Stone circles: the Celtic temples

Stone circles are huge structures built by the Celts; even if they may appear very simple, they are more complex than we can imagine.

Tempo di lettura articolo: 3 minuti

The Celts established themselves in Britain and they were one of the first peoples which lived there. They were communally organized and their culture was tribal. A very interesting aspect of their society was the religion, which was pagan and animistic; one of the most important features of their cult was the presence of places of worship, made of stone circles.

Stone circles are monuments built between the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age: they are composed of standing stones, which have varying sizes, although they are usually huge (about five metres). They are often located in complexes called henges, which are circular grounds surrounded by a moat; so, even if these two terms are sometimes used synonymously, they actually indicate different structures. 

The stone circles erected during the Bronze Age served as tombs, while it is not known certainly for what the ones built during the Neolithic period were used for, even if they were probably used by Druids (who were priests, doctors, judges, they knew all the history and the law of the tribe, and they were supposed to have magical powers) to perform holy rituals in relation to the celestial gods. 

Stone circles may appear as simple and primordial temples, but they are more complex than we can imagine: in fact, all the stones are placed in a precise order, according to different positions of the planets, or of the stars during different moments of the year; still nowadays scientists do not know how the Celts had such advanced astronomical skills

Great Britain’s most famous stone circles

The most famous stone circle in Great Britain is Stonehenge, which is in southwestern England, and was built in various stages between 3100 BCE and 1600 BCE. There are two mysteries about Stonehenge that scientists cannot explain: the first one is that on the first day of summer, and midday, the sun hits the centre of the inner circle; the second one is that the stones that make up the structure originated in Northern Wales, and it is not known how the Celts could transport them along all those miles. 


Although Stonehenge is the most famous and the most visited (more than 750 million tourists visit it every year!) of the stone circles, it is not the only one in Great Britain. For example, 30 kilometres north from Stonehenge there is another stone circle, less famous than the previous one, but much larger and more ancient: the Avebury stone circle, which was built between 3400 BCE and 2625 BCE, and is the largest one in the world, with a total diameter of nearly 350 metres; the size of the circle suggests that it was a large religious ground, used for important rituals. 

Averbury stone circle

Two other interesting stone circles are the Castlerigg stone circle and the Callanish one. The first one is in the Lake District, near Keswick and it was built during the Neolithic period, so it is among the oldest ones in the UK. It is composed of 38 megaliths, and it is about 30 metres in diameter (so its size is similar to Stonehenge’s one). 

Castlerigg stone circle

Callanish stone circle, in the Outer Hebrides (an archipelago off the northwest coast of Scotland) is similar in form to a cross; it was built during the Neolithic period and it had been used for a long period, until 800 BCE. It is thought to serve as a lunar calendar, and, following the Bronze Age expansion, it became a place of worship and burial. The area in which it is located has other 19 similar structures (such as Callanish ll and Callanish lll), although many of them are only solitary megaliths. 

Callanish stone circle

Stone circles are mysterious constructions, and it is very fascinating to learn that the Celts, an ancient people often considered underdeveloped, had such advanced astronomical and architectural skills. If we had to build something like a stone circle nowadays, we would need technology, and it is interesting to see how they were able to create these impressive structures without any current technological help.


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