Prehistoric Age

History of France between 43000 BC - 701 BC

Stone tools indicate that early humans were present in France at least 1.57 million years ago. The Grotte du Vallonnet near Menton contained simple stone tools dating to 1 million to 1.05 million years BC. Cave sites were exploited for habitation, but the hunter-gatherers of the Palaeolithic era also possibly built shelters such as those identified in connection with Acheulean tools at Grotte du Lazaret and Terra Amata near Nice in France. Excavations at Terra Amata found traces of the earliest known domestication of fire in Europe, from 400,000 BC.

The Neanderthals, the earliest human species to occupy Europe, are thought to have arrived there around 300,000 BC, but seem to have died out by about by 30,000 BC, presumably unable to compete with modern humans during a period of cold weather. The earliest modern humans – Cro-Magnons – were present in Europe by 43,000 years ago during a long interglacial period of particularly mild climate, when Europe was relatively warm, and food was plentiful. When they arrived in Europe, they brought with them sculpture, engraving, painting, body ornamentation, music and the painstaking decoration of utilitarian objects. Some of the oldest works of art in the world, such as the cave paintings at Lascaux in southern France, are datable to shortly after this migration.

The Neolithic Age

Carnac megalith alignment 1
Famous Carnac Stones in Brittany

The Neolithic period lasted in northern Europe for approximately 3,000 years (c. 4500 BC–1700 BC). It is characterised by the so-called Neolithic Revolution, a transitional period that included the adoption of agriculture, the development of tools and pottery, and the growth of larger, more complex settlements. Many European Neolithic groups share basic characteristics, such as living in small-scale family-based communities, subsisting on domestic plants and animals supplemented with the collection of wild plant foods and with hunting, and producing hand-made pottery. Archeological sites in France include artifacts from the Linear Pottery culture (c. 5500-4500 BC), the Rössen culture (c. 4500—4000 BC), and the Chasséen culture (4,500 - 3,500 BC), the name given to the late Neolithic pre-Beaker culture that spread throughout the plains and plateaux of France, including the Seine basin and the upper Loire valleys.

It is most likely from the Neolithic that date the megalithic (large stone) monuments, such as the dolmens, menhirs, stone circles and chamber tombs, found throughout France, the largest selection of which are in the Brittany and Auvergne regions. The most famous of these are the Carnac stones (c. 3300 BC, but may date to as old as 4500 BC) and the stones at Saint-Sulpice-de-Faleyrens.

The Bronze Age

The early Bronze Age archeological cultures in France include the transitional Beaker culture (c. 2800–1900 BC), the Tumulus culture (c. 1600-1200 BC) and Urnfield culture (c. 1300-800 BC). Bronze Age sites in Brittany are believed to have grown out of Beaker roots, with some Wessex culture and Unetice culture influence. Some scholars think that the Urnfield culture represents an origin for the Celts as a distinct cultural branch of the Indo-European family. This culture was preeminent in central Europe during the late Bronze Age; the Urnfield period saw a dramatic increase in population in the region, probably due to innovations in technology and agricultural practices.

References: Wikipedia

Popular sites founded between 43000 BC and 701 BC in France

Madeleine Dolmen

Dolmen de la Madeleine is an isolated dolmen located in a private field on the outskirts of the town of Gennes. It was probably built between 5 000-2 000 BC. There are a number of these sites in the area - but this one is said to be the largest. Like many of the larger dolmens, it has subsequently been re-used, in this case to house a bread oven. Although the bread oven is no longer in use as the dolmen is now a classifie ...
Founded: 5000-2000 BC | Location: Gennes, France

Carnac Stones

Carnac stones are an exceptionally dense collection of megalithic sites around the village of Carnac, consisting of alignments, dolmens, tumuli and single menhirs. More than 3,000 prehistoric standing stones were hewn from local rock and erected by the pre-Celtic people of Brittany, and are the largest such collection in the world. Most of the stones are within the Breton village of Carnac, but some to the east are within ...
Founded: 4500 - 3300 BC | Location: Carnac, France

Cave of Niaux

The Cave of Niaux contains many prehistoric paintings of superior quality from the Magdalenian period. It is one of the most famous decorated prehistoric caves in Europe still open to the public. The paintings had been emerging on the cave walls during a long period between 11500 and 10500 years BC. From the very beginning of the seventeenth century the cave was of great interest for tourists, who left numerous traces on ...
Founded: 11500 BC | Location: Niaux, France

