Stonehenge spells magic and mystery

Megalithic Monument

Stonehenge spells magic and mystery

 Historical marvel: The Stonehenge monument in UK. Photo by authorBut often it left me wondering what it was and where it existed until my recent trip to England. Discovering that it is a rare megalithic monument of the prehistoric period and  one of the top ranking tourist destinations encouraged me to explore the site. Situated in south-western plains of Wiltshire at 140 kms from London made it all the more easier for a day trip.

The train from Waterloo dropped me off at Salisbury and I boarded a bus to the Stonehenge site barely 13 kms north. The brochures and  audio equipment offered by the tourist centre came in handy to embark on a self-guided tour. Walking through the underground pathway, I joined hordes of tourists making a beeline to the site. At the very first sight of the huge stones I was simply dumbfounded by their magical  spell and wondered, like millions of others, what the monument conveyed to the world. 

The beginning of stonehenge dates back to about 5000 years when the prehistoric people took up the  daunting task of transporting and erecting these huge stone slabs each weighing several tonnes. While some of them were taken from nearby plains many were from the Preseli mountains some 350 kms away. Wherever they were from, the dedicated efforts that went through in a primitive era that lacked technology deserve appreciation. And the process took its own time extending over a mind boggling 1500 years. From about 3000 BC to as late as 1500 BC, the work of erecting the stones passed through phases.

The tenacity of purpose that bound many generations itself suggests the paramount importance given to the monument. The initial work was to clear a circular plain area for the stones surrounded by a ditch  and an outer embankment. With a diameter of 380 ft, this circle was large enough to house the stones along its border. The first stones called the Blue stones were smaller and were planted in an inner circle. But in the outer periphery, the large Sarsen stones were erected, a few of them as Trillithons, a three-piece structure with a horizontal slab.

This circle has an entrance passage also with a vertical stone. It is placed in such a way that on the summer solstice the first rays of the sun hits this stone and the centre of the circle in a straight line. But as the monument never got completed, all the efforts spanning centuries seem to have gone in vain. Somewhere the link binding generations snapped and the Stonehenge just stands there inspiring awe.

The task of building this megalithic giant definitely had a purpose. Going by its alignment with summer solstice, it is largely believed to be an astronomical observatory to determine days and events.  But ancient civilisations might have intended to build a temple to follow their rituals on the solstice days. Likewise another theory says it was meant to be a place for burying the dead. Whatever it may be, the secrets of Stonehenge continue to be wrapped in mystery and may never be known to the world at large.

As most tourists, a visit to the unique cathedral at Salisbury followed. Built in the 13th century and dedicated to Virgin Mary, this towering church located in peaceful green environs has a tall tower that seems to touch the sky. More than 400ft tall, this Gothic spire is the tallest in all of England. The interiors with the usual choir stalls, chapels and stained glass windows have a couple of interesting artifacts too — a clock made in 1386 and claimed to be Europe’s oldest and still ticking and also the original Magna Carta, the famous document, which was the common code drafted and signed in 1215 to ensure uniform laws and freedom of the citizens when King John’s unilateral administration resulted in an uprising.

As the eventful day trip drew to a close, my thoughts still lingered on and thought about the marvel and mystery of the enigmatic Stonehenge.  

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