Wiltshire, land of mystery
By Mike Stock
Stonehenge is an obvious must when visiting Wiltshire. The reasons for its existence remain as much a mystery now as it has ever been.
What visitors see today is about half the original stone monument that was built between 3000BC and 1500BC. The awesome achievement of the ancient Britons is not only transporting these massive stones but erecting them with such precision is a true wonder. It is a site that served not only as a sacred place of ritual and burial but also as an astronomical calendar.
It has been discovered that the construction of Stonehenge occurred in three phases. Firstly consisting of a circle of timbers surrounded by a ditch and bank. About 2500BC the circle was rebuilt using blue-stones. Around 2300BC the third and final bigger stone monument was constructed much of which remains today.
The village of Lacock with its pretty cottages that in some cases date back to the 13th century, is located near the town of Chippenham. This village has become famous as the backdrop to such well known British films and dramas as Cranford, Harry Potter Moll Flanders, Emma and Pride & Prejudice.
The village grew around the Abbey of Lacock which was founded for Augustinian nuns in 1229 by the Countess of Salisbury . Both the Abbey and the village grew together, each supporting the other. This lasted until 1539, when with the Dissolution it was sold off to William Sharington, who rebuilt the Abbey as a family home. And so it remained for over 400 years until 1944, when it was handed over to the National Trust.
Most of the buildings in the village are also owned by the National Trust who have a vigorous policy of maintaining the village's old time nature. The signs, the tiles - even the street lamps are exactly as they would have been 100 years ago.
William Fox Talbot.
Probably the most famous resident of Lacock, Fox Talbot came up with the process of photography while on Honeymoon at Lake Como.
Talbot invented a process which he called photogenic drawing In 1835, he made the earliest known surviving photographic negative using a camera.His findings were presented at a meeting of the Royal Society on 31st January 1839 which is seen aas one of the first official announcements of the creation of photography.
Avebury stone circle is located in the north east part of Wiltshire near the town of Marlborough. This Neolithic site is not as well known as Stonehenge but it is in fact the largest in Europe. However, it is very accessible and visitors are free to freely wander. The Stone Circle is thought to have been built around 2800bc and predates Stonehenge by about 500 years.
Avebury is thought to have been a sacred and ceremonial site. The outer circle surrounded by an earthen ditch and bank comprises around 200 large stones, some weighing over 20 tons.
There are two smaller circles to the north and south which are set within this outer circle of larger stones. One theory for this is that the inner stone circles were places of ritual and sacrifice.
The city of Bath was first established as a spa resort by the Romans in AD 43 although it was in existence before then. The Romans built baths and a temple on the surrounding hill. Saxon king Edgar was crowned at the Abbey in 973. Much later, it became popular as a spa resort during the Georgian era, which in turn led to a major expansion that left a heritage of exemplary Georgian architecture crafted from Bath Stone. The city became a World Heritage Site in 1987. Over 3.8 million visitors come to Bath each year.
Jane Austen arrived here in 1801 when her father decided to move his family to Bath on his retirement. It is in this city she wrote two of her six published novels, Northanger Abbey completed in 1803 and Persuasion written in 1817.
The Roman Baths
The Roman Baths are located below street level and have three main features;
The Sacred Spring
The water that bubbles out of the ground from this spring, arrives on the surface at a temperature of 46°C and comes out at a rate of 1,170,000 litres every day
The Roman Temple
The temple is one of only two classical temples that exist from Roman Britain. This was the place where the cult statue of the goddess Sulis Minerva was kept. The ornamental pediment has survived and has been re-erected in the Museum. On it is the image of a fearsome face which is thought to be a Gorgon's head and was a powerful symbol of the goddess. This is the best known object in the Roman Baths collection and has fascinated scholars and the public since its discovery during the digging of foundations for the Grand Pump Room in 1790. It has been recognised that it is probably the work of sculptors from Gaul and was made in the late first century AD.
The Great Bath
This is the centre piece of the Roman baths. It is a pool lined with 45 sheets of lead and filled with hot spa water. It originally stood in an enormous barrel-vaulted hall that rose to a height of 40 metres. It has steps leading down on all sides and niches around the baths would have held benches for bathers.
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