This post highlights some Prehistoric sites around Europe that you may not have heard of, or considered going to. The majority of these sites require hiring a car from a major city in order to access.
The Prehistoric Period for Western Europe refers to the time period in a region prior to the written word- usually brought in by the Roman Invasion- and covers the periods such as the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, and Iron Age.
Some of the most famous Prehistoric sites in Europe are Stonehenge, the Lascaux cave paintings, and Knossos, whilst familiar Prehistoric attractions around the world include the Pyramids and temples of Egypt, Gobekli Tepe in Turkey, the Nazca lines in Peru, and the statues of Easter Island to name but a few.
Common Prehistoric sites to visit include stone circles, large megalithic tombs, cave paintings- the styles of which can vary between countries.
THE CROMLECHS OF THE ALMENDRES
Location: Evore, Portugal
Outside the town of Evore, Portugal, is an interesting selection of standing stones. This arrangement of standing stones is one of the largest in Europe, and likely erected around 6000 BC.
The stones are more rounded than traditional stone structures one might associated with Prehistoric Europe. Outside of the main stone circles, a tall stone stands alone.
The reason why the stones have been placed is still unknown, though some suggestions include an observatory or a temple. The stones are spaced amongst trees and span a large distance. Some contain inscriptions and etchings, again, their reason unknown.
I visited the cromlechs in 2015, having heard of them by chance. I hired a car from Lisbon and drove over. I had alreadt visited many lovely castles and palaces already in the region and was trying to find other historical sites. The cromlechs take up a a large area and it was enjoyable to explore them all- trying to spot those with decoration was fun as well as wandering amongst the different sized stones. I found the cromlechs to be fascinating as they were very different to the stone cirles I had visited in the UK. It was exciting to explore the prehistoric period in an area that I had largely been visiting medieval structures.
HOW TO SEE THEM:
The stones are an hour and a half drive east from Lisbon via a hire car, near the town of Evore. Follow satnav (the stones are a landmark on google maps) and signs once you get closer.
Wear good walking shoes.
There is free car parking and the stones are available for public viewing free of charge.
NEWGRANGE CHAMBER TOMB
LOCATION: County Meath, Ireland
Newgrange is a chamber tomb made of stones and mounded earth, dating over 5200 years old. Every year on the winter solstice, the tomb lights up through the main entrance and a “roof box” in the top of the ceiling. Visitors are able to walk inside although it is a tight space. A stone circle surrounds the tomb.
Human bones found within the chamber further suggest the use as a tomb. Much of the stones are covered in megalithic art, usually swirling patterns, which are evident both inside and outside the tomb. The white quartz stones upon the tomb are quite unique compared to the usual mounded earth commonly seen in barrows.
The winter solistice display is a large draw to the monument, with a raffle available for the public to enter in hope to get a ticket to go. The display lasts between the 18th and the 23rd December and the winners are chosen in September. It is also live streamed. 60 people are chosen and they can all bring a guest.
In the same landscape is the large stone circle, the Hill of Tara, seat of the ancient Irish kings, and the Knowth and Dowth chamber tombs. Following a purposeful sealing of the tomb, the mound remained a striking part of the landscape, becoming incorporated into ancient Irish folklore.
When I visited with a group of friends, we hired a car and explored other towns on the way such as Trim. Trim contained a gorgeous castle and beautiful architecture. The group of archaeologist friends that I went with all found Newgrange remarkable, as it was so different to other tombs we had visited. Being able to explore the well kept, well loved inside and hear from a knowledgeable guide gave us a great insight into the stunning structure.
HOW TO SEE IT:
It takes 40 minutes to drive from Dublin to Newgrange. Hiring a car from Dublin is the best way to get to the Newgrange complex. Public transport is quite difficult but there are tours from the capital (albeit pricey).
I visited with 3 friends and our car hire with petrol cost about £15 each, with myself over 25 as the sole driver. We picked up the car from Dublin, on the outskirts of the city.
You park up at the visitors centre in Brú na Bóinne, and a bus from the visitors centre goes to the site of Newgrange.
Due to construction work occurring at the vistors centre, entry is free currently (October 2019) to Newgrange, otherwise it is €7.
