The relative isolation of Malta as an island in the center of the Mediterranean, while still accessible to navigation allowed for the early development of a civilization that built an impressive number of monuments comparable to the Stonehenge megalithic structures, as well as to their preservation in time, relatively better kept ways from the invasions and conquests that overturned the earth of Europe.

Hagar Qim

There are 17 such sites on the islands of Malta and Gozo, five of them are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage sites, and considered among the oldest religious sites on the surface of Earth. The period when they were built extends from 3600 BC in the stone age to 2500 BC in the bronze age. The population that built the temples came around 4500 BC from Sicily. By 2500 the Temple Culture disappears, and the reasons are not clear – natural catastrophe, disease, or social unrest. What is known is that after that date the settlements start to look very similar to other neighboring bronze age structures, and the usage of the temples is completely abandoned. The ruins are rediscovered in the 18th and 19th century, when they begin to be studied scientifically.

altar at Hagar Qim

The first site that we visited was Hagar Qim, located on a hill near the Southern coast of the island. The structure is nowadays protected from rain and winds by a metallic tent-like structure. A visitors center is yet to be built with European funds, actually we encountered this type of announcement in several other places, it looks like investments were made, work started, but not completed at least until the time we visited there. There are three separate structure grouped in a flower-like shape, with utility rooms, and other enclosures whose destination can only be supposed nowadays.

Mnajdra

temple entrance at Mnajdra

walls at Mnajdra

At a distance of 500 meters from Hagar Qin stands the temple of Mnajdra. It is built actually earlier than Hagar Qin, but the stronger coraline limestone used allowed for better preservation. There seem to be three temple structures in Mnajdra as well, but they are arranged in line. The form of the entrance and the remains of the pillars indicate that a vaulted roof covered the whole complex.

goddess at Tarxien

sarcophagus at Tarxien

The Tarxien temples that we visited the next day as part of our guided tour are located in the village, so there is no good perspective of the original emplacement. We can find here again three temples, the most recent of the ones we visited, well, relatively recent, built between 3200 and 2800 BC in the bronze age. Many of the objects that were found here at the begining of the 20th century were taken to the Museum of Archeology in Valletta and museums in the US, but a few interesting ones are left – like the legs of a statue of the goddess of fertility, and a sarcophagus that indicates that the place was also a burial place. Other artifacts indicate that animal sacrifices were practiced in the temple, probably part of the religious rituals.

Ggantija walls

The last impressive site we visited was Ggantija, on the island of Gozo, where we arrived in the sixth day of our trip. That site is maybe the most spectacular that we have seen, and also the one that reminds mostly Stonehenge, with one massive round structure. It was built between 3600 and 3000, and it is being said to have hosted oracles, and considered to be a magic temple, with healing powers. A sacred permanent fired was maintained in the altars.

the altars inside the Ggantija temples

Unfortunately, we missed the Hypogeum site, which is an underground site which is said to be very impressive. A limited number of visitors can enter that site each day, and bookings must be made days in advance. However, we have seen a number of beautiful pieces of art and cult at the Museum of Archeology in Valletta, which will be the subject of a future episode.