Built in the prehistoric times by our Neolithic ancestors, Stonehenge is the world’s most famous prehistoric megalithic stone monument. Each year, the number of tourists travelling to the UK to visit Stonehenge increases particularly around the time of the Stonehenge Summer Solstice.
This one of a kind stone circle has entranced so many different people that many theories have spawned about the meaning of the stones.
What’s more fascinating is how the Neolithic people managed to build this prehistoric monument using only simple tools and technologies of their time. Visiting Stonehenge will intrigue and mystify you but read on to find out why.
- Stonehenge is part of an ancient landscape of the Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments which consist of Stonehenge Avenue, the Cursus, Woodhenge and Durrington Walls. Avebury is also included as part of this ancient landscape as it contains the largest stone circle in the world.
- Stonehenge, Avebury & Associated Sites became selected as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1986 due to their importance in the development of archaeology. It’s key to prehistoric studies of ‘Neolithic and Bronze Age ceremonial and mortuary practices’ as stated by the World Heritage Site Management Plan.
- Construction of Stonehenge took about 1500 years to complete but it had been left untouched after its’ first stage in 3000BC.
- It’s believed the stones were brought over on rafts on the river then pulled on land on massive sledges with log rollers by men and oxen. There are a total of 83 stones so imagine how long that must have taken!
- The circle of 56 round pits filled with chalk are called Aubrey holes which was named after John Aubrey who discovered them in 1666.
- Excavated human remains led to the belief that the site had been used as a burial ground when it was first built.
- This iconic stone circle was first known as ‘Staneges’ in AD1130, then ‘Stanhenge in 1200, in 1250 it became ‘Stonhenge’ before ‘Stoneheng’ in 1297 and ‘the stone hengles’ in 1470. Eventually in 1610, it finally became ‘Stonehenge’.
What Is Stonehenge
Standing in Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, UK, the colossal stones that make up Stonehenge could be seen from many miles away. Spanning over 10 square miles, this World Heritage site also includes settlements, burial grounds and healing sites.
People ponder the significance of Stonehenge and what it had been used for in Ancient Britain. Speculations on what went on in this sacred site include:
- Place of healing
- Place to worship ancestors
- To study the movements of the Sun and Moon
- To conduct religious or special ceremonies
Whatever the meaning may be, Stonehenge is seen as a religious, cultural, spiritual or inspirational megalithic monument to different people. Visiting Stonehenge leaves many people in awe and fascination of how this stone circle was built with such simple tools and the organisation of builders.
The Stones of Stonehenge
Two types of stones were used to build Stonehenge:
Measures about 9 meters tall and weigh an average of 25 tons. The largest weighs 30 tons which is known as Heel Stone. These may have been transported from Marlborough Down which is about 20 miles away.
These are smaller stones weighing between 2 to 5 tons. A bluish hue appears when the stone is freshly broken or wet. It’s believed the stones were brought over from 250km away through a network of water and land routes. However some people think the movement of glaciers caused the stones to travel over.
The Altar stone differs from these two stones. It’s a type of old red sandstone that’s mainly found in southern Wales. Although the Sarsen stones were heavy and bulky to carry, a recent study showed it didn’t need that many men or effort to transport the stones. In fact it was pretty easy pulling the stones along a makeshift sleigh and timbers.
Where is Stonehenge?
Stonehenge is located in Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire in the UK. A vast expanse of fields surrounds this iconic circle of stones making it perfect for countryside walks. Although Stonehenge is located in Salisbury, it’s actually about 10 miles away.
The nearest located town is Amesbury which is a small historic town that sits on the River Avon. Avebury is not far from Stonehenge and is 25 miles away from Bath.
How Old Is Stonehenge?
Construction of Stonehenge began over 5000 years ago around 3000BC which consisted of a circular earthwork enclosure and adjacent ditch piled with chalk to form a circle.
It remained this way until nearly 1000 years later, the Sarsen stones and bluestones were brought in.
These stones were shaped with various stoneworking methods and slotted together with tongue and groove joints. Ditches had to be dug for the stones to be erected which took a huge amount of effort from people when all they had to work with was stone, wood and rope.
Who Built Stonehenge and Why?
