English Heritage has announced that the first phase of the long-awaited improvements to the setting and visitor experience of Stonehenge will be launched to the public on Wednesday, 18 December 2013.
Visitors will be welcomed at a new visitor building, located 2.1km (1.5 miles) to the west of Stonehenge. For the first time ever at the site, they will be able to learn more about this complex monument in a stunning, museum-quality permanent exhibition curated by English Heritage experts. A 360-degree virtual, immersive experience will let visitors ‘stand in the stones’ before they enter a gallery presenting the facts and theories surrounding the monument through various displays and nearly 300 prehistoric artefacts.
The archaeological finds on display are on loan from the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, the Wiltshire Museum, and the Duckworth Collection, University of Cambridge. All were found inside the World Heritage Site and many are on public display for the first time.
Set in Stone? How our ancestors saw Stonehenge, will be the first special temporary exhibition. It will chart over 800 years of ideas and debate - from 12th-century legends to radiocarbon dating reports in the 1950s - on who built Stonehenge and when, and features objects on loan from many national museums.
Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said: “This world famous monument, perpetually described as a mystery, finally has a place in which to tell its story. The exhibition will change the way people experience and think about Stonehenge forever - beyond the clichés and towards a meaningful inquiry into an extraordinary human achievement in the distant past. It will put at its centre the individuals associated with its creation and use, and I am very proud with what we have to unveil to the world in December.”
Visitors will have a heightened sense of anticipation when they arrive at the visitor building as Stonehenge is not immediately visible; it will only emerge slowly on the horizon during the 10-minute shuttle ride to the monument.
At the stones, there will be opportunities to walk and explore the surroundings of the monument including the Avenue, Stonehenge’s ancient processional approach, guided by new interpretation panels specially developed with the National Trust. The Avenue will have been reconnected to the stone circle after being severed by the A344 road for centuries, the whole area will be free of traffic, and newly sown grass will be establishing on the former route of the road.
The new visitor building, designed by leading practice Denton Corker Marshall, is reaching the final stages of construction and interior fit out has started. It is a low key structure featuring many enhancements over what is on offer now, including:
- an environmentally sensitive and fully accessible building with a high BREEAM rating (the industry standard assessment system for sustainable building design and construction). There are a number of green features such as an open loop ground source heating system, mixed mode ventilation and a treatment system for recycling grey water;
- dedicated education space;
- a bright and spacious café with indoor and outdoor seating for up to 260;
- a bigger shop;
- a visitors carpark with space for 500 vehicles and 30 coaches;
- ample toilets, including disabled 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
In Easter 2014, visitors can look forward to the opening of a group of reconstructed Neolithic houses. The Neolithic houses are the highlight of the outdoor gallery and will be built from January 2014 onwards by volunteers based on houses where the builders of Stonehenge may have lived, complete with furniture and fittings.
The final phase of the project – the restoration of the landscape around Stonehenge – will be completed in the Summer of 2014. Work to demolish the existing facilities and return the area to grass will begin immediately after the new visitor centre has opened and will continue for a few months.
The £27-million Stonehenge Environmental Improvements Programme is the largest capital project ever undertaken by English Heritage. It is financed almost entirely by Heritage Lottery Fund money (£10m), English Heritage commercial income and philanthropic donations including significant gifts from the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Linbury Trust and the Wolfson Foundation.
From 18 December 2013, entrance to Stonehenge will be managed through timed tickets and advance booking is strongly recommended. Online booking opens on 2 December at www.english-heritage.org.uk/stonehenge.