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Estimated to have been constructed more than 4,000 years ago, Stonehenge has firmly established itself as one of the best-known prehistoric sites in the world and among the UK's top tourist attractions.

While it may not have the architectural grandeur of St Paul's Cathedral or the excitement of the London Eye, Stonehenge boasts a fascinating past and offers an insight into the pre-history of Britain.

However, in spite of its importance, the exact nature of Stonehenge largely remains a mystery, with experts divided over whether it was constructed as a site of worship for the sun, as an ancient calendar or even as a place to conduct human sacrifices.

What is known is that the massive stones – some of which weigh 45 tonnes - were somehow carried for hundreds of miles over land and sea (legend has it that Merlin brought the stones over from Ireland) to be stood upright within an earlier-constructed circular mound of earth.

Also, it has been established that work took place over three distinct stages, with timber structures replaced by the heavy rocks and eventually five-tonne bluestones brought in from South Wales as well as the nearby Marlborough Downs. It is said to have required more than thirty million labour hours in order to take its magnificent form.

What greets visitors today is about half of the original monument, with a number of stones having fallen down or even been taken away by locals to use as building materials over the years. Nevertheless, what remains is sufficient to instil an unparalleled sense of awe into even the most cynical tourist.

Visiting Stonehenge

Located in Wiltshire, in the heart of the West Country, the site is surprisingly simple to access. Lying around three kilometres west of Amesbury and 13 kilometres north of Salisbury, a trip to Stonehenge can fit into a visit around the region and its historic heritage.

The nearby town of Averbury holds some of the most impressive remaining pre-historic earthworks in Europe, offering more human worship themes than the solar and lunar inspiration said to be at the hear of Stonehenge's history.

Meanwhile, nearby Salisbury makes an interesting visit as the only city in rural Wiltshire. The picturesque location is noted for the breathtaking Salisbury Cathedral, holding 800 years of history within its walls and counting a towering 123 metre spire.

Accessing Stonehenge from Amesbury means travelling two miles west on the junction of the A303 and A344/360. Meanwhile those travelling by train can alight at Salisbury, which is served by direct trains to London Waterloo, talking only one hour and a half. Local buses can then access the site from Salisbury.

Why Visit Stonehenge

As one of the first sites in the world to be granted a UNESCO World Heritage status, Stonehenge fully deserves its place among the top visitor attractions for the whole of the UK, offering a fascinating experience for tourists of all ages.

While this high popularity has meant that visitors are no longer able to wander among the stones but rather have to admire them from behind a fence, an informative visitor centre more than makes up for this and neatly explains the theories behind the site's significance as well as presenting the findings from archaeological digs past and present.

The biggest draw of Stonehenge is its "mystery"; the hows and whys of the structure have sparked a multiplicity of theories conjecturing as to the purpose and meaning of the stone circle. Dating back to a pre-literary culture that left very few clues to its religious and social practices, much room is left for the imagination to expand.

 

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