Must See: On any trip to Malta and Gozo it is essential to visit the temples.
I was compelled to visit these UNESCO World Heritage sites. Having read about them in some detail I was fascinated to see them and eager to find out exactly what they stand for. They are considered to be among:
THE OLDEST FREE STANDING STRUCTURES IN THE WORLD.
Hagar Qim, Mnajdra and Ggantija
One thing is clear, the first inhabitants of Malta settled around 5200 BC having come from Sicily by raft, bringing with them flint and obsidian with which to make tools – rocks not found on Malta or Gozo. Carbon dating tells us that it wasn’t until 4100 bc that these temples began to be constructed.
Upon entering I was immediately struck by the awesome size of Hagar Qim. The enormous megalith is curiously placed – how did anyone lift and move this 20 tonne plinth into position?
The large 20 tonne bastion stone at Hagar Qim, Malta.
It appears a ball bearing approach to moving the plinth was executed. Ingenious – without machinery. These temple builders were very strong!
Both sites Hagar Qim and Ggantija on Gozo are built with semi circular apses each connected with a central passage.
Hagar Qim, is intriguing -but there is yet another independent temple complex, Mnajdra, connected by a 550 metre long track. It’s a lovely walk down the track smelling the fresh air, the lovely wild flowers and earth. It really is a garrigue terrain featuring dry earth loving Mediterranean and Africa shrubs and wild flowers, such as the sea squill as well as indigenuous species, such as flea bane and Maltese spurge. Very sparse tree cover includes carob and fig trees.
Though it’s a pleasant walk after a full morning at Hagar Qim, I’m curious about what I’m going to find at the end of the track. The track itself is quite a long way if you go there and back, so make sure your footwear is appropriate.
Disabled Access is good – you don’t have to walk all the way back, or there for that matter – a small electric mini car with soft seats can take you there and back for a euro.
Mjandra Temple, Malta
Unlike Hagar Qim this temple was constructed on the outside with hard coralline limestone whilst the inner sanctum was constructed from the softer globigerina limestone, allowing decoration to be made more easily. Dimples and spiral patterns have been found on plinths here.
Mnajdra, built 3600 – 3200 bc – consisting of three – in one, is more mysterious. It’s a special place, pointing to the South East, overlooking the little island of Ffilifa. It is thought that it was used for calendric reasons as it is full of solar alignments. It was probably also used for astronomical observations. There is an excellent model in the visitor centre which allows the vsitor to see what it looks like when the sun is in alignment with the entrance on the June 21st and a similar alignment on the winter solstice. It reminds me somewhat of Stonehenge.
Ggantija Temples at Gozo
These temples are believed to have been built by giants hence the name Gee- gant-ee-ya. They are the oldest free standing structures in the world.
Have a drink of Kinnie when you go – it’s an acquired taste – being fizzy with added bitter-tasting botanical herbs giving it an aromatic flavour – just what you need before going doing research in the visitor centre!
I want to share what I found out about why the temple builders went to all this trouble of carting megaliths about.
What’s it all for and Why visit?
As most Neolithic sites tend to be burial chambers, but these aren’t, I wonder what made our ancestors construct such mammoth works of Art? To our Neolithic ancestors I understand that rituals and symbols were important to the temple builders’ way of life. Human beings have always had a thirst for creating; for making meaning of our lives: evidently – not only living to eat, take shelter and procreate. With natural, found resources this has been possible. Scores of sharks tooth and pottery beads, figurines and animal representations have been found.
The ‘fat ladies’ are renowned as a symbol of fertility on Malta and Gozo: the belief that women were goddesses of fertility, an idea held in high esteem in Malta and Gozo. Could this have led to the erection of the temples?
But it seems that there were other uses for them too. None are used as burial chambers, like most in Britain, Egypt and other parts of Malta, for example the Hypogeum which was at first a sanctuary, only later becoming a necropolis.
One lady with a head – one without! (Found at Ggantija, Gozo)
More images of the sleeping ladies and the Venus of Malta can be found here:
So what were the temples used for?
It seems to me that there are five chief uses :
Models of diseased pilgrims have been found in the temples making it likely that the temples were in part used for places of healing.
There is evidence of altar tables in the temples – a slab raised on a dais – the Holy of Holies – with a carving of a snake (now in Gozo museum). It has links to rebirth and reincarnation. There is a purification hole at Ggantija where one would wash their feet and hands before entry. Did people go there to be spiritually purified?
Many goddesses of fertility have been found in all of the sites including Tarxien and Skorba. Though they have either no heads, or detachable heads. Many of these fat ladies with large hips and ample bosoms have been found in Hagar Qim. Those were found squatting and headless – only two were found at Ggantija. Nobody clearly knows why. Except that Neolithic man saw in mother nature the link to the tree of life – to reincarnation – some figurines have been fond that are curled in the foetal position – perhaps awaiting rebirth. Neolithic man saw mother nature giving birth to children, the fruits, the crops and so it could be that symbols were created of her in reverence to her in the form of pottery figurines as a devotion to the goddesses of fertility.
There are altar tables though it is not clear what they were used for. It is highly likely it was for offering sacrifices. No human remains were ever found, but animal remains have been found suggesting some sacrifice was likely on the altars. Were they offered to the goddesses of fertility?
5. Oracle Holes, Astrological observations and Divination
Oracles were called upon to seek advice and maybe to interpret dreams. Oracle holes have been found across the sites in Malta and Gozo they seem uniform at 60cm in height. (Tarxien, Ggantija and Hagar Qim). They seem to be similar to oracle holes found in other parts of the world where cutting holes into stones was a ritual or a symbol.
It’s been fascinating – it has raised more questions about our humanity, but I have learned that Neolithic man had a sensitivity to nature, was grateful, was aware of time and was artistic.
If you would like to know more about some of the temple uses highlighted, or plan a trip for your self – further information can be found below:
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With sincere and grateful thanks to the Ggantija Temple UNESCO site and Archaeological Museum , Gozo who made this trip possible.
http://heritagemalta.org/museums-sites/hal-saflieni-hypogeum/ Check and book before going as it is currently undergoing renovation and holds only 10 people at a time. If you would like to read a blog about it: http://first2board.com/wanderlusty/2014/07/getting-last-minute-ticket-maltas-hypogeum-hal-saflieni/
The Heritage Malta Family Multisite Pass
enables admission for 2 adults & 2 children to 22 Heritage Malta sites and museums (except Hypogeum) plus the Malta National Aquarium. Holders of this ticket also benefit from a 10% discount at any Heritage Malta museum shop.
Price 40 euros – Adult
15 euros – Child.
It is valid for 30 days.
Bus no 201 from the airport, or Valletta. Or take the Hop on Hop Off sight seeing bus. Buses are regular and inexpensive.
Entrance Fee: Adult 9 Euros, Child 4.50 euros. Concessionary tickets are also available. See below for details on multi museum passes.
Best to: leave a full day to explore comfortably, the sites and the visitor centre.
Eating: There’s a good restaurant on site at Hagar Qim. Down at Blue Grotto there is a choice, though Blue Creek restaurant is particularly good, serving light snacks as well as sumptuous local fare, atop the Dingli cliffs overlooking the beautiful coast. Set Menu 25 euros a head, A la carte-9-16 euros
Nearby: Blue Grotto lovely swimming to cool off in summer, as well as boat trips out to the Blue Grotto caverns. m
Ggantija, Gozo: Most things are only 10 minutes away from the capital, Rabat – so the choice is yours!