Stonehenge is the main prehistoric shrine in England and one of the most disturbing in the world. A mythical place which remains among the unavoidable visits to be made to our English neighbours.
Stonehenge, prehistoric sanctuary
Leaving London and arriving in County Wiltshire, in the historic heart of Great Britain, the road through Salisbury Plain is a bit monotonous. The emotion is all the greater when we finally discover on the right the ghostly silhouette of the megaliths of Stonehenge. Everybody has in mind the image of this mysterious circle of giant stones rising towards the sky, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is impossible not to be impressed by the discovery of this sanctuary full of mystery.
A preserved enclosure
The site is part of the heritage managed by English Heritage. It is one of the most visited sites in England and arrangements had to be made to manage the reception of the many visitors. A Visitor Centre has been set up at the entrance to the site, 2km from the standing stones. One can visit the museum, which contains 200 archaeological remains, and walk with the children in the small reconstructed huts of a Neolithic village. The stone circle can be reached on foot or by shuttle bus. The site is protected by a barrier forming a large circle around the monument.
Who, when, how, why?
Sanctuary of a solar cult, astronomical observatory, funerary monument… Who, when, how and why did men, so long ago, go to so much trouble to erect this monumental stone circle? The mystery about Stonehenge remains. The Saxon word means “gallows of stone” or “hanging stone” which evokes the construction assembled in pillars and lintels. Archaeologists, astronomers and visitors are fascinated by the subject. The site was used for a long time by the Celtic druids for their ceremonies. But the heavy standing stones were there long before their arrival. They were erected by ancient indigenous peoples. And not, as historians have long thought, by the Mycenaeans.
The realm of the dead
A first outer enclosure with a diameter of 90 metres was built about 3000 years before our era. It is delimited by a small embankment lined with a ditch. The entrance to the sacred circle was indicated by two monoliths. A third stone, Hell Stone, was placed outside the enclosure. There were four more sandstone blocks, Station Sarsens, to mark the four cardinal points. 56 holes dug in the inner flank of the compound revealed many human bones. The site was probably used as a cremation centre and burial place for centuries.
A circle of blue stones
Around 2500 BC, the site was transformed by the construction of an inner circle of 80 uncut blues stones. These stones come from Preseli Hills, more than 200 km away in South West Wales! They were probably transported by water across the Bristol Channel. Five hundred years later, this structure is dismantled and reassembled to form an inner circle. This is surrounded by a second circle of sandstone, probably from Marlborough Downs, 30km north of the site.
Menhirs in balance
Today, a number of stones have collapsed or disappeared, but one can still admire a set of menhirs made up of two upright supports more than 4m high on which rests a lintel maintained by tenons and mortises. A technical feat when one considers that wheel carts did not exist when construction began. It is assumed that these stones were pulled on sledges by hundreds of men. They were lifted and set in place using tree trunks, levers and log scaffolding.