Barnenez Cairn

The Cairn of Barnenez is the largest Megalithic mausoleum in Europe. It dates from the early Neolithic Age is considered one of the earliest megalithic monuments in Europe. It is also remarkable for the presence of megalithic art. Radiocarbon dates indicate that the first phase of the monument was erected between 4850 and 4250 BC, and the second phase between 4450 and 4000 BC. Pottery found in and around the monument indi ...
Founded: 4850 - 4000 BC | Location: Plouezoc'h, France

Le Petit Mont

Dating from c. 4600 BC at the earliest, Le Petit Mont is one of the most significant Cairns in Brittany, but unfortunately one of the most brutaly vandalized. The cairn measures 60 meters in length, 46 meters in width, and between 6 and 7 meters in height. It is built over several dolmens with antechambers. The dolmen in the southwest has engravings that include axes in circles, fitted axes, and undulating signs. The Roma ...
Founded: 4600 BC | Location: Arzon, France

St. Michel Tumulus

The Tumulus of St. Michel is a megalithic grave mound, located east of Carnac. The 125m long, 60m wide and 10m high mound is the largest grave mound in continental Europe. The age of the monument, and the chronology of the construction of the central burial-chambers and outlying dolmen have been the subject of much speculation. Ancient samples were radiocarbon dated, but the results were too disparate to be significant. R ...
Founded: 4500 BC | Location: Carnac, France

Mane Braz

Mane Braz is a Megalithic tomb located 2 km southeast of Erdeven. The site comprises four side chambers and two small dolmens. It is built into a hill and appears to be the remains of a tumulus.
Founded: 5000 - 3000 BC | Location: Erdeven, France

Dolmen de Bagneux

The famous Dolmen in Bagneux is probably one of the most majestic French dolmens and the largest of the 4,500 dolmens spread out on about 60 French departments.The overall length of this dolmen is over 23 meters (75 feet) and its chamber is over 18 meters (60 feet) long. As all dolmens, the 'Great Covered stone" in Bagneux, was a large chamber tomb which must have contained a great number of prehistoric skeletons during t ...
Founded: 4000-2000 BC | Location: Saumur, France

Locmariaquer Megaliths

The Locmariaquer megaliths are a complex of Neolithic constructions. They comprise the elaborate Er-Grah tumulus passage grave, a dolmen known as the 'Table des Marchand' (Merchant"s Table) and 'The Broken Menhir of Er Grah', the largest known single block of stone to have been transported and erected by Neolithic man. The Broken Menhir of Er Grah was erected around 4700 BC, at the same time as a ...
Founded: 4700 BC | Location: Locmariaquer, France

Gavrinis Passage Grave

The Gavrinis island is famous because of its important passage grave, a megalithic monument from the Neolithic period, belonging to the same broad context as the Breton megaliths of Carnac and Locmariaquer. At the time of its construction, c. 3500 BC, the island was still connected with the mainland. The rich internal decorations make Gavrinis one of the major treasuries of European megalithic art. The tomb is also remark ...
Founded: 3500 BC | Location: Larmor-Baden, France

Kerzerho Megaliths

There are 195 megaliths in Kerzerho, aligned east to west. They extend over 200 metres in 5 rows. Dating from between 5,000 to 2,000 BC, they have of course suffered over the years. In fact only a few centuries ago there were 1130 stones in 11 rows: the structure must have been 2 kilometres long by 65 metres wide.
Founded: 5000 - 2000 BC | Location: Erdeven, France

Caixa de Rotllan

The Caixa de Rotllan (meaning 'Roland"s Tomb' in Catalan language) is a dolmen dating back to the Neolithic period, during the second half of 3rd millennium BC. A legend holds that Roland lived in Vallespir and that, after his death at the Battle of Roncevaux Pass, his horse Veillantif carried Roland"s corpse back to Vallespir and buried him under this dolmen. Dolmens are actually tombs, but they were ...
Founded: 2500 BC | Location: Arles-sur-Tech, France

Filitosa

Filitosa is a megalithic site in southern Corsica, France. The period of occupation spans from the end of the Neolithic era and the beginning of the Bronze Age, until around the Roman times in Corsica. The site was discovered in 1946 by the owner of the land, Charles-Antoine Cesari. Finds of arrow heads and pottery date earliest inhabitation to 3300 BC. Around 1500 BC, 2-3 metre menhirs were erected. They hav ...
Founded: 3300 BCE | Location: Sollacaro, France

