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Travelogue : Stunning Stonehenge

Travelogue : Stunning Stonehenge
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Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England, north of Salisbury. It is probably the most important prehistoric monument in the whole of...

Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England, north of Salisbury. It is probably the most important prehistoric monument in the whole of Britain and has attracted visitors from earliest times. One of the most famous sites in the world, Stonehenge is the remains of a ring of standing stones set within earthworks. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site now.

Stonehenge stands as an eternal monument to the people who built it. Speculation on the reason it was built, range from human sacrifice to astronomy. It was constructed in three phases and has been estimated that the three phases of the construction required more than thirty million hours of labour. The Stonehenge that we see today is the final stage that was completed about 3500 years ago, but first let us look back 5000 years.

The first Stonehenge was a large earthwork or Henge, comprising a ditch, bank, and the Aubrey holes, all probably built around 3100 BC. Excavations have revealed cremated human bones in some of the chalk filling, but the holes themselves were probably made, not for the purpose of graves, but as part of the religious ceremony. Shortly after this stage Stonehenge was abandoned, left untouched for over 1000 years.

stone rounsThe second and most dramatic stage of Stonehenge started around 2150 BC. Some 82 bluestones from the Preseli mountains, in south-west Wales were transported to the site. It is thought these stones, some weighing 4 tonnes each were dragged on rollers and sledges to the headwaters on Milford Haven and then loaded onto rafts. They were carried by water along the south coast of Wales and up the rivers Avon and Frome, before being dragged overland again to near Warminster in Wiltshire. The final stage of the journey was mainly by water, down the river Wylye to Salisbury, then the Salisbury Avon to west Amesbury. This astonishing journey covers nearly 240 miles. Once at the site, these stones were set up in the centre to form an incomplete double circle.

The third stage of Stonehenge, about 2000 BC, saw the arrival of the Sarsen stones, which were almost certainly brought from the Marlborough Downs near Avebury, in north Wiltshire, about 25 miles north of Stonehenge. The largest of the Sarsen stones transported to Stonehenge weigh 50 tonnes and transportation by water would have been impossible, the stones could only have been moved using sledges and ropes. Modern calculations show that it would have taken 500 men using leather ropes to pull one stone, with an extra 100 men needed to lay the huge rollers in front of the sledge. These were arranged in an outer circle with a continuous run of lintels. Inside the circle, five trilithons (a trilithon is a structure consisting of two large vertical stones supporting a third stone set horizontally across the top, like a lintel, commonly used in the context of megalithic monuments) were placed in a horseshoe arrangement, whose remains we can still see today.

The final stage took place soon after 1500 BC when the bluestones were rearranged in the horseshoe and circle that we see today. The original number of stones in the bluestone circle was probably around 60, these have long since been removed or broken up. Some remain only as stumps below ground level. Apart from being known as an ancient burial ground, it has certain religious significance attached to it. In pagan traditions, certain ceremonial acts were observed to appease gods for fertile land, favourable weather and good harvest. Rituals were also conducted to ward off evil and bring in prosperity.

Modern day druids gather at the towering structure on summer solstice (21st June ) and stay up till dawn to mark the occasion. In fact, in the last few years, people had gathered in thousands at the Stonehenge simply to " appreciate the solstice". Except on special or arranged occasions, tourists cannot walk amongst the stones on normal days. Visitors to England make it a point to see this monument and marvel at the timeless wonder.

Getting there : The nearest train station to Stonehenge is Salisbury. From London the trains depart from Waterloo Station to Salisbury. The journey takes about an hour and a half. Buses depart from Heathrow Airport and from Victoria Coach Station in the centre of London. The journey takes about 2 hours. Getting off at Amesbury, a taxi can be hired for the short distance ( 3.2Kms).

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Vijaya Pratap

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