If there is time for just one museum visit in Malta or Valletta I recommend it to be in the National Museum of Archeology.

(video source heartofmalta)

Located on the Republic Street, the 5th Avenue of Valletta which divides the city grid into two almost symmetrical halves, the museum is hosted by one of the beautiful palaces built by the architect of the co-cathedral Gerolama Cassan, the Auberge de Provence which was hosting the Provencal knights when coming into Malta. The palace was renovated by the end of the last century and the entrance hall and its beautiful painted ceiling is a great example of the architecture of the palaces of the first period after the foundation of the city.

auberge de Provence - entry hall

The collection of the museum covers several historical periods, however the megalithic finds section is by far the richest and the most extensive, with both a comprehensive and well documented timeline of the ancient history of the island, as well as a richness of objects and artifacts that document each period, plus a few exceptional top findings, among the most exquisite objects of such kind in the world.

Ghar Dalam animal heads

The first populations in the island were the agricultural and shepherds inhabitants who left the artifacts at Ghar Dalam from the period between 5200 and 4500 BC. They were related to the inhabitants of Sicily from the same Neolithic period, and actually objects found on site show that they were navigating or part of a cross-Mediterranean commerce that put them in contact with other civilizations of the same period.

red Skorba figurine

The immediate next period is well characterized by findings at Skorba. The figurines from the Red Skorba period (4400 – 4100 BC) are the first representations of human bodies found here, they are very similar to the Cyclades figurines again indicating a possible commerce and cultural interference, and were probably religious cult object.

fragment from the Hypogeum

One of the most famous Megalithic objectives to visit on the island of Malta is the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum with its monument and underground cemetery. It accommodates a limited number of visitors each day, and the waiting queue was a few weeks even in the out-of-season period when we visited Malta. Luckily the National Museum of Archeology has documentation and a few artifacts brought from that place that we could see and learn about it.

Hagar Quim Altar

The Hagar Quim Altar is another example of a valuable object, brought in this case from a place that we had already visited. The form and dimensions of the altar are very similar to ones in works by Brancusi, and it left me wondering if the Romanian had maybe seen photos of the monuments and made me see in a different perspective some of his stone works.

animal representation

The period of maximal development of the temples civilizations in Malta bring up some of the most representative objects of artistic expression of the stone and bronze ages. Representations of animals – mostly domestic as there were few wild beasts on the small surface of the island are typical for a culture that made of growing animals one of the principal sources of living.

heads

Back to human representation, some of the heads of the Temples period (4000 – 2500 BC) are superb.

standing statues

Many of the human representations were however having cult destination as are the standing statues from Tarxien and other places which presumably are fertility goddesses.

seated statues

A similar group of seated statues drew my attention as a proof that Botero did not really invent anything.

The Sleeping Lady

The absolute masterpiece of the Maltese Temple period art of The Sleeping Lady, discovered in the Hypogeum. It is interpreted representation of Death, the Eternal Sleep, but can also be viewed as a precursor of the Goya’s Majas and other reclined women portraits in the history of art.

The Venus of Malta

The Venus of Malta discovered at Hagar Quin is another representative piece of work, of an astonishing realism. Well, it may look different than Venus of Milo, or maybe beauty standards changed in the thousands of years in-between.

sarcophagi from Tarxien

The last great period of Megalithic art is the one represented by works from Tarxien, around 2500 BC. After that time the great period of the megalithic temples ends abruptly. The causes are not clear, maybe a natural catastrophe, maybe diseases, maybe over-exploitation of the natural resources. Ancient history of Malta ends here in any case, and so did our visit through the most interesting sections of this beautiful and recommended museum in Valletta.