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Dolmen de Gaoutabry

Azuralive_gaoutabry2

If you have seen monumental Stonehenge in England or the tall and thick prehistoric menhirs that point to the sky in Brittany, the Dolmen of Gaoutabry, with its dozen of thin upright megaliths, appears modest.

However, this prehistoric burial site dates back to the early Copper Age or Chalcolothic period some 4500 years ago and provides the largest prehistoric burial site currently known in a dolmen-rich Var Department of France. Since 1988, it is a classified historic monument.

Set on private property but open for all to see (pedestrian access only), the Dolmen's megaliths encircle an area of 9 square meters or 97 square feet (6 meters long by 1.5 meter wide). It sits at the summit of a hill in the western side of the Maures mountain range, 4 kilometers north of the village of La Londe les Maures.

Re-discovered in 1876 by the baron de Bonstetten, the east-west laying Dolmen has the particularity of
being "extended" rather than single-chambered: it includes, in a row, a chamber, an anti-chamber and a hallway that opens up exactly due west. Within its megalithic walls, the cremated remains of 34 individuals were discovered along with a number of arrows and tools many of which are under display today at the Archaeological Museum of Saint-Raphael.

To some, the Dolmen's extended chamber and the orientation of the ancient burial site speak of a symbolic "reversal of birth": the dead were brought in through the hall with its two "legs", through the anti-chamber or "belly" to rest in the site's chamber or "head."

Within its open megalithic walls the Dolmen de Gaoutabry still harbors many mysteries.

Want to escape the crowds of the Côte d'Azur and stroll on the region's most gorgeous footpaths?
Check out our latest hiking guide.


The Provencal Cane

Donaxdrying

It weaves into baskets, knits into fish traps, turns into fishing rods that bend like bows under the weight of flapping fish. It stands around the perimeter of fields of cereals and protects cultivations from salt-laden winds. It turns into sheds, pan pipes, flutes, salt and pepper shakers and, since ancient times, into calligraphic plumes or "calame".

What is it? It's a weed.

The "Canne de Provence" (Arundo donax ), also called Giant Grass, wild cane or giant cane, grows comfortably in its favorite spots in the Var department of South Eastern France: by the marshlands of Villepey, on the St Tropez peninsula, around Hyères. There, it finds the conditions it loves best: a well-drained soil with water close by and plenty of sunshine. 

For centuries, folks have molded the tall grass into beautiful and useful artifacts. Today, small slivers of the local giant cane, delicately carved out of the best, hand-selected most-suitable canes, win international acclaim.

These precious slivers are reeds used by woodwind instruments such as saxophones and clarinets, and double reed wind instruments such as bassoons and oboes.

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When placed in the mouthpiece of saxophones and clarinets, they  vibrate with the musician's blow and let out musical notes. To many wind instrument musicians, reeds are fundamental. They shape the timber or color of the musical notes produced. 

So how are reeds made?

Donaxabouttodry

In the Var, the best Arundo donax canes are harvested when they reach about 2 years of age. They are culled by hand, de-husked typically using a small machine, laid out to dry in the sun in conical arrangements like tipis or stretched out above fields where air circulates under them. They are then cured in dry and aerated sheds where they regain their golden shine. While a number of local Var growers manufacture their own reeds, many harvest, dry and cut the carefully-inspected canes into tubes for processing by international reed manufacturers such as Rico and others.

Donaxtipi

Why the Var reeds?

To the poet, the Var reed owes its vibrating talents to the teachings of the local Mistral wind. The regional wind, they say, shapes the Arundo donax from its time as a tender green sprouting grass and guides it to vibrate just right.

To others, the mystery of the perfect reed source lies not only with the local winds that bear on the tightness and flexibility of the cane's fibers, but with the specifics of the soil, the climate, the surrounding hills, the water, the manual care taken in its harvest.

A reed, as it turns out, is much like a fine wine.

An Annual Reed Celebration

The reed doesn't miss a beat and celebrates its own festival each year in May in Hyères at the "Festival de l'Anche". At the festival's Golden Reed competition (“Anche d’Or”), musicians blow their instruments and show their passion for music and a reverence for the little slice of an exceptional weed that vibrates behind the melody. 

Check it out this year's (2007) Festival de l'Anche in Hyères on May 25, 26 and 27.

For more tips on what to do while in Hyères, check out our postings on the Salins de Pesquiers and on the Golden Islands of Hyères.