Newgrange is the oldest structure I've ever visited. It was built over 5,000 years ago (about 3,200 B.C.) during the Neolithic era, before even Stonehenge or the Great Pyramid of Giza. It’s obvious that Newgrange was crafted by an advanced society which lived in Ireland’s Boyne River Valley (now less than an hour’s drive north of Dublin), but little is know about the people who built it except that they were farmers.
(entrance to the passage tomb at Newgrange)
Newgrange is a carefully designed passage tomb and probably an ancient Temple. The structure covers an acre and has a dome-shaped roof with 97 curbstones along its base, many of which are highly decorated with neolithic art. White and dark granite frame its front face. Newgrange has a single 19 meter long inner passage which leads to a cruciform chamber. Above the entrance to the passage there’s a opening called a “roof-box” which allows dawn’s light to penetrate the chamber on the morning of the winter solstice.
(details of entrance to Newgrange passage tomb, including triple-swirled neolithic art at the stone in front of the entrance)
So at dawn on December 21st, if the day is clear (far from a certainty in Ireland) a narrow beam of sunlight light penetrates the roof-box and gradually reaches the floor of the inner chamber filling it with daylight for about 17 minutes. This careful design indicates the solstice light was highly symbolic and likely of religious importance as cremated remains of the ancestors were placed here, probably to begin their journey to a new life on that day.
(copy of the Newgrange passage tomb in the Visitor's center; this is the far end of the passage where the cremated remains were placed)
Newgrange is part of a complex of monuments (totaling about 3 dozen) built along a bend of the River Boyne known collectively as Brú na BÓinne. You can only access Newgrange (and enter the tomb and its inner chamber) by guided tour from the Brú na BÓinne Visitor Centre. It’s a very recommended destination, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
(Newgrange, viewed at a distance from Knowth tomb site, situated in the lovely Valley of the Boyne)