Maeshowe is believed to be one of the finest burial chambers in Western Europe. Beneath a large grassy mound, an enormous cairn reveals a level of craftsmanship that is astonishing - not least because the tomb is said to be 4,800 years old.
Maeshowe is considered to be a masterpiece of Neolithic design. The mound is a distinctive feature on the landscape, but it is what lies within the tomb that enthrals archaeologists and visitors alike. Inside the massive central chamber, with its cells to the sides, the stonework of the corbelled roof tells us that the masons of day were indeed highly skilled.
Maeshowe was known as Orkahaugr - Mound of the Orks - by the Vikings. Norsemen broke into the tomb in the 12th century and left their mark in the shape of runes carved in the walls of the main chamber telling boastful tales of their conquests. These are now considered examples of the finest runic writing discovered anywhere in the British Isles.
Visitors enter the cairn through a passage so low that bending double is the only option! It's worth it though. Maeshowe is also the site of a special event every year. During the winter solstice the midwinter setting sun shines through the entrance passage, illuminating the rear wall of the chamber. It is a mystical experience and a phenomenon that occurs for just three weeks either side of the shortest day of the year. If you can't experience it for yourself, watch it via dedicated webcams at Maeshowe.
Visits are by guided tour only. The new Maeshowe Visitor Centre in the nearby village of Stenness is now open. Tickets can be bought and picked up here, with shuttle buses taking visitors to the site. Find out more via our website and Historic Environment Scotland.