Exploring Earth’s Earliest Temples, Continued
Until only a few years ago, the Neolithic temples of Malta were considered the oldest human-made structures on Earth. I’ve already written about Gobekli Tepe that has now time-dwarfed these Maltese ancient wonders, but that doesn’t diminish the importance or mystique that surrounds the temples on Malta and Gozo.
According to the Bradshaw Foundation, the oldest temple, Zebbug, is about 6,000 years old and the newest ones are the Tarxien temples which are about 5,000 years old, showing different eras spanning about 1500 years.
This was our second trip to Malta, and we had visited some of the Neolithic temples before, but we wanted to see them again. We started out at Hagar Qim and its sister temple Mnajdra beautifully situated right near the water. You can see why it was chosen as a Holy Place.
Not much is known about the people who built these unique and intricate temples. Many mother and phallic figurines have been found, but there was no writing. Other than being an agricultural society talented in building complex temples, there is not much known about these people. It is commonly thought that they came from Sicily, but no one knows why they dissappeared.
Mnajdra is known for a few things separate from Hagar Qim. The construction of the roof includes evidence of “corbelling” which is a method of narrowing the top of a structure to hold up a roof of pelts. Pretty advanced stuff! But that’s not all, scientists believe that this temple has some type of astrological alignment with the sunrise of the equinox. I love this stuff! Can’t you just imagine some old guy in long white robes, rubbing his plump mother figure, chanting prayers, and lining up the beams of the sunrise?
Even the construction of the temples mirror the differences in female and male. There are columns and doors, as well as altars that all signify reproduction. As you look through the photos, you can pick up the tall phallic structures often times located near an arch.
Inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, many of the temples have the iconic white tented covering to protect the rocks from the elements. More ropes and restrictions have been put into place from the first time we visited.
Many of the mother statuettes, the phalluses, and other antiquities discovered at the various sites have been collected, and are housed in the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta.
About seven kilometers from Valletta, we visited the Tarxien Temples. Uncovered right in the middle of the town, walkways have been built to give visitors an opportunity to easily view the layout of the temples.
A unique site, there were some finds that helped the archaeologists determine how the huge stones were transported. It’s believed that these “marbles” rolled the stones into place. We understand this is similar technology that might have been used to build the pyramids in Egypt.
On Gozo, the most famous and first to be inscribed temples are found. Legend tells that the Ggantija temples were built by giants because of the enormity of the stones.
As you can tell Jim and I love playing amateur explorer and archaeologist. We love looking at old ruins and imagining living in the age of giants, or at least some amazing builders with a penchant for both women’s and men’s reproductive organs!
The temples are spread out over both Malta and Gozo. Each one has a nominal entrance fee. There are also some combination tickets that might work for you. Here is a full set of prices to the heritage sites on both Malta and Gozo. The ones we mention here all have visitor’s centers, some interpretive placards, and movies. You can easily take public buses to get to them, but renting a motorbike or car would be your best bet. For Ggantija, you have to drive to the Gozo ferry and cross over (free). This will take the majority of one full day, so plan accordingly.
If you are thinking of going to Malta, you might want to read: Is Malta Expensive? Your Guide For Cheap Holidays To Malta
Have you been to Malta? Have you explored these awesome temples?