Sunday, July 12, 2015

A visit to the Neolithic Passage Tombs at Newgrange

We left County Clare and headed back across Ireland to Trim, just north of Dublin. We decided to visit the Neolithic passage tombs at Newgrange and Knowth. We were lucky to arrive in time to visit both sites. Buses take you from the visitors centre to each site as independent tours. We visited the Knowth site first. There is one very large tomb and several smaller ones are Knowth.

This is the large tomb with a smaller one in front.

Here is a different small one.

These structures contain inner passageways that lead to central chambers. There are two passageways in the large tomb leading to different chambers. The amazing thing is that these structures are 5000 years old, pre-dating the pyramids. The Irish guide was proud to note that they also pre-date Stonehenge in England by 1000 years. These sites contain about 3/4 of all the Neolithic art in Europe and most of it is at Knowth. The passageways are closed to the public to protect the art, which is etchings on rock.

The site at Newgrange is the most famous. After its use some 5000 years ago it was sealed until the passages and chamber were rediscovered in 1699. Much of the material inside Newgrange has been lost. In the 1970s, there was an attempt to rebuilt the dry stone rock walls in a way that they might have looked 5000 years ago.

This is the entrance to the passageway. There is only one passageway that has been discovered at Newgrange. The passageway is 60 feet long and leads to a large chamber that has a high vaulted ceiling, The chamber is 20 feet high at its central point. The guide pointed out that we were standing under one of the oldest human-built roofs in the world and after 5000 years, it still does not leak! There are three smaller chambers off the main chamber each with a large flat basin stone where the bones of the dead were laid. Newgrange is referred to as a passage tomb, but perhaps temple is a better description. The passageway is aligned with the rising sun on the winter solstice so that as the sun rises, the light gradually moves down the passageway until it reaches chamber. This must have been a place of spiritual and religious significance.

Note the opening above the door. This 'roof-box' is where the sun shines in illuminating the central chamber during the winter solstice.

Also notice the designs on the rock. These designs were created 5000 years ago. The interconnected spirals are amazingly complex.

This is the view looking in from the door. We were permitted to enter the tomb and go to the central chamber but we were not permitted to take pictures inside. This is a special place and standing in the central chamber I felt the same kind of awe that I felt a few years ago when we visited St Paul's cathedral in London.

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