Avebury is one of Europe's largest prehistoric sites. Found approximately 20 miles north of Stonehenge, it was constructed around the year 2600 BC and is today part of the larger Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites. This larger collection of sites has collectively been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and gets tens of thousands of visitors every year, and while it may not be as iconic as the Stonehenge images travelers see, it's still more than worth a visit for its own sake.
The Avebury historical site calls the village of Avebury home. This village, in turn, is found in Wiltshire County, England. The site is a well-known tourist attraction, and there are several reasons for this. One of these reasons is the fact that it features the largest stone circle found on the European continent. The main Avebury Stone Circle, called the Outer Stone Circle, has a diameter of more than 1,000 feet. When it was created, more than 98 sarsen stones marked the circle's perimeter. These stones were erected and left in a standing position, adding a most dramatic effect.
The main Avebury Stone Circle encloses two smaller stone circles, and surrounding it all is a large circular bank. The bank has a more than 460-yard diameter, making it far larger than similar sites that date from the same era. All considered, the entire Avebury site covers approximately 28 acres and contains more than 100 stones. Some of the stones weigh around 50 tons, so it's impressive to imagine just how much work went into standing them up when the site was originally constructed. After all, big, heavy machinery that could move mountains simply wasn't available in Neolithic times. As for the reason that Avebury was created, that remains largely unknown. Many scholars believe that religion and ceremonial purposes were driving forces behind the construction.
Avebury stood the test of time for thousands of years. As is true of so many historical sites, however, it was eventually damaged to great degree by man. In Avebury's case, much of the initial destruction occurred in the 1300s. By this time, England had fully converted to Christianity, and the fact that Avebury was a non-Christian monument didn't exactly make it popular with locals. Many of the locals even participated in the action of toppling some of Avebury's stones. The stones would fall into pre-prepared pits and would then be buried. Things didn't always go according to plan during this process, however. In 1938, archaeologists uncovered the remains of a fourteenth century man under one of the fallen stones. He had been crushed, and villagers were unable to get to the body.
The peak of destruction at Avebury occurred in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and also has a lot to do with religion. During this period, the Puritan religious movement was gaining momentum, and this movement saw anything that was pagan to be highly unfavorable. Villagers who were influenced by the movement took to building fires around the stones at Avebury. Once a stone was sufficiently heated, cold water was then poured over it. This reduced the integrity of the rock and allowed it to be more easily broken by sledgehammers. Thankfully, at least two antiquarians made detailed notes about Avebury before it was demolished beyond original recognition. This allowed for the site's reconstruction many years later.
Avebury visitors can learn more about the site's history and the history of the area in general at the Alexander Keiller Museum. This museum is found at Avebury and is known for housing what actually amounts to one of the best archaeological collections in the entire UK. Avebury is open daily, though the hours vary according to the time of year. During the peak April to October season, the hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. From November through March, the site opens at the same time, but closes two hours earlier. Many a visitor takes one of the daily buses out from Salisbury, with the one-way trip time taking around one and a half hours. The closest train station to the Avebury site is about twelve miles away in Swindon. This station figures as a stop along the main rail line that connects Bath to London, and limited bus service can be relied upon to get from it to Avebury.