Entries tagged with “megalithic temples in Malta”.

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.


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.

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.


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.