Many stories have spawned on who built Stonehenge. This ranged from the wizard Merlin to Romans and Greeks until the most recent belief is Druids or Celts. As the building of Stonehenge took place over 1500 years, it actually involved different groups of people.
The Windmill Hill People
This group built the first stage of Stonehenge which was the large round pits filled with chalk and burial mounds. Windmill Hill people buried their dead in mass graves.
They originated from eastern England who admired circles and symmetry. Their name comes from their earthworks found on Windmill Hill which is near Stonehenge.
The Beaker People
Archaeologists thought this group were more of a warring tribe because they buried their dead with weapons. However, their name originates from their traditions of burying their dead with beakers or pottery.
Beaker people were well-organised and diligent. They operated a chieftain system to organise their society.
The Wessex People
Arriving at the peak of the Bronze Age, Wessex people were more advanced than any other tribe outside the Mediterranean. It’s assumed they controlled many trade routes in southern Britain due their skills. There are beliefs that the bronze dagger carving on one of the Sarsen stones were done by them.
Why Was Stonehenge Built?
Answering the question of why was Stonehenge built only brings up assumptions and more questions.
Archaeological evidence suggests the site was used as burial grounds for a while due to the excavation of cremated human bones but there is belief that it was also used as a ceremonial site, for religious and worship reasons, resting place for royalty and a place to spiritually connect with ancestors.
Alignment With The Sun
One of the more popular and recurring beliefs is that Stonehenge was aligned so that it foretold the seasons. It couldn’t have been coincidental that the sun set between the largest Sarsen stones at the exact moment of winter solstice.
This would explain the site’s use for religious ceremonies. Those who were able to predict the seasons would have been seen to have great power.
Mysteries and questions continue to surround Stonehenge so research into this megalithic stone monument continues. One thing we know for sure is that this was clearly a place of importance due to the effort put into building such a gigantic stone structure.
How to Get to Stonehenge
Travelling To Stonehenge
Stonehenge is accessible by car, rail or public tour buses departing from Salisbury’s rail and bus stations. There’s a free and managed car park on site and a frequent visitor shuttle will take visitors to the stone circle in 10 minutes.
The closest rail station is Salisbury which has trains coming in from London, Bath, Winchester and many more stations. Trains arriving here is fairly frequent.
Walking To Stonehenge
Visitors can walk to the stones from the visitor centre which will take you on a 25-40 minute scenic walk or from the shuttle stop Fargo Plantation in 15 minutes.
Alternatively, if you’re staying in Amesbury, you can join a National Trust guided walk which will take you through the ancient landscape of Stonehenge. You can choose to walk the 2 mile distance yourself as well. There are also Stonehenge bicycle routes with bike racks at the visitor centre.
Entry to the iconic stone monument starts from £9.30 but it’s free to English Heritage members. It’s recommended to book your tickets in advance to guarantee entry on the day due to a limited number of walk-up tickets on the day.
Stonehenge opening times will vary throughout the months but it’s open almost all day during the summer.
Due to conservation reasons, the stone circle can no longer be entered. Instead there’s a walkable pathway surrounding it. This pathway is also suitable for wheelchair users.
Visiting Stonehenge can take anything from a few hours to a whole day but there’s more you can do than besides seeing the stone monument. You could also wander around the Neolithic Houses, visit the special exhibition or visit nearby Old Sacrum, a prehistoric fortress.
The visitor centre provides plenty of maps and information so you won’t really need to join a tour group. However, if you prefer to do so, there are private and guided Stonehenge tours.
When is the Best Time to Visit Stonehenge
Stonehenge is open all year round with regular hours but these will change depending on the season. During wet weather, the grass can get wet and muddy though. It’s also a lot colder during winter months. Most people prefer to visit Stonehenge in the summer but this time is usually busier.
Stonehenge Summer Solstice
Summer Solstice is one of the best times to visit Stonehenge which usually occurs in mid-June every year. It’s the busiest time of the year as many people gather here to camp out and celebrate to mark the beginning of Summer in the northern hemisphere.
During this time, opening times will change but entry remains free to enjoy this special occasion but people are expected to follow their ‘Conditions of Entry’ as the open access is managed.
The celebration is usually peaceful and there are often individuals and groups performing their own ceremonies to mark this joyous occasion.