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Royal Palace of Aranjuez

Palacio Real de Aranjuez is a former Spanish royal residence. It was established around the time Philip II of Spain moved the capital from Toledo to Madrid. Aranjuez became one of four seasonal seats of government, occupied during the springtime (from about holy week). Thereafter, the court moved successively to Rascafría, El Escorial and wintered in Madrid. Aranjuez Cultural Landscape is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

After the Christian conquest, Aranjuez was owned by the Order of Santiago and a palace was built for its Grand Masters where the Royal Palace stands today. When the Catholic Monarchs assumed the office of Grand Master of the Order of Santiago, Aranjuez became part of the Royal estate. This fertile land, located between the Tajo and Jarama Rivers, was converted into the Spanish monarchy"s most lavish country retreat: during Spain"s Golden Age, Aranjuez became a symbol for the perfection of nature by mortal hands, as El Escorial was for art.

Such excellence was based on strong Renaissance foundations, as Charles V envisaged this inherited estate as a large Italian-inspired villa, a desire continued by Philip II who appointed Juan Bautista de Toledo to design leafy avenues that ran through the gardens and farming land. A series of dams was constructed in the 16th century to control the course of the Tajo River and create a network of irrigation canals.

The splendour of the estate was only enhanced by the Bourbon monarchs, who would spend the whole spring, from Easter to July, at the Palace. Phillip V added new gardens and Ferdinand VI designed a new system of tree-lined streets and created a small village within the estate, which was further developed by Charles III and Charles IV. As Ferdinand VII and Isabella II continued to visit Aranjuez during the spring, the splendour of this site was maintained until 1870.

The Royal Palace, built by Phillip II on the site of the old palace of the Grand Masters of Santiago, was designed by the architect Juan Bautista de Toledo –under whom construction began in 1564– and later Juan Herrera, who only managed to finish half the project. Although glimpses of the original layout still remain, the building itself is more characteristic of the classicism favoured by the Hapsburg monarchs, with alternating white stone and brick. The original design was continued by Phillip V in 1715 but not finished until 1752 under Ferdinand VI. The rectangular layout that Juan Bautista de Toledo had planned, and that took two centuries to complete, was only maintained for 20 years, since in 1775 Charles III added two wings onto the Palace.

Real Casa del Labrador

As the Prince of Asturias, Charles IV was a frequent visitor to the pier pavilions built by Ferdinand VI and grew up playing in the Prince’s Garden. When he became King, he decided to build a new country house at the far end of these gardens, known as the Casa del Labrador (the labourer"s house) due to its modest exterior that was designed to heavily contrast the magnificent internal decor. It was built by chief architect Juan de Villanueva and his pupil Isidro González Velázquez, who designed some of the interior spaces. These rooms, developed in various stages until 1808, are the greatest example of the lavish interior decor favoured by this monarch in his palaces and country retreats. Highlights at this Site include the combination of different types of art and the luxurious textiles, in particular the silks from Lyon, as well as wealth of original works on the main floor, where Ferdinand VII added various paintings and landscapes by Brambilla.

King"s Garden, the Island Garden, Parterre Garden and the Prince"s Garden

Phillip II, a great lover of gardens, paid special attention to this feature of the Aranjuez Palace: during his reign, he maintained both the Island Garden, designed by the architect Juan Bautista de Toledo, and the King"s Garden, immediately adjacent to the Palace and whose current layout was designed by Philip IV. The majority of the fountains on this island were commissioned by Phillip IV, while the Bourbons added other features such as the Charles III benches.

Phillip V made two French-style additions to the existing gardens: the Parterre Garden in front of the palace and the extension at the far end of the Island Garden, known as the Little Island, where he installed the Tritons Fountain that was later moved to the Campo del Moro park by Isabella II.

The Prince"s Garden owes its name and creation to the son and heir of Charles III who, in the 1770s, began to use Ferdinand VI"s old pier for his own enjoyment. He also created a landscaped garden in the Anglo-French style that was in fashion at the time and which was directly influenced by Marie Antoinette"s gardens at the Petit Trianon. Both Juan de Villanueva and Pablo Boutelou collaborated in the design of this garden.