WHS: Megalithic Temples of Malta

After our tour of Sicily ending up in Syracuse, the next country on our list was the holiday destination of Malta — but less well known is that it is also the home to, in UNESCO’s words, the “oldest free standing monuments on Earth” — and that’s where today’s World Heritage Site visit takes us, to:

Megalithic Temples of Malta

 

The Megalithic Temples of Malta (Ġgantija, Ħaġar Qim, Mnajdra, Skorba, Ta’ Ħaġrat and Tarxien) are prehistoric monumental buildings constructed during the 4th millennium BC and the 3rd millennium BC. They rank amongst the earliest free-standing stone buildings in the world and are remarkable for their diversity of form and decoration. Each complex is a unique architectural masterpiece and a witness to an exceptional prehistoric culture renowned for its remarkable architectural, artistic and technological achievements.

Each monument is different in plan, articulation and construction technique. They are usually approached from an elliptical forecourt in front of a concave façade. The façade and internal walls consist of upright stone slabs, known as orthostats, surmounted by horizontal blocks. The surviving horizontal masonry courses indicate that the monuments had corbelled roofs, probably capped by horizontal beams. This method of construction was a remarkably sophisticated solution for its time. The external walls are usually constructed in larger blocks set alternately face out and edge out, tying the wall securely into the rest of the building. The space between the external wall and the walls of the inner chambers is filled with stones and earth, binding the whole structure together…

General current belief is that the megalithic constructions here date from 5500 BC, which makes them older than Stonehenge, older than the Pyramids, older than anything left above ground…

… and that’s only the age they want you to believe. See, there’s no way to know when a stone was actually put where it is now; they date stone things from pottery and bones and the like found around them, and the oldest they find is presumed to be the date of building. Which might be not too far off, or on the other hand it might not. There have been underwater discoveries around Malta that strongly suggest that:

Megalith builders were active in the central Mediterranean shortly after the end of the last Ice Age at the latest. This can be deduced from the recent discovery of a huge megalith, shaped by human hands, which was found lying on the bottom of the Sicilian channel. Found recently, the monolith is 12 meters (39.4 ft.) long and has a hole drilled through the thickness of the stone at one end. It is situated on a flat plateau 40 meters (131.2 ft.) below sea level 60 km (37.3 miles) south of the southwestern tip of Sicily. Whatever the reason it was placed there, this event must have occurred 11,000 or more years ago, at the start of the Mesolithic period, when sea levels still stood below the platform on which it rests.  

And then there’s the completely baffling “cart ruts”:

The islands of Malta and Gozo in the Maltese archipelago are scarred with hundreds, if not thousands, of parallel lines seemingly cut deep into the stone. These ancient grooves have puzzled experts for centuries. Some of the strange tracks deliberately plunge off cliffs or continue off land and into the ocean. Who made these enigmatic tracks, and why?

And that’s not near the end of the baffling things about Malta. But for now, we’ll take a look at the Tarxien temples above. Like many of the other 27 identified megalithic sites around Malta, their alignment shows that not only did whoever built them know how to toss around big rocks, they had a pretty solid grasp on the solar calendar too. However, there’s very little ornamentation and no writing to be found — and that little is mainly spiral motifs like this:

A mystery of the ages, indeed!

The most famous of the properties is the Ġgantija construction on the northern Maltese island of Gozo,

which has particularly striking solar alignments:

At the equinoxes (March 20/21 and September 22/23) the rising sun perfectly illuminates the central corridor of the south temple.

During the solstices (June 21 and December 21/22) the sun rises in line with corners of the door jambs.

So who built these? Well, the name translates as “Giant’s Place”, it being common belief in the area throughout recorded history that these were constructed by a race of giants. While generally discounted, there are stories in support:

Paediatrician Anton Mifsud has stated that a local workman in Gozo told him that he had found a giant some years ago while excavating the foundations of a building complex. The labourer had hidden the bones so that he would not be stopped by the authorities from continuing his work. From the evidence that he showed Mifsud, it seems that between 4000 and 6000 years ago a man, 2.64 metres tall, was buried upright in the soil…

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p dir=”ltr”>In any case, whether you place any stock in these wilder speculations or not, it is agreed by all that the megaliths of Malta are older than history — so visit the heritage that’s as old as heritage gets next time you’re in Malta!

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Alex

I go places.

Comments

  1. More sick photos, didn’t know Malta had temples like that

    1. Yep, Malta’s a pretty amazing place — from temples so old we don’t know who built them all the way up to modern beach resorts full of partying tourists, and just about every civilization in between!

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