Dating back further than the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the earliest of Malta’s prehistoric temples is thought to have been constructed post-5000BC in the Neolithic period.
Although local folklore tells of the sites being built by giants, the temples were actually man-made, free-standing structures, used as places of simple worship. No human remains have been unearthed at the temples, so they were not places of human sacrifice or burial. Animal bones have, on the other hand, been discovered at several sites. Seven of Malta’s temples are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and all are managed by Heritage Malta.
Mnajdra and Hagar Qim temples, Malta
Lying in close proximity to each other near the villages of Qrendi and Siggiewi, these limestone temples show typical features: an entrance passage, a forecourt and a number of apses (D-shaped chambers).
Hagar Qim is situated on a ridge and it is believed that its structure was built in three separate phases.
Mnajdra, also consisting of three temples built in different phases, is found in a hollow. One of its decorated large stones (megalith) is lit by the rising sun during solstices and equinoxes.
Both prehistoric temples can be visited on the same day, so make an interesting trip for those with a passion for ancient history.
The site of these two temples, enclosed by a boundary wall, was excavated in the 1800’s. Interestingly, its whereabouts was known prior to any archaeological work and even an accurate plan of the site was drawn before excavation. The temples are found at the end of the Xaghra Plateau, near the town of the same name in Gozo. You will enjoy a pleasant trip across to the port of Mgarr on the Gozo Ferry before making your way to the temple site.
The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is an underground cemetery that was used from around 4000BC to 2500BC. "Hypogeum" means underground’ in Greek. This is an appropriate name, as the temple, made of three distinct levels, is literally underground. In fact, it is the only subterranean prehistoric temple in the world. The site wasn’t even discovered until 1902 when unsuspecting builders stumbled across it quite by accident. It was later excavated and was entrusted to Heritage Malta in more recent years.
This unique underground temple only opens its doors to eighty guests a day, so it is quite an experience to see the Hypogeum and highly recommended to anyone interested in archaeology.
The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum will be closed to the public between August 2015 and April 2016 for further studies and the implementation of a new environmental management system.