9500 people celebrate at Stonehenge for longest day of the year

Stonehenge once again attracted a large crowd to watch the sunrise on the longest day of the year

The sun rises at Stonehenge for summer solstice 2018

About 9,500 people celebrated summer solstice at Stonehenge overnight.

The weather remained mild with clear and dry conditions throughout the evening and early hours of the morning. Temperatures reached a cool 9 degrees celsius at its coolest at 5am.

To a background of celebratory chanting, prayer and drumming, the sun set at 9.22pm and rose at 4.44am.

2018 is a special year for English Heritage and Stonehenge. One hundred years ago, in 1918, local barrister Cecil Chubb and his wife Mary gifted Stonehenge to the nation, starting a centenary of care and conservation which continues to this day.

Find out more about the history of the monument with the charity's celebration, Stonehenge 100.

Stonehenge is an ancient prehistoric site which may have been a place of worship and celebration around the solstice for thousands of years.

English Heritage captured the celebration with a live stream and you can watch a timelapse of the solstice on its YouTube channel.

The sun rises at Stonehenge for summer solstice 2018

At the summer solstice, around 21 June every year, the sun rises behind the Heel Stone and its first rays shine into the heart of Stonehenge. One of the remarkable features of Stonehenge is the alignment of the Stones with the midwinter sunset and midsummer sunrise.

English Heritage's Director of Stonehenge, Kate Davies said:

'Celebrating summer solstice is one of the highlights of the year at Stonehenge. It's a great opportunity for friends and families to come together and mark the longest day of the year, as people have done for thousands of years.

'There was a lovely, friendly atmosphere throughout, the sun shone, and dawn was met with loud cheers.

'Summer solstice at Stonehenge is a major operation and we couldn't do it without the support of our partners, especially Wiltshire Police and Wiltshire Council.

'We look forward to welcoming people to the Summer Solstice again next year.'

The sun rises at Stonehenge for summer solstice 2018

What is Stonehenge?

Stonehenge was built in several stages. The first major activity, in about 3000 BC, was the construction of a circular ditch, with an internal bank. This was within a ring of 56 holes, which probably held upright posts or stones.

For the first few hundred years, this monument was used as a cremation cemetery with an estimated 150 people buried at the site. In about 2500 BC, the stones were set up in the centre of the site - the larger sarsens set up in a circle with lintels and a horseshoe of five trilithons (two upright stones and a horizontal lintel). The smaller bluestones were placed in a double arc, probably with small trilithons.

Later, in about 2300 BC, the bluestones were rearranged into the circle and horseshoe seen on site today. At this point, an earthwork avenue was also built, linking the entrance to the earthwork with small henge on the bank of the River Avon.

It's not confirmed how the stone setting was used, but the alignment on midwinter sunset and midsummer sunrise suggests that people gathered on the site at these times of year for ceremonies.

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