The shortest days of the year have arrived in the Northern hemisphere, signaling the beginning of winter. On the bright side, the days will now start getting longer all the way until June 21st. Since we have reached this annual occurrence, let’s explore some really fun ancient places where you can enjoy it.
This gigantic Stone Age tomb was built in the Irish countryside of modern day County Meath, at around 3200 B.C. The site is older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. Nestled on the north side of the River Boyne, it’s a truly breathtaking location towards the northern portion of the country. It contains a tunnel which faces the sunrise on the morning of the winter solstice; this tunnel runs to a main chamber which is the location where deceased individuals were likely placed. A window exposes the chamber to sunlight for 17 minutes of the solstice.
Newgrange was sealed shut for several millennia after its initial use. Around the 17th century A.D., scientists began studying the area, and archaeologists began excavations at the site. Many of these took place in the 1970s. Today, Newgrange is a popular tourist site, especially around December 21st.
Temple of Karnak
In Egypt, the Temple of Karnak was built to align with the winter solstice at Luxor over 4,000 years ago. Today, this space is a vast open-air museum, making it the second largest ancient religious site in the world, as well as the second most visited historical site in Egypt (behind the Giza Pyramids). Just ahead of the Temple of Karnak, in terms of size, is the Angkor Wat Temple of Cambodia.
Located in modern-day Germany, the Goseck circle is a series of rings dug into the ground back around 4900 B.C. It had been forgotten about all the way up until the 1990’s! Thank God an aerial survey took flight over the area. It’s better late than never to find a historical gem. Upon discovery, researchers also found that two gates which cut into the outermost circle aligned perfectly with the sunrise and sunset of the winter solstice.
Mexico is much farther south than any of these aforementioned winter solstice locales, but the Mayans still venerated the low winter sun with their ancient city of Tulum. One of its buildings features a small hole at its top that produces a starburst effect whenever the sun rises on the winter solstice.
It may be too late to hop on a plane and explore one of these ancient sites for this year’s winter solstice, but hopefully this list inspires you to plan your trip for next year.