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Summer solstice marked at Stonehenge

The ancient site is a mecca for tourists, Druids and ordinary observers alike  

LONDON, England -- Thousands of people celebrated the summer solstice at the ancient site of Stonehenge in Wiltshire, southern England, on Thursday.

It is only the second time since violence disrupted the event in 1985 that ordinary observers have been allowed inside the ancient stone circle to watch the sun rise on the longest day of the year.

The solstice drew a crowd of about 14,500 -- including Druids, New Age followers and ordinary observers -- who gathered around the stones at 0455 local time (0355 GMT) on Thursday.

The rocks are remnants of the last in a sequence of circular monuments built between 3000 B.C. and 1600 B.C., and align directly with the rising of the sun on the longest day of the year. Some experts believe the monument was built by members of a sun-worshipping culture. Others say it aligns with the sunrise because it forms part of a huge astronomical calendar.

This year cloudy skies stopped the first rays of sunlight shining through a stone archway into the inner circle, but did not seem to dampen the festive spirit as observers danced, beat on drums and watched fire jugglers.

Pam Alexander, Chief Executive of English Heritage -- which own the site -- said: "We have had a very enjoyable night. We are very pleased that we are managing a much more peaceful and celebratory approach."

Solstice ceremonies at the site were banned after clashes with the police in 1985, resulting in a four-mile exclusion zone.

In 1999, Stonehenge was opened to 150 druids, but was gate-crashed by about 200 people who clashed with police.

But last year, English Heritage allowed full access during the solstice. About 8,000 revellers attended the celebrations which passed peacefully without incident. This year police reported only five arrests, all for minor drug offences.

"Everyone's been friendly," druid priest Mark Graham told the Associated Press news agency. "There's a very high energy here."

While Druids celebrated at Stonehenge in Britain, across the Atlantic in America, people gathered in the plains of Nebraska around a direct copy of Stonehenge, built out of old cars welded together.

The structure, known as Carhenge, is drawing tourists and devotees by the thousands. Not only is the layout the same as Stonehenge, but the cars are the same height and width of the giant stones in Britain.

Carhenge was built by Jim Reinder as a memorial to his father. He needed 33 old cars to finish the structure.

After it was completed, state officials labelled it a "junkyard" and an "embarrassment," ordering the council in the nearby city of Alliance to bulldoze the site to the ground.

Carhenge survived after locals campaigned to embrace Reinder's legacy. The monument attracts many Druids during the winter and summer solstice.

CNN's John Vause contributed to this report.

• English Heritage
• Stonehenge
• Druidism
• Carhenge

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