The origin and purpose of Stonehenge are still a great archeological mystery, but what we do know is that it's a prime location for watching the sunrise and sunset during the winter solstice. While crowds often gather at Stonehenge on Dec. 21, English Heritage, the charity in charge of caring for historic sites like this one, is asking people to stay home and watch the solstice event online.
"Owing to the pandemic, and in the interests of public health, there will be no winter solstice gathering at Stonehenge this year," English Heritage said in a statement. "The winter solstice sunrise will instead be livestreamed from the stones on the morning of the 21 December. It will be easy and free to watch on the English Heritage social media channels. We know how appealing it is to come to Stonehenge for [the] winter solstice, but we are asking everyone to stay safe and to watch the sunrise online instead."
The winter solstice marks the shortest day and longest night of the year. Historians suspect that the significance of Stonehenge is directly linked to tracking annual solar cycles. The stones are set up in a way that perfectly frames the sun on at least two occasions every year: the winter and summer solstices.
According to Lonely Planet, the winter solstice may have held greater importance than the summer one for the people who built and used Stonehenge. Archaeological discoveries at Durrington Walls suggest that people hosted huge feasts around this time of year, perhaps signaling a religious celebration. Durrington Walls, about two miles from the monument, is a Neolithic settlement, and archaeologists believe that the people who built and used Stonehenge lived here. While the purpose of the feasts is unknown, archaeologists can confirm that the Stonehenge site was considered sacred ground long before the stones were ever placed there.
For more information about Stonehenge and other historic sites in England, visit the English Heritage official website.
Jessica Poitevien is a Travel + Leisure contributor currently based in South Florida, but always on the lookout for the next adventure. Besides traveling, she loves baking, talking to strangers, and taking long walks on the beach. Follow her adventures on Instagram.
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