table).
Feixa del Moro at Juberri in Andorra. Photo David Galvez Casellas
‘Following the excavation there was an attempt – perhaps incomplete, but very laudable – at a reconstruction of the environment and that there were replanted many species of flora that had been documented as growing in the area 5,000 years ago . The sense was that of being in a beautiful place, almost untouched, with echoes of the sacred. At our first sighting of the first cista : prominent, well-kept, very well built, amazing.’ (Trans. Google and me).
He is careful to distinguish between the prehistoric, and the megalithic. It would be interesting to know the dimensions of these burial stones and their orientation.
Feixa del Moro. Une tombe néolithique en ciste dans le domaine archéologique d’Andorre.
CANTURRI P. ; LLOVERA X. ;
La première sépulture néolithique découverte en Andorre, attribuable au Néolithique moyen-récent de Catalogne. Type 3 des “Sépulcros de fosa”, faciès des cistes, apparenté au Solsonien.
In the XIII century, (some texts say the XII century) La Chapelle de Notre-Dame de Centeilles was built close to the site of a romanesque chapel, or of a Roman villa. Throughout the Middle Ages Centeilles was the centre of a thriving community on the trail between plain and mountain and was the focus of an important fair and market on 25th and 26th March. It was also a centre of pilgrimage for Ascension Day, with its Procession of the Rogations, and Assumption Day.
The first fresco to face the weary pilgrim was that of St. Christopher, patron saint of travellers.
La Révolution put an end to this tradition – the human population deserted it, and it was used as a barn. For the next one hundred years it was occupied by sheep. It was sold in 1960, for 500 francs. to the Diosese of Narbonne who later handed it over to Les Amis de Centailles, an association that undertook its repair and upkeep.
The early christian church had not chosen this place at random – it was a site of sacred significance since the earliest times. For wherever Our Lady has been installed and adored it is certain that she replaced a pre-christian animist or fertility cult – usually of Cybele, or Potnia Theron, the Queen of the Animals – one of the myriad names of the Mother Goddess.
For more photos and info- see the Chapelle de Centeilles Page
I have yet to return empty-handed from a day of dolmen-hunting, even if I fail to find anything. The map may say ‘Pierre Droite’ but a tractor or a religion may have removed it.
I have searched repeatedly for these, and will continue until I find their ‘presence’ or the reason for their absence. These searches uncover places and reveal people: Germain, an old man with passionate memories of a megalithic necropolis discovered as a young man up on les Causses de La Planette – meeting him up in the hills has set in motion a whole new area of reseach.
This Easter, we went looking for le dolmen de Combe Violon above La Livinière, but a cold wet wind cut short the search. The dolmens de Mousse were not far away but again it was too cold to stay – even though we were close to hell. L’Enfer is a barren hillside of white jumbled rubble, a petrified torrent of shattered limestone that resolves into walls and tumuli and capitelles –
Just beyond is the hillside that contains les dolmens de Mousse and le grand dolmen de Lauriol – but not for us that day. I returned to the internet to research these dolmens – and discovered that someone else was up there that afternoon – Yves Le Pestipon had posted photos of them on a remarkable multi-author weblog called L’Astrée.net – an unfolding series of events and situations, writings and images – including many on megalithic culture.
Today I set out with this little shopping list :
Quarante (village in Minervois-Herault)
Vestiges préhistoriques et antiques
* Habitats chalcolithiques : Bel Air, Fontanche.
* Dolmen de Pech Ménel.
* Cromlech de Malviés.
* Cachette de fondeur (fin âge du Bronze) à Bellevue.
* 35 villas romaines principalement : Pech Ménel, La Massale, Saint-Fréchoux, Les Clapiers, Parazols, Les Sèmièges, La Condamine de Rivière, Les Commandeurs, La Barreire.
* Tombes wisigothiques : Souloumiac, Parazols, Grange Haute, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint-Martin, Saint-Fréchoux.
* Les Huyères : ancien fief seigneurial ; cimetière abandonné, 3 silos.
* Nécropole à incinération du type “Champ d’Urnes” du 1er âge du Fer au lieu dit Recobre (35 tombes, mobilier au musée de Narbonne).
But I have learnt to take all this with a large pinch of ‘hand-crafted’ salt from Gruissan.
I set out with high hopes – while fully concious that half of this guff has been cobbled together from old documents, and that in the land-rush of the 1970’s any old stone that happened to be sitting in a field growing lichen was bulldozered into the ditch to make way for the Great New Wines of Languedoc.
Now that the grants have dried up – and so have some of the French (they are no longer drinking three times their body-weight in wine per annum – man, woman and child) – it may be too late.
I only managed to find one of these sites.
The dig at Pech Ménel
And even if it was a dismal collection of stones, and even if I did have to cross vineyards to interview every person I saw on the landscape, only to hear that No: they had never heard of any neolithic site, or stone alignment, or dolmen, or prehistoric settlement, and that they had a) Lived here all their lives or b) Just moved to the area …. it didn’t matter. The day was sunny and calm and just about every heap of stones spoke volumes about mediaeval toil – and never mind the prehistory.
Three capitelles at Fontanche – field stones cleared and structured as shelters.
So: no cromlech at Malvies today – and there was no one in at the Chateau to ask. But a stone circle down here in the Midi – now that is worth going back for.
No visible neolithic habitat, either, at Bel-Air. As for Fontanche, this wine-domain seemed deserted – yet there, parked in a weedy courtyard was a beautifully restored 1960’s BMW 600 series . . . There wasn’t time to explore the Iron Age necropolis at “the place called ‘Recobre'” with its Urn-field vestiges. But now that I know the lie of the land I’ll be able to make more focussed enquiries.
While the under-30’s with paid jobs were stacked up over the thermal-ridges in their paragliders, and the retired over 60’s were reliving their cycling-club heydays, in packs of bulgey yellow lycra [this is France-Partout, au weekend] the poor vignerons are still hard at work, pruning the vines or cleaning vats – and answering idiot questions from foreigners about old stones. Yes – there was a dolmen. And a dig had started last summer and the man to ask was an historian I’d come across before – Jacques Gatorze, of Cessenon.
I had forgotten how awful a dig looks : the steel pegs, the string and the plastic. I rather wish I hadn’t come across it like this: a crime-scene in the undergrowth.
Perhaps I am a Romantic, and not the Classicist I pretend to be.
More on the Pech Ménel dolmen page >