AVEBURY STONE CIRCLE AND WEST KENNET LONG BARROW
LOCATION: Avebury, United Kingdom
Whilst everyone knows about Stonehenge, the area around Salisbury Plains and the South West of England contains an incredible amount of historical sites. The prehistoric remains are remarkable in the area and my personal favourite is the Avebury Stone Circle, built around 2850 BC.
The stone circle is massive, containing walkways and avenues, several rings, and deep ditches. In the middle of the circle sits the town of Avebury- within the centre there is a lovely pub. The stones are accessible to all, and exploring all the stones takes a good deal of time. Shops around the town cater to the “new age” element associated with stone circles and sell related goods as well as other local wares.
Whilst not all of the original 100 + stones remain, you can see evidence of their destruction and reuse in some of the buildings around- including a Medieval church in the centre of circle.
Along the road from the main town is access to the West Kennet Long Barrow- a chamber tomb built around 3650 BC that contained up to 50 burials. The tomb is open to the public, who can explore both inside and out. It is very atmospheric and worth a visit.
Across the road from the long barrow is Silbury Hill, the largest artificial mound in Europe. Built around 2400BC, its use is unknown, and suggestions of being a burial mound have been disputed. The mound is highly visible but not accessible.
Good walking boots are advised- no matter what season I visit in ,it always seems to be muddy!
HOW TO SEE IT:
The area around Avebury is beautiful to visit, and a must for anyone travelling to England. Tourist cities such as Bath and Salisbury are near by via car or public transport, however it is also accessible from London.
The main car park is National Trust/English Heritage and you have to pay if you are not a member of either organisation. However, there is also parking for pub customers and other industries around the area.
Parking for the Long Barrow is free if you park alongside the road, although you can walk to it from the main town.
The stones are free to access and surround a large area of the town.
HYPOGEUM OF ĦAL SAFLIENI
LOCATION: Paola, Malta
The Hypogeum of Ħal Saflieni is an underground Neolithic structure spread over three floors and likely used as a temple as well as a necropolis, with over 7000 bodies recovered. The ruin was found by construction workers in 1902, in which they hastily tried to cover it up, but excavations begun soon after. The structure dates to around 4000 BC and the beautifully carved walls would have been created using flint and obsidian stone tools and antler picks making it one of the oldest man made structures in the world.
Photography is not permitted so I have taken photos from the Hypogeum’s website that have been taken by Clive Vella to illustrate my post. The statue photos were taken by me in the Archaeology Museum.
Rooms within the temple such as The Snake Pit, Holy of Holies, and The Oracle Room to name a few conjur up mysterious images about this place. Red ochre art line the wall, and the echoing acoustics in certain areas shed insight into the use as a temple.
A famous sleeping Venus figure, the “Dreamer of Malta”, was found here during excavations. The woman is large, like many Venus figures of the period, and lying on a couch. This, along with other artefacts, can be seen in the National Archaeology Museum in Valetta.
Only a limited area is open to the public, and only a certain amount of people are allowed in at a time on a guided tour. A video presentation before the tour gives insight into the area, and the guided tour lasts around 45 minutes. There is the option to just see the video if you cannot get tickets.
I have visited many amazing places but the Hypogeum has been one of my all time favourites. There is something incredible about it. Some modern mysteries/urban legends also surround this place for those interested.
I visited in 2014, though it was shut for a while for renovations in 2017 so my experiences may not reflect the current access and tours.
The Tarixien Temple complex, also Prehistoric, is a 10 minute walk from the Hypogeum site if you wish to explore more in the area.
HOW TO SEE IT:
We had hired a car around the island, and found the Hypogeum with difficulty in the town of Paolo as it is stuck in a residential area. Parking is available on the side streets.
The 81, 82, and 85 buses go from Valletta to Paola. The Hypogeum is a 6 minute walk from the Palo Parish church. Other buses are the 83, 88, 206, X2, X3. The Red Route South hop on hop off bus (worth getting in order to see all the amazing historic sites of Malta!) makes a stop here.
The hop on hop off bus is a must as Malta has a considerable number of ancient sites, caves, and spots of natural beauty and, being a small-ish island, the two bus routes take you to a great number of them.
€35 for adults, €20 for students/seniors (60+), €15 for 6 – 11 year olds.
Tickets are to be booked in advance on the Hypogeum’s official website (often a few weeks/month), as space is limited to 80 people per day. 20 tickets for the next day are available from the National War Museum in Valletta.