About Malta – Prehistoric Temples of Malta
Malta and Gozo, located in the center of the Mediterranean, have a rich history spanning the last 7,000 years or so. There are temples, goddesses, wrecks, hypogeums, cemeteries, Bronze Age villages, catacombs, tombs, villas, baths, ‘wagon roads’, caves, inns, palaces, fortifications and much more. All of this is sure to interest any historian, archaeologist, or tourist! But of all these, the oldest and perhaps the most spectacular are the prehistoric temples scattered throughout the islands.
Archeology of Malta
Available evidence suggests that man came to the islands by boat from Sicily about 7,000 years ago. They were farmers who built extraordinary structures with large stone slabs. There is little argument that these structures were in fact temples because they are monumental in size, contain many symbols and altars, and show no signs of domestic use.
Inside most temples, statuettes (as well as a monumental statue) have been discovered depicting an opulent mother goddess, also known as ‘The Fat Lady’. It is believed that the farmers worshiped it to have good crops in the typically hot climate.
Even the shape of these temples is unique; they are lobed or are formed by a series of apses. The amazing thing is that when viewed from above (a bird’s eye view) the temples appear to have the same shape as the mother goddess, with large thighs! Interestingly, there is no such structure anywhere in the world that is remotely similar to our Maltese temples. This emphasizes the uniqueness of the island, present even for 7000 years!
There are about twenty-three temples around the island, most of which are alone or in pairs. These range from around 3600 to 2500 BC. C., which makes them even older than the Great Pyramid of Egypt, which dates from 2550 BC! C.! These include the Ggantija temple which is the oldest known temple found on the island of Gozo, the Hagar Qim and Mnajdra temples, the Tarxien temples, the Kordin temple, the Skorba temple and the Ta temple. ‘Hagrat, among others.
There is also a prehistoric subterranean burial known as the Hal-Saflieni hypogeum which is associated with the Tarxien temple as it is said to be its related cemetery. It is also completely unique and appears to be a cropped copy of the temples, but underground. In addition to the offerings and skeletons, two incredible chambers were discovered inside, known as the Holy of Holies, as well as the Oracle Room, known for its incredible use of sound. This hypogeum has recently been restored, illuminated, open to the public and recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But book early as only groups of 10 are allowed in each hour and this is surely not one to miss!
Maltese culture and traditional rituals
The rituals that took place inside the temples were also very interesting and unique. In addition to the statuettes of the mother goddess, many other symbols were found, including phallic symbols, carved farm animals, and a curly spiral design that has become something of a trademark on the island. The temples are divided into public and private areas where the priests and the public were divided. Altars were used to sacrifice animals to deities, and holes in the entrances were used for libration; the pouring of liquids such as water, wine or blood, to the goddess.
This incredible period in our history ended very mysteriously and abruptly! At the end of what is known as the ‘Tarxien Phase’, which is the last phase of this period, the temples were completely out of use and it is almost as if they have all disappeared. In fact, at a later stage, a new group of people moved into the temples and used them for entirely different reasons.
Archaeologists still wonder what could have brought such an abrupt end to one of the most complex and advanced prehistoric cultures of its time.