France’s Museum of Wonders – a rare insight into the mysteries of early civilisations
TEXT: OWEN EVANS | PHOTOS © MUSÉE DES MERVEILLES
It is always fascinating to get an idea of how people in early civilisations lived, and at the Musée des Merveilles (The Museum of Wonders), you can do exactly that.
Deep in the Maritime Alps, with Nice and the Côte d’Azur about an hour’s drive south and the Italian border just to the east, the Musée des Merveilles is dedicated to one of the most important rock engravings sites, or ‘petroglyphs’, in Europe – la Vallée des Merveilles.
The story is one of fascinating mystery, as we only know so much about how the carvings came about. What we do know is that towards the end of the Neolithic period some 5,000 years ago, local inhabitants carved over 50,000 mysterious anthropomorphic and shamanic figures into stone at the remote Vallée des Merveilles at Mont Bégo. The 4,000 rocks are now listed as a French ‘Monument historique’ (national heritage site).
“The petroglyphs give us a wonderful insight into the complex societies and religions of the surrounding tribes,” says Musée des Merveilles communications manager Christelle Pascucci.
“But as well as helping visitors understand different cultures,” she continues, “the Musée des Merveilles is also a research centre. One of our aims is to help visitors understand this exceptional archaeological and ethnological heritage site. We really want to bring these early civilisations to life.”
As well as the rock engravings at Mont Bego, the museum’s permanent galleries explore human evolution, archaeology, protohistoric engravings and rock art from around the world.
There is also a hugely popular section devoted to the fascinating tale of the 19th-century scholars and archaeologists who first ‘discovered’ the enigmatic carvings, just as Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamen.
Guided tours and workshops are available, as well as special rates for schools and groups.