Stonehenge and Avebury, in Wiltshire, are among the most famous groups of megaliths in the world. The two sanctuaries consist of circles of menhirs arranged in a pattern whose astronomical significance is still being explored. These holy places and the nearby Neolithic sites are an incomparable testimony to prehistoric times.
Stonehenge, Avebury and their associated sites represent a masterpiece of human creative genius of the Neolithic age.
The site of Stonehenge and Avebury is the best-known ensemble circular megalithic characteristic of the Neolithic civilization in Britain. A number of satellite sites make it possible to better understand the more famous sites by situating them in a broader context.
Stonehenge, which was built in several distinct phases from 3100 to 1100 BC, is one of the most impressive megalithic monuments in the world on account of the sheer size of the menhirs, and especially the perfection of the plan, which is based upon a series of concentric circles, and also because of its height: from the third phase of construction on, large lintels were placed upon the vertical blocks, thereby creating a type of bonded entablature. For the constructions two different materials were used: irregular sandstone blocks known as sarsens, quarried in a plain near Salisbury and bluestones quarried about 200 km away in Pembroke County, Wales. An avenue with a bend in it leads to and away from the exterior circle.
Although the ritual function of the monument is not known in detail, the cosmic references of its structure appear to be essential. The old theory that the site was a sanctuary for worship of the Sun, although not the subject of unanimous agreement among prehistorians, is nevertheless illustrated by the yearly Midsummer Day ceremony during which there is a folkloric procession of bards and druids at Stonehenge.
Avebury (about 30 km to the north), although not so well known as Stonehenge, is nevertheless Europe's largest circular megalithic ensemble. Its exterior circle comprises some 100 menhirs. In all, 180 standing stones were put into place before the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC, as demonstrated by abundant ceramic samples found on the site. There are four avenues (of which only the southern one, West Kennet Avenue, is still lined with megaliths) leading to the four cardinal points of the 'sanctuary'.
Not far from Avebury, among a several satellite sites, are to be found Silbury Hill, where Europe's largest known barrow of prehistoric times is located, as well as Windmill Hill, West Kennet Long Barrow, and Overton Hill.