|We didn't actually make it to this, the very finest of the Arles-Fontvieille group of monuments.
It is somewhere on the northern side of the Mont de Cordes, a fascinating limestone peak rising alone 65ms from the plain of La Crau with dizzying silver cliffs of stone poking out of dense woodland clinging to its precipitous slopes.
The hypogee is vast and uniquely designed - and I was desperate to reach it, quite willing to trespass and scramble up steep pathless cliffs, and search through the woodland. We searched for a path to it – a couple were marked on the map – but every way we looked, every farm track we took was barred with enough barbed wire to satisfy a small army. It was impossible and we admitted defeat.
So instead I'll have to describe it to you.
It was first described by Anibert in 1789 in his dissertation topographique sur la montagne de Cordes et ses monuments who published a plan of it, and according to Glyn Daniel who saw it in the late 1950s 'remains much as it is today'. Anibert described the tomb being shaped like a sword, hence the folk name L'epee do Roland.
Daniel describes it as a 'gallery grave set in a low pointed mound 230 feet long by 165 feet wide, orientated east to west [as are all the monuments in this group] with steps cut into the rock at the western end leading down into the monument which has a total [internal] length of 120 feet.
'It is divided into two sections, the first or western section is 40 feet long, is roofed in part and has two side chambers, while the main eastern section is 80 feet long, 11 feet high and 9 feet wide. The sides slope inwards; immediately west of the two side chambers and again at the division between the eastern narrow end of the chamber and the main western chamber are two 'kennel-holes'. These are cut into the rock, as for that matter is the whole monument.'
Early archaeos thought it was rock cut, but roofed with capstones, but this isn't so. The first stratum of rock covering the hill has been left in situ and the great gallery cut underneath - the effect is very much of capstones.
The tomb has carvings, variously described as the human figure, but I can find no images of these.
At the eastern end of the cairn covering the grotte is a large menhir 22 feet long by 9 feet wide. Daniel says that in 1960 it was broken and lying on the ground.
Apparently it has never been excavated. Daniel says: 'it has been open to the public for centuries, and is not a monument where one would expect to make any discoveries'. How ironic! Open for centuries, eh? Well, not now, unfortunately.
Anyone planning to visit this monument should write to the landowner well in advance - whoever he or she is... perhaps one of the local farms?
Posted by Jane
21st September 2007ce
Edited 22nd September 2007ce