Should monuments be lit at night?


Calls for Stonehenge to be lit up at night are being resisted by stargazers who say it will spoil their view. Many of the world's most famous monuments are illuminated but is it necessary?

Stonehenge is one of the most recognisable ancient monuments in the world. But if you're driving along the A303 at night, the site is shrouded in darkness.

A debate has opened up on the letters pages of the Times over whether or not Stonehenge should be lit up in the evening. Many other World Heritage Sites, such as the Acropolis in Greece and the Great Pyramid at Giza in Egypt, do not hide their lights under a bushel.

Some might think that Stonehenge's setting is far from ideal - in 1993, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee concluded that its presentation was a "national disgrace".

And Lady Mimi Pakenham, who sparked the discussion in the Times, says not much has changed since then. "It's not a pristine site because of that A303. Lights would give it dignity," she argues. The site was lit for a period, in the 1970s and 1980s, but has been dark since then.

The Millennium Bridge over the Thames with St Paul's Cathedral in the background The illuminated dome of St Paul's is part of the London skyline

Increasing its visibility would also spark people's interest, she says.

"You are trying to educate the public and trying to interest schoolchildren in the mysteries of the ancient world, and if you want to do that you have to add some magic."

Lights can bring a bit of magic to certain settings. They can be used to highlight architectural features or deflect attention away from less attractive properties. Floodlit buildings can also make glorious vistas.

Last year, it emerged the producers of ITV's morning show Daybreak paid St Paul's Cathedral to keep the lights on for an extra three hours every weekday to enhance the backdrop of the show.

Many landmark churches around the UK, such as Salisbury Cathedral and York Minster, capitalise on their appeal with lights. The Church of England does not have any laws on lighting but the principal objectives for floodlighting are purely aesthetic and symbolic, and have nothing to do with security.

York Minster Let there be light: York Minster

The Church says floodlighting makes a church a "living building" and can show off "the visible aspirations of centuries of masons and architects, including their towers and spires, built to the glory of God, to their best advantage".

In the case of Stonehenge though, there are people who think that lighting is unnecessary. Stargazers say lights would destroy their view and cut the visual connection between the ancient monument and the night sky.

A number of groups, including the Royal Astronomical Society and the International Astronomical Union, have been working for several years to try to preserve as dark a night sky as possible in the vicinity of Stonehenge.

"If you ask people about prehistoric monuments and ancient astronomy in one breath, chances are they will think Stonehenge," says Clive Ruggles, professor of archaeoastronomy at the University of Leicester.

"There's been loads of effort recently to restore Stonehenge to its landscape and part and parcel of that is restoring Stonehenge to its sky, to keeping it as dark as possible."

And when it comes to monuments more generally, there are plenty of people who worry about the energy bills and the environmental impact of lighting things up at night.

Like many organisations, the Church of England has become environmentally conscious and is trying to reduce its carbon footprint by 80% by 2050.

If churches are committed to lowering their energy usage, then lighting and heating is an obvious consideration, a spokesman suggests.

One way around the sticky dilemma of energy wastage versus pretty lights would be for churches to have their own energy supply, and Bradford Cathedral is opting for solar panels.

The National Trust says there is a "special joy" at seeing spectacular places lit up at night when normally they'd be closed, and the experience encourages the visitor to look at these places in a different way.

"The decision whether or not to illuminate places in our care will in most cases be made at a local level and these decisions will take into account local people, cost implications and energy consumption," says Sarah Staniforth, museums and collections director.

Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire lit up Lighting the way: The National Trust's Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire

When it comes to illuminating Stonehenge, it seems safety is also a factor.

English Heritage, which manages Stonehenge, says it was lit up at night for a period in the 1970s and early 1980s but that was stopped due to an increase in road accidents caused by cars and lorries slowing down to have a look.

"As there is even more traffic today on the A303, there are on a purely practical level, some serious safety issues to consider," says a spokesman.

Additional reporting: Gerry Holt


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  • rate this

    Comment number 367.

