Visitors to Stonehenge will get the chance to explore an impressive new visitor centre close to the ancient site later this year.
English Heritage today announced that the first phase of its long-awaited £27million improvements to the area will be launched to the public on 18 December, in time for winter solstice on 21 December.
The new visitor centre will house a permanent exhibition that will offer visitors the chance to learn more about the famous monument.
They will be able to ‘stand in the stones’ thanks to a 360-degree virtual experience before they enter a gallery where they will be able to view nearly 300 prehistoric artefacts and displays that reveal facts and theories about the ancient monument.
Many of the archaeological finds – which are on loan from various museums including the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum – will be on public display for the first time.
The first temporary exhibition will chart over 800 years of theories about who built Stonehenge – from 12th-century legends to radiocarbon dating reports in the 1950s.
The environmentally-friendly building, which has been designed by Denton Corker Marshall, features a café, shop, dedicated education space and visitor’s car park, and will offer tourists free audio guides.
The centre is 1.5 miles from Stonehenge and visitors will be transported to the monument on a special shuttle service
English Heritage’s chief executive Simon Thurley said: “This world famous monument, perpetually described as a mystery, finally has a place in which to tell its story.
“The exhibition will change the way people experience and think about Stonehenge forever – beyond the clichés and towards a meaningful inquiry into an extraordinary human achievement in the distant past.”
Volunteers will begin work on the construction of a group of Neolithic houses in January. The buildings, which are expected to be finished by Easter, will be based on houses where the builders of Stonehenge may have lived, complete with furniture and fittings.
The final phase of the project – the restoration of the landscape around Stonehenge – will be completed by next summer.
The Avenue, Stonehenge’s ancient processional approach, has been reconnected to the stone circle after being severed by the A344 road for centuries.
The £27million project has been financed almost entirely by Heritage Lottery Fund money (£10million), English Heritage commercial income and donations.
From 18 December, entrance to the site will be managed through timed tickets and online booking opens on 2 December at www.english-heritage.org.uk/stonehenge.
Stonehenge, which was constructed between 3,000 BC and 1,600 BC, attracts around 900,000 visitors a year, and is particularly popular during the summer and winter solstice.
It is still shrouded in mystery as nobody is sure how or why the giant boulders were transported hundreds of miles to be constructed at the site.
However, scientists now believe that Neolithic engineers may have used ball bearings in the construction of Stonehenge.
The same technique that allows vehicles and machinery to run smoothly today could have been used to transport the monument’s massive standing stones from Wales to Wiltshire more than 4,000 years ago, according to the theory.
Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge News Blog