The World's Greatest Architecture: Past & Present
Stonehenge, which stands amid the bleak expanse of Salisbury Plain in southern England, is the most famous megalithic monument in Europe. The earliest construction began before 3000 BC, and the building remained in use, sporadically at least, for nearly two millenia. It consists basically of an incomplete circle of roughly worked standing stones up to 22ft above the ground and arranged in a ring.
Archaeologists distinguish three main periods of construction. In Period I, Neolithic workmen using picks made from antlers dug a circular ditch nearly 327ft in diameter, backed by a circular wall. Two large stones, one still surviving, marked the entrance. In Period II, about 2100 BC, two concentric circles of 80 bluestone pillars weighing up to four tonnes each were erected in the center. Period III, 100 years later, saw the erection of the circle of sarsen uprights capped by sarsen lintels, fashioned with stone hammers, which largely form the monument as it is today, after centuries of climatic erosion and pillage by builders. There is no natural stone nearby. The sarsen stones came from the Marlborough Downs, about 20 miles away, but the only known source for the huge bluestones is South Wales. Numerous theories, many patently absurd, have been put forward to explain how the monument was constructed and what its purpose was. It certainly had nothing to do with the Druids, who did not appear on the scene until centuries later, and this puzzle is unlikely to be solved, though it is generally accepted that Stonehenge was a place of worship. The construction of Period II is aligned with the rising sun at the summer solstice, which is clearly not a coincidence, but its significance remains a mystery. It has been widely supposed that the bluestones were brought overland to the site by rollers and by water on a raft. An attempt to reproduce this operation in 2000, however, ran into serious difficulties. Another theory hold that bluestones were a relic of the Ice Age, deposited on Salisbury Plain thousands of years earlier by glaciation.