What are the Megalithic Temples of Malta?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan
Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The Megalithic Temples of Malta are a group of five ancient temples in Malta. They are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and have been since 1980. Originally, the site contained only two temples, but the designation was extended in 1992 to include a seven total temples.

The Temples of Malta span a range of ages, with the oldest dating back to 3700 BCE. The temples are: Ggantija, on the Island of Gozo, Hagar Qim, Mnajdra, Skorba, Ta Hagrat, and the Tarxien Temples.

The temples of Ggantija date back to some time in the mid-4th millennium BCE, and are the oldest freestanding temples in the world. They are located in Xaghra, on the island of Gozo in Malta. Their name, Ggantija, is the Maltese word for giant, and reflects a legend that the temples were created by giants. When one sees the size of the stones used in these temples, it is no surprise that for centuries people believed that.

Hagar Qim, like other Temples of Malta, dates from the mid-4th millennium BCE. It is found on the small islet of Filfla, built on a hill that looks over the sea. Hagar Qim itself is only a single temple, but there are a number of other ruins adjacent to it. Hagar Qim is perhaps best known for the artifacts that have been uncovered there, particularly the so-called fat lady statues that are displayed in the National Museum of Archeology, and a large pillar altar which is ornately decorated.

Mnajdra is found on the southern coast on Malta, nestled in the cliffside. It contains three distinct temples, and many people consider it the most photogenic of the Megalithic Temples of Malta, because it is located in a very remote location, and looks out over the islet of Filfla, on which Hagar Qim sits. The temples at Mnajdra range in age from the mid-4th millennium BCE to the mid-3rd millennium BCE, spanning nearly a thousand years between them. The masonry at Mnajdra is generally considered to be the most skilled of the Temples of Malta, and the lowest temple of the complex is aligned in such a way that the sun passes through intentionally situated architectural settings during the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes.

Skorba is made up of two distinct temples, and unlike the other Temples of Malta, was not excavated until quite recently. People inhabited the site of Skorba as far back at the early-5th millennium BCE, but the temples were not built until the 4th millennium BCE.

Ta Hagrat consists of two temples, and are some of the first of the Temples of Malta to have been constructed. The largest of the temples was built in the first half of the 4th millennium, and the second was built a few centuries later. An abundance of pottery has been discovered at Ta Hagrat, which makes it likely that before it was the site of temples, it was a village.

The Tarxien Temples are by far the most complex of the Temples of Malta, and also among the youngest. The latest of the four temples dates from around 2500 BCE, and they contain large amounts of carvings, both in relief on the walls, and in altars. These carvings depict spirals, patterns, and animals. The Tarxien Temples are particularly interesting, because builders appear to have left some of their tools behind, giving us an insight as to how they built these enormous stone edifices.

No visit to Malta is complete without a trip to at least one of the Megalithic Temples of Malta, and ideally a chronological tour of all seven sites can be scheduled. Malta is rich in megalithic sites, but these temples offer a remarkable glimpse into the scale and skill of the ancient inhabitants.

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