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Stonehenge Visitor Centre 'absolutely wonderful'
CHANGING Stonehenge forever – that is the claim made for the new centre being built at Airman’s Corner for visitors to the ancient stones.
The world’s media was invited on Monday to have their first look around the new, hi-tech, low-profile building that is part of a £27m project to transform the experience of visiting the world heritage site, which is in the care of English Heritage.
Simon Thurley, the organisation’s chief executive, gave a guided tour of the building, which is due to open to the public on December 18 this year.
It features a circular room in which visitors will experience a wrap-around, close-up digital experience of the stones, their phases of construction and the landscape.
There will also be a new exhibition of artefacts and finds from the land around the stones, including exhibits loaned from Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum and the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes.
Education rooms have also been created along with a 260-seat cafe and a shop. There will be parking for 500 cars and 30 coaches.
Mr Thurley 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.”
Visitors will travel the 1.5miles to the stones in covered trailers towed by a Land Rover.
The monument is visited by about a million people each year and the visitor centre has been designed to accommodate up to 6,000 people in a day, with people buying timed tickets in advance from a website.
In Easter next year, a recreated Neolithic village will be opened next to the visitor centre, allowing people to see the sort of houses that were lived in by those who built Stonehenge. Mr Thurley said: “One of things Stonehenge has lacked, in our view, has been people.”
He admitted the new centre had been controversial. He said: “It is the culmination of 85 years of debate. This was the location the fewest number of people objected to.”
It will replace the current centre near the stones, which will be razed and returned to grass.
He said the English Heritage view remained that the best future for the stones would involve the A303 being re-routed into a tunnel. He said: “It’s absolutely imperative that the stones are returned to the tranquillity of the chalk downland in which they were originally built.”
Joe Studholme, chairman of the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum said the project was “absolutely wonderful” and would explain Stonehenge properly. He said the inclusion of artefacts from Salisbury should generate more visitors for the museum’s new £2.5m gallery where there would be many more artefacts in a dynamic display.
The new gallery is set to open in July next year, on the same day as the official opening of the entire project. He said: “It has been hugely frustrating. A million people come to Stonehenge and go away slightly disappointed. But this scheme should create a virtuous circle.”
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