My emotional visit to Stonehenge

Off his bucket list. The author on a recent visit to this mystical site in the U.K.

By Wendell Gaa

The most iconic pre-historic manmade structures in global history, the Stonehenge monument in England is, without a doubt, unlike any other in the world.  I had the recent golden opportunity to   visit this mystical site as a side trip to visiting relatives and meeting new friends on my summer trip to the United Kingdom.

I joined a day bus tour which took us on a three-hour trip from the urban trappings of the British capital London, one of the world’s greatest cities.  The summer sunshine meant blue skies throughout much of the day, hence I was able to take in the lovely sights of the rolling English countryside hills and meadows which rural England is synonymous for. 

Once we arrived near the monument site on Salisbury Plain in the town of Wiltshire, we disembarked our bus and walked towards an entrance gate queue which led us to another tour shuttle that would transport us directly to the site of Stonehenge.  In less than five minutes, we arrived at the pathway leading toward a most enlivening view, to such an emotional and awe-inspiring degree which I honestly had not felt since my eyes had first gazed upon the Taj Mahal in India back in 2009.

Seeing the circular ring of the vertical standing stones, each about 13 feet high and 7 feet wide topped by connecting horizontal stones, had to be one of the most surreal and outlandish experiences in my life.  I have heard and read so much about the Stonehenge monument from books and movies, but it was totally another thing to actually be seeing them in living color!

We were handed a simple brochure guide which described how archaeologists believe that Stonehenge was first built some 5,000 years ago, with construction possibly to have taken place between 3000 to 2000 BC.  The surrounding circular earth bank and ditch at the site, which is hypothesized by many historians and scientists to be the earliest phase of the monument, has been dated to about 3100 BC.  Modern radiocarbon dating has further theorized that the first stones were probably raised between 2400 and 2200 BC, although they may have already been present at the site as early as 3000 BC.

Archaeologists believe Stonehenge was built some 5,000 years ago. By whom and why no one knows. Photo by Wendell Gaa
View from the top: The circular ring of standing stones.  Photo by National Geographic

The most intriguing and mystifying thing about Stonehenge is that not even the most seasoned historian on the planet knows exactly who or which group had built the monument and why.  There are legends abound as to how they were created, including one which I’ve read involving the famous wizard Merlin of Arthurian folklore, and how he had magically formed Stonehenge by transporting massive stones from Ireland, where giants had assembled them.  Another theory is that the monument are the remains of a Roman temple, or perhaps more popularly, the religious ceremonial grounds of ancient Druid priests or monks.  All these stories kept popping up in my head as I walked around the monument from all sides, gazing at it endlessly with wonder and pondering over how such a structure could have been built by humans before the concept of civilization or technology was even conceived of.    

A more realistic theory is that Stonehenge may have served as a burial ground, as deposits containing human bone dug up from a ditch and bank at the site, and which date back to around 3000 BC, have been discovered there.  The ancient remains of a decapitated Saxon man was even dug up around the site in 1923. 

It was further riveting to think that modern-day Druids had converged at Stonehenge for religious ceremonial gatherings back in the 1970s and 1980s.  Nowadays for preservation purposes, tourists are no longer allowed to approach the monument up close and walk within its confines, even though local authorities have permitted Hollywood to shoot on location here for some notable blockbusters dating to as recently as 2017’s “Transformers: The Last Knight.”  Notwithstanding all this, it was the very enigma behind the purpose and construction of Stonehenge from thousands of years ago which compelled me to want to see this beguiling structure, bearing in mind how truth really is stranger than fiction!

© The FilAm 2022

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