Le Donon: The Sacred Mountain of the French Vosges

Donon Temple with a view over the Vosges Mountains

The Donon, rising to a height of 1009 meters, is the highest peak in the lower Vosges, where the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine border each other.

It has been revered as a sacred site since prehistoric times and has retained its cultural and spiritual significance to this day. The existence of stone axes and hammers provides evidence of ancient habitation in the area, dating back to the Neolithic period, as early as the third millennium BC. Findings of axes, knives, and shards of pottery further suggest a settlement during the Bronze Age and the Hallstatt period. The latter is widely recognized as the birthplace of the Celtic culture. The mountain was the hub for three Celtic peoples who had settled in the region.

Like other places of its kind, this location boasts rocks that, upon closer inspection, resemble weathered remnants of colossal stone structures. These structures may have stood there as ancient ruins in the time of the Celts and exerted such a sacred attraction on them that they built their own sanctuaries there.

In addition to its spiritual and historical importance, the Donon offers a picturesque backdrop that is ideal for nature lovers and photographers alike.

So embark on the journey with me as we ascend to this iconic summit today.

Find a video of the location at the bottom of the page.

A stony path to the summit

The ascent begins from the southwest and takes us through a roughly 2 km-long rocky passage up to the summit plateau.

The path in front of us is lined with a multitude of stones that seem to bear traces of human craftsmanship. The deliberate shaping and arrangement of some of them is unmistakable and leaves no doubt as to their artificial origin.

A stony path leads up to the summit

One of these rocks, certainly modified by human hands, is a stone slab placed at the path’s edge, resembling a menhir. Its original purpose and how long it has been standing there in this way are unknown.

A menhir

A sacrificial stone halfway up the hill

About halfway up the trail to the summit, you’ll come across another unique rock structure called Rocher a Bassins, also to be described as a sacrificial stone or cupstone.

Its surface bears several, most likely Celtic, sacrificial bowls and its symmetrical, cuboid shape and pronounced weathering are striking. One might wonder whether the Celts discovered a worked rock that was already age-old in their time and then added their sacrificial basins to it subsequently.

Rocher a Bassins, a massive sacrificial stone

Escaliers de l’Empereur (Emperor’s Stairs)

The next stop is the Emperor’s Stairs. In August 1914, the Donon and its smaller neighboring peak, Petit Donon, became the site of bloody conflicts as the 7th German Army and the 1st French Army faced each other during the Battle of Lorraine in World War I.

In honor of Kaiser Wilhelm II, the Germans constructed this staircase in 1915.

Escaliers de l’Empereur (Emperor’s Stairs)

Nestled atop the mountain ridge, there once stood an ancient sanctuary. This hallowed site consisted of four stone structures and one wooden edifice, believed to date back to the Gallo-Roman era of the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. The vestiges of this ancient epoch endure in the form of architectural remnants and stone steles, some adorned with depictions of the Roman deity Mercury.

However, it is reasonable to assume that this place had been considered sacred long before.

Remains of a Gallo-Roman sactuary

Napoleon III’s ancient temple replica

At the highest point of Donon stands a replica of an ancient temple, built in the 19th century by Napoleon III on an exposed sandstone platform.

It is believed that this spot was once the location of an older temple dedicated to the Celtic god Vosegus. Vosegus was the Roman name for this presumed deity of hunting, commonly depicted with a bow and arrow and accompanied by a dog. Vosegus is likely the namesake of the Vosges mountain range. The center of his worship was situated around Mount Donon.

The view from this place to the surrounding countryside is breathtaking.

Ancient temple replica on the summit plateau

A megalithic summit platform?

Upon closer inspection, the sandstone platform on which the temple stands gives the impression of an artificial plateau constructed from gigantic stone blocks and slabs. Scattered throughout the area below the platform, you can also find various seemingly worked, and at times, enormous blocks.

Once again, the question arises: Did the Stone Age people, and later the Celts and the Romans discover something here, something that had long been in ruins, and did they build their temples on the destroyed and barely identifiable remains of a long-lost civilization?

Take a moment to examine the photos and form your own impression.

The enigmatic summit platform

Le Petit Donon, Donon’s neighboring peak

From the summit of Donon, you can catch a glimpse of the smaller neighboring peak known as Petit Donon, standing at an altitude of 961m.

This mountain also appears highly intriguing, boasting a rich history and massive scattered boulders that can be seen from afar in its summit area. I intend to visit this location and share my experience in a forthcoming post.

Le Petit Donon

Bottom line

From the mysterious stone structures that line the paths, to the enigmatic platform at the summit and the breathtaking views, the Donon carries an undeniable charm. Its profound history and spiritual significance, spanning across Neolithic, Celtic, and Gallo-Roman periods, invite us to ponder upon the echoes of bygone times.

Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a nature lover, or a spiritual seeker, the Donon extends an open invitation to explore its trails, delve into its past, and appreciate its timeless beauty.

I’m sure I’ll be coming back here a few more times.

Video & Map

A walk to the summit plateau
The Donon in the French Vosges

Text and photos in this post are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International
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