Stonehenge is one of the wonders of the prehistoric times and the United Kingdom's greatest national icon. Stonehenge is a well-known Neolithic and Bronze Period stone monument that stands on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, about 3.2 kilometres west of Amesbury and 13 kilometres north of Salisbury, close to the A303 road.
The monument consists of concentric rings of standing stones (menhirs); which are up to 6.7 meters high; aligned roughly perfectly with the sunrise on the summer solstice; around an altar-stone at the middle, arranged in a pattern whose meaning is still being explored.
Some have hypothesized that it was a temple made for the adoration of ancient earth deities. A legend claims that the stones were bought from an Irish woman by the Devil and brought them to Salisbury plain.
Others speculated that it was an astronomical observatory for marking major events on the prehistoric calendar, but, new archaeological evidence indicates that Stonehenge served as a burial land from its earliest beginnings.
Stonehenge has been the topic of much archaeological investigation. Evidence indicated that the area around Stonehenge has been occupied since approximately 8000BC. Archaeologists consider that the construction of this imposing stone monument was started around 3000 BC and in several phases. In their construction two types of stone were used: Sarsen and Bluestone.
By 2550 BC, 4-tonne Bluestones and Sarsen stones were brought to Stonehenge by Neolithic and Bronze Age man from the Preseli Mountains in Pembrokeshire, Wales. The 30 upright Sarsen stones, which form the Sarsen Circle; with raised lintels around the edge, were bought 150 years later from the Marlborough Downs. It was not until 1600 BC that Stonehenge came to be completed.
Stonehenge is owned by the Crown and administered by English Heritage, this conservation organization, along with the National Trust (which owns the surrounding land) is working on preserving and improving the landscape around the stones. Stonehenge is located in a UNESCO World Heritage Site (since 1986) of over 2,000 hectares.
There is a less impressive but more extensive complex of standing stones and burial mounds 30 kilometres north at Avebury, you wont see numerous people, and you can still touch and walk among the stones.
Stonehenge attracts over 800,000 visitors per year and thousands congregate on the summer solstice to watch the sunrise at this mystical site. The stones can be seen from the A303 road, unlike the other monuments in the area, however, it is necessary to pay to get closer.
Visitors can no longer walk among the stone circle itself; except at the summer solstice or by special arrangement; because; the construction has suffered a serious damage from weather action and from close visitor contact. The best time to visit is early in the day or in the evening.
Although the belief of the Stonehenge builders predates any known religion, the site is a place of pilgrimage and worship for Neo-pagans who identify themselves with the British Druidism and New Age philosophy, currently ritual use of Stonehenge is carefully controlled.
In the Salisbury Museum you can see objects found during excavations at Stonehenge, as well as recordings, photographs relating to visitors of the stones, publicity using Stonehenge imagery and an original William Turner painting of the site.