It cost an estimated £27 million and took more than three decades to complete, but finally the last of the scaffolding was removed and the new visitor centre at the iconic prehistoric monument in Wiltshire was revealed.
It would be fair to say however, that the visitor centre has definitely seen its fair share of problems, set-backs and planning rows, as projects surrounding the new centre have been scrapped as funding fell through due to government cutting costs.
All these problems were forgotten yesterday, as the final touches were given to the visitor centre, which saw the last of the steel frames being removed, revealing the single storey building, situated out of sight of the great monument, which is actually set in a hollow in the ground.
The visitor centre will be open in December, coincidentally just in time for visitors who want to celebrate the Winter Solstice, and it is hoped that all pilgrims visiting the ancient site will appreciate where the centre has been located, as great care has been taken with the design of the centre. The centre has been very carefully created by the architects in question, to specifically blend in with the surrounding landscape, and seamlessly compliment the prehistoric monument.
Once you enter the visitor centre, you will be treated to a fabulous 360 degree ‘virtual view’ which will look as if you are actually standing within the centre of the Stonehenge stones. There will also be a special gallery which gives visitors facts and theories about the placement of the stones, as well as other prehistoric stories.
You can also view around 300 archaeological finds from the Stonehenge site, which have been kindly loaned from a several other museums, for the opening of the visitor centre, some of which have never been seen before.
Joe Studholme, from the Salisbury Museum said that for the first time, visitors to the stones will be able to put the exhibits in context: “Before people go to the stones they need to know much more about the background. Previously there hasn’t been any background about the story of the stones. We’re thrilled to be in partnership with English Heritage and to be able to tell the whole story about Stonehenge and the wonderful area.”
The centre is the largest capital project ever undertaken by English Heritage and 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 cliches 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.”
Whilst Lorraine Knowle, also from English Heritage, said the “beautifully and sensitively designed” centre “fits into the rolling landscape of Salisbury Plain very well”. She added: “It will give visitors a real sense of anticipation because the building is really just a stepping stone on the way to seeing the monument.”
The centre is situated approximated one and a half miles away from the prehistoric stones, so fans of the ancient site need not worry that the building will spoil the iconic view of the site.
The visitor centre opens on December 18, and the attraction will welcome visitors and pilgrims who make the journey to Amesbury for the winter solstice.
All images copyright English Heritage.