    For Gods sake!!! Do we have to turn everything into Disneyland? Chavtastic, cheap and nasty. The moon does a great job thanks....not to mention the needless cost

  • rate this

    Comment number 366.

    This is the best comment thread i have ever seen -ever!

    Totally agree with, well everyone.. If illuminated it would be accident central and completly destroy the majesty of the night sky it was intended to emulate!
    I cant believe they actually pay people to think sh*& like this up..

  • rate this

    Comment number 365.

    Tom Watson

    Not thinking of suggesting a golf course are you ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 364.

    while your at it get a plasterer in and erect a Ferris wheel next to it... i think the populous has spoken... a resounding..NO!

  • rate this

    Comment number 363.

    Yes, a flash of brilliance from some bright spark, an enlightning moment, a beacon of opportunity in the history of one great monument.

    No comes the populous answer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 362.

    I see the "lets light everything up brigade" must have some money to waste.
    Stonehenge already has's called moonlight!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    I see no harm in illuminating this monument sensibly. No high brightness floodlights which add to the light pollution. However, some discreet very low level lighting maybe casting an ethereal glow just on the stones themselves could actually be really appropriate for something as iconic and timeless as Stonehenge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.


    Thats even more scary than "aliens"

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    "Plans resisted by stargazers" makes it sound like everyone who disagrees with lighting up Stonehenge is a a druid or astrologer. I don't get that impression from the comments here.

    Plans Resisted By the People of the UK!! And probably abroad too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    Perhaps Mr Cameron could stand next to Stonehenge at night with his trousers round his ankles. After all Mr Clegg appears to think the sun shines ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 357.

    The stones were originally painted with lime wash so it would have looked bright during a full moon.
    luminous paint would make the stones glow even with very little moonlight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    How can we afford the cost of a lighting installation of this size plus the running cost went we can not afford to keep street / motorway lighting running?
    Why do we want or need to add to the existing light pollution?
    If there is spare money to be spent there would be more point in making the roads to and past Stonehenge dual carriageways.

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    English Heritage spokesperson on the radio this morning, and now on Twitter states there is "No plan to light up Stonehenge"...I wonder why they didn't just say this from the offset? Is it some kind of "let's test the water, and gauge public reaction" concept..?

    Anyway...good news if that is indeed their stance

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    Initial reports show that in fact it was lit up by alien technology, we defaulted on the bill during the "ice crunch" & its been a sore point since.

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    Are those proposing this completely mad? This is a 5,000 year old monument in England, one of the most important in the country, not a gaudy Disneyland spectacle. Those who built it did not intend it to be lit up by light. An essential part of its magic is that it gradually becomes visible as the Sun rises. For pity's sake leave it alone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 352.

    Stonehenge incredible by it's creators standards needs stars & dawns natural display only. In our village sadly more & more lights are used outside. Apprieciate tradition! These places survived for centuries without it. Design tourism to the site. Better positive promotion of it as it was made, using the stars, nature, heritage & the beautiful plain it was built on. At a distance!

  • rate this

    Comment number 351.

    Today in the news, Martians arrived in the newly lit up landing pad somewhere in England (cant be too specific for security reasons) they did not verbally communicate, only left some items with a note saying "please do not keep sending your radio active toys, if you wish further data contact our visitor centre just down the hill"

  • rate this

    Comment number 350.

    Lady Mimi Pakenham:
    "You are trying to educate the public ... in the mysteries of the ancient world, and ... you have to add some magic."
    Fab! Why not throw in a few elves and a guy in a red jump-suit while you're at it??! For goodness' sake, Stonehenge is already magical. Don't mess!

  • rate this

    Comment number 349.

    It would definitely increase the risk of accidents, especially when the aliens come in to land ! The Police could have a new source of "Extra Terrestrial" funding if its doing over 56mph

  • rate this

    Comment number 348.

    So they will not upgrade the road system around Stonehenge or build a much needed new visitor center. But, surrounding it with 1000's of watts of electricity blazing away all night long, to distract motorists, causing more accidents is fine? Motorists driving past and the pigs in the field opposite are the only ones who would see it. Want to see them floodlit? Go on the summer/winter solstice!


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