Face-Lift For Stonehenge

Stonehenge, England at dusk
Stonehenge, one of the most mysterious sites on Earth, is about to get a face-lift.

Thousands come each year to gaze at the ancient stone arches, erected about 2,300 BC. The problem is, reports CBS News Correspondent Sam Litzinger, Stonehenge is pretty much in the middle of nowhere and it's not much fun to actually visit.

"For years the visitor facilities at Stonehenge have been squalid," admits Sir Neil Cossons with English Heritage.

Branded a "national disgrace" by some lawmakers as it now stands, Stonehenge is flanked by highways, and visitors trying to imagine its original splendor do so with the steady hum of traffic in the background.

But now Cossons' group has a plan to upgrade Stonehenge. The stones themselves won't be changed, but there will be a new visitor center, "a very self-effacing and diffident building which pays enormous respect to the landscape," said Cossons.

Under the new set-up, visitors will still not be able to walk right up and touch the stones — that was stopped in 1978 — but they will have access to far more of the 1,700 acre National Trust-owned site.

"Although about 830,000 people a year from around the world pay to visit Stonehenge, they spend on average just over half-an-hour at the stone circle. Visitors to Stonehenge deserve better than this, and at long last they will be able to engage with the wonder of the Stonehenge landscape as never before."

Under the $89 million scheme, a road which virtually bisects the site will be closed and a mile-long section of another running nearby will be buried in a tunnel.

Parking lots which surround the site will be moved out of sight and a visitor reception center will be sited well away.

The intrusive cars and buildings that currently all but overwhelm the site will be replaced by fields in a bid to give the more than 800,000 people who visit each year an aura of calm in which to explore.

"Stonehenge is a magical place that attracts visitors from all over the world," Arts Minister Baroness Blackstone said. "Good, well-designed visitor facilities are essential to ensure the site's history is brought to life."

The site has been in use for at least 10,000 years. In the Bronze Age, Stonehenge, 160 miles west of London, was used for ceremonial burials of local chieftains.

Every June, thousands of New Age sun worshipers flock to the site for the summer solstice.

Exactly how and why it was built remains a mystery.

Some experts believe it is aligned with the sun simply because its builders came from a sun-worshipping culture, while others believe the site was part of a huge astronomical calendar.