The mysterious ring of upright stones known as Stonehenge has stood on Salisbury Plain in southern England for several millennia. A million visitors flock to Britain’s most famous ancient monument every year, but the site offers them few amenities beyond a parking lot. But that’s about to change, as Stonehenge is slated to open a visitor center on Wednesday that will give visitors a chance to view an exhibition of prehistoric objects, grab a comfortable seat and, most importantly, “have a cup of tea.”
“Stonehenge is almost certainly the most famous ancient monument in the world, and up until now it hasn’t really had adequate visitor facilities,” Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, told the BBC. “This is a radical change for the million people a year who come to Stonehenge. They can see the stones for the first time free from the clutter and rubbish that have accrued around them since the 1960s.”
He added that until now, “there's been no exhibition, no opportunities for people to even have a cup of tea.”
The visitor center, which cost 27 million pounds ($44 million USD) to build, will offer an exhibition about Neolithic life. According to the BBC, one of the highlights will be a forensic reconstruction of a Neolithic man’s face based on a 5,500-year-old skull found buried near Stonehenge. The center will also feature a 360-degree “virtual tour” of the monument.
The sleek, modern Stonehenge visitor center, made of glass and timber, is designed to complement the surrounding landscape, not overburden it. It is also set back from the monument down a 1.5-mile road in order to preserve the “dignity” of the place itself. Visitors can either walk to the monument or take one of the shuttles that will be provided.
"This is a radical change for the million people a year who come to Stonehenge,” Thurley told the BBC.
One downside to the Stonehenge facelift is a hike in the admission price. According to the Associated Press, ticket prices have almost doubled, from 8 pounds ($13 USD) to 14.90 pounds ($24 USD) for an adult.
Stonehenge was built over the course of 1,400 years, between 3000 BC and 1600 BC. It was completed in three phases and was constructed from stones transported from up to 175 miles away.
Archaeologists have long believed the giant stone monument to be either a Druid temple, a giant astronomical calendar or a place for healing. But recent research suggests another use. International Business Times reported earlier this year that new forensic evidence suggests Stonehenge may have been an ancient burial ground for elite families.
“These were men, women, children, so presumably family groups,” professor and leader researcher Mike Parker Pearson told the Associated Press in March. “We’d thought that maybe it was a place where a dynasty of kings was buried, but this seemed to be much more of a community, a different kind of power structure.”