The long-awaited Stonehenge exhibition and visitor centre will open on Wednesday 18 December. For the first time, visitors will have a proper introduction to one of the world's most important prehistoric monuments. Over 250 objects of international importance will be on display, and the reconstructed face of an Early Neolithic man is a highlight. The immediate surroundings of the stones are also undergoing dramatic improvement.
It is the first phase of English Heritage's £27million project to transform the visitor experience of this iconic site, made possible by a £10m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and substantial gifts from the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Linbury Trust and the Wolfson Foundation
Visitors will be able to see objects used in its construction and those connected with Neolithic and Bronze Age men and women, their lives, their rituals and daily struggles. A special exhibition will display important objects, never seen together before, that tell the story of the changing understanding of Stonehenge over centuries. (see picture gallery to the right)
The reconstructed face of a 5,500 year-old man found 1.5 miles from Stonehenge - the most advanced reconstruction of a Neolithic man's face to date - tells the story of the area before Stonehenge was created. Forensic evidence tells us that the face is of a man 25 - 40 years old, of slender build, born about 5,500 years ago, about 500 years before the circular ditch and banks at Stonehenge were built.
Specially trained volunteers will start building a group of Neolithic houses in January, complete with furniture and fittings. These will be the highlight of an outdoor gallery, to open at Easter 2014.
Not Just a Stopover
Dr Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said: "At last, visitors to Stonehenge will be able to get a sense of the people who built this monument, of their lives, their deaths and their ceremonies.
"Instead of just a stopover or a quick photo opportunity, we want our visitors to step back in time and into the shoes of those who created and used this extraordinary place, to marvel at original everyday objects they used, to walk the surrounding landscape as they did, and to sit in the dwellings that they would have built. It makes the real encounter with the stones themselves so much more exciting."
Culture Secretary Maria Miller said: "Stonehenge is one of the UK's most iconic sites. So it's only right that, after decades of indecision, we can now offer them the visitor experience and exhibition centre they deserve. A huge amount of work has gone into getting this right and making sure people can see the stones and their story in a whole new light."
Bettany Hughes, award-winning author, historian and broadcaster, said: "I have no doubt that those who first constructed Stonehenge did so with awe and with a profound appreciation of the beauty and power of the world around. For millennia men and women have travelled to the site to try to share that experience. Now in the 21st century with the help of these developments, we can appreciate both the intriguing story of the site - and its mystery."
Virtual 'Stand in the Stones' Experience
A 360-degree virtual experience will let visitors 'stand in the stones' before they enter the gallery. This three-minute film, based on state-of-the-art laser scan images of the stone circle, will transport the viewer back in time through the millennia and enable them to experience the summer and winter solstices.
A More Dignified Setting
Visitors will have a heightened sense of anticipation when they arrive at the visitor building as Stonehenge is not visible - it will only emerge slowly on the horizon during the ten-minute shuttle ride to the monument.
Designed by leading practice Denton Corker Marshall, the new visitor building appears light and unimposing, sensitive to its surroundings and deferential to the stones and the World Heritage Site.
Improvements to visitor facilities include:
- full disability access;
- dedicated education space;
- a bright and spacious café with indoor and outdoor seating for up to 260;
- a bigger shop with a wide range of specially commissioned merchandise;
- a visitors' car park with space for 500 vehicles and 30 coaches;
- ample toilets;
- a pre-booked timed ticket system to help minimise queues and avoid over-crowdedness at peak times; and
- new, downloadable and hand held free audio guides in 10 languages.
The exhibition is housed in a new building situated 1.5 miles away from Stonehenge to enable the immediate area around the monument to be free of modern structures. Work to demolish the existing facilities and car park and return the area to grass will begin imminently and will continue for a few months. The restoration of the landscape around Stonehenge will be completed in summer 2014.
For visits from the 1 February 2014, entrance to Stonehenge will be managed through timed tickets and advance booking is strongly recommended. For opening hours, prices and online booking, please visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/stonehenge.