United Kingdom

Stonehenge will livestream the sunrise during the summer solstice

Pagans, druids and travellers in lockdown will have the chance to witness the sunrise during the summer solstice from Stonehenge live online for the first time. 

Thousands of people flock to the Neolithic monument in Wiltshire every year to mark the summer solstice sunrise and sunset - happening on June 21 this year.

Due to lockdown measures designed to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus, Stonehenge has been closed to visitors and the annual solstice event cancelled.

To ensure people could still enjoy the moment that marks the longest day of the year, English Heritage said they would livestream from the monument.

Pagans, druids and travellers in lockdown will have the chance to witness the sunrise during the summer solstice from Stonehenge live online for the first time

Stonehenge is a pilgrimage site for some groups, with tens of thousands arriving twice a year to mark the winter and summer solstice. 

'We can't welcome you in person this year because of the measures in place to combat coronavirus – but our live coverage of sunset and sunrise means you won't miss a moment of this special occasion,' said English Heritage.

'Our cameras will capture the best views of Stonehenge, allowing you to connect with this spiritual place from the comfort of your own home.'

They have urged people not to travel to Stonehenge for the solstice 'to keep everyone safe', adding they hope to welcome people for next year's event.

The live stream will start on Saturday June 20 at 21:26 BST for sunset and again at 04:52 BST for the sunrise - going live half hour before each session.

The event will be broadcast around the world on Facebook and saved for people to watch at another time if they can't wake up for the sunrise.

'We have consulted widely on whether we could have proceeded safely and we would have dearly liked to host the event as per usual, but sadly, in the end, we feel we have no choice but to cancel,' Stonehenge director Nichola Tasker said.  

'We hope that our (livestream) offers an alternative opportunity for people near and far to connect with this spiritual place at such a special time of year and we look forward to welcoming everyone back next year.'

While Stonehenge is a neolithic monument that has stood for thousands of years, it was nearly destroyed by visitors 'taking souvenirs' from the stones.

Due to lockdown measures designed to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus, Stonehenge has been closed to visitors and the annual solstice event cancelled

The event will be broadcast around the world on Facebook and saved for people to watch at another time if they can't wake up for the sunrise and English Heritage say they hope to welcome people back for the spectacle next year

On October 26, 1918, Stonehenge was offered by Cecil and Mary Chubb as a gift for the nation after they bought it at auction for £6,600.

Prior to 1918, the monument was propped up with wooden poles and some of the stones were in danger of collapse. 

Increasing numbers of visitors through the late 19th century had led to damage, with people regularly chipping the stones for souvenirs and scratching their names on the monument. 

Although this was largely halted by the introduction of an admission charge and attendant policeman from 1901 onwards, the monument itself was still in a perilous condition.⠀ 

English Heritage’s predecessors, The Office of Works, began to care for the monument, restoring many of the fallen stones and undertaking a major survey and programme of excavation.  

The stones were put up in about 2500 BC, according to English Heritage, who say they aligned to line up with the movement of the sun.

The idea was that if you stood in the middle of the circle on midsummer's day - the summer solstice - the sun would rise to the left of the Heel stone.

'Archaeological excavations have found a large stone hole to the left of the Heel Stone and it may have held a partner stone, the two stones framing the sunrise,' according to English Heritage. 

The Stonehenge monument standing today was the final stage of a four part building project that ended 3,500 years ago

Stonehenge is one of the most prominent prehistoric monuments in Britain. The Stonehenge that can be seen today is the final stage that was completed about 3,500 years ago. 

According to the monument's website, Stonehenge was built in four stages:   

First stage: The first version of Stonehenge was a large earthwork or Henge, comprising a ditch, bank and the Aubrey holes, all probably built around 3100 BC. 

The Aubrey  holes are round pits in the chalk, about one metre (3.3 feet) wide and deep, with steep sides and flat bottoms. 

They form a circle about 86.6 metres (284 feet) in diameter. 

Excavations revealed cremated human bones in some of the chalk filling, but the holes themselves were likely not made to be used as graves, but as part of a religious ceremony.

After this first stage, Stonehenge was abandoned and left untouched for more than 1,000 years. 

Second stage: The second and most dramatic stage of Stonehenge started around 2150 years BC, when about 82 bluestones from the Preseli mountains in south-west Wales were transported to the site. It's thought that the stones, some of which weigh four tonnes each, were dragged on rollers and sledges to the waters at Milford Haven, where they were loaded onto rafts.

They were carried on water along the south coast of Wales and up the rivers Avon and Frome, before being dragged overland again near Warminster and Wiltshire.

The final stage of the journey was mainly by water, down the river Wylye to Salisbury, then the Salisbury Avon to west Amesbury. 

The journey spanned nearly 240 miles, and once at the site, the stones were set up in the centre to form an incomplete double circle. 

During the same period, the original entrance was widened and a pair of Heel Stones were erected. The nearer part of the Avenue, connecting Stonehenge with the River Avon, was built aligned with the midsummer sunrise. 

Third stage: The third stage of Stonehenge, which took place about 2000 years BC, saw the arrival of the sarsen stones (a type of sandstone), which were larger than the bluestones.

They were likely brought from the Marlborough Downs (40 kilometres, or 25 miles, north of Stonehenge). 

The largest of the sarsen stones transported to Stonehenge weighs 50 tonnes, and transportation by water would not have been possible, so it's suspected that they were transported using sledges and ropes. 

Calculations have shown that it would have taken 500 men using leather ropes to pull one stone, with an extra 100 men needed to lay the rollers in front of the sledge.

These stones were arranged in an outer circle with a continuous run of lintels - horizontal supports. 

Inside the circle, five trilithons - structures consisting of two upright stones and a third across the top as a lintel - were placed in a horseshoe arrangement, which can still be seen today. 

Final stage: The fourth and final stage took place just after 1500 years BC, when the smaller bluestones were rearranged in the horseshoe and circle that can be seen today.

The original number of stones in the bluestone circle was probably around 60, but these have since been removed or broken up. Some remain as stumps below ground level. 

Source: Stonehenge.co.uk 

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