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Prehistoric Temples Of Malta

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Trina Demario
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« on: January 31, 2008, 01:10:38 pm »

Prehistoric Temples Of Malta



The prehistoric temples of Malta are unique in all the world. They are the oldest standing stone structures which remain to us from ancient times. The temples date from 4000 - 2500 BC. They are older than Stonehenge, older than the Pyramids. Their architecture is beautiful and inspiring, their scale impressive yet human. Excellently preserved, they were covered with soil from early times and ignored by the long march of history. They were rediscovered and carefully restored by European and native Maltese archaeologists beginning in the 19th century. Because of their uniqueness and beauty, the major temple complexes are deservedly designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Little is known about the people who built these megalithic temples. The original inhabitants of the Maltese Islands probably crossed over by sea from Sicily, which lies 58 miles to the north, sometime before 5000 BC. The temple builders were farmers who grew cereals and raised domestic livestock. They worshipped a mother goddess whose type is known from early statuettes found scattered around the Mediterranean. Similar statues are also found on Malta, several being of uniquely large size. We know from physical evidence that worship in the Malta temples included animal sacrifice; beyond this, little is known about the rites and rituals that took place there. Although the temples are large in overall extent, the interior chambers do not have enough room to hold more than a few people at one time. Therefore public worship in large groups, as practiced in typical churches and temples today, would not have been possible. It is likely that the priests and priestesses carried out rites inside the temples, and the public was not invited.

The worship of a Mother Goddess is usually associated with female priestesses, although male figures which may represent priests have also been found. Did individual worshippers participate in ceremonies related to important events in their lives - birth, puberty, marriage, sickness, death? Did community leaders consult the temples about planting and sowing, community disputes, food stores, or new settlements? Were the temple leaders also the political rulers of the community? People are still searching for answers to questions such as these, for the first inhabitants
  of Malta left no writing behind them when they vanished, as mysteriously as they had first appeared, sometime around 2500 BC.
The Maltese temples are constructed of stone, in a cloverleaf (trefoil) floor plan. Their typical architectural elements include the incomplete dome and the horizontal arch, or post-and-lintel trilithon. The curvatures of the temples perhaps elaborate the circular plan of ordinary dwellings of the time, but are also reminiscent of underground burial chambers.

The basic temple plan consists of a variable number of hemispheric chambers, or apses, branching off from a narrow entrance path. The apses are incomplete domes, built of ingeniously corbelled stone, broad at the base and curving in towards the top. However, a full dome could not be constructed using this technique; after the walls had been built up, the apse was roofed in animal hides which were suspended from timber poles. Pole-and-hide construction was also used for the doors.

At major sites, two or more temples would be built next to each other, the whole complex being encircled by a common outer wall. The size of the temples varies, but an apse might measure fifteen or so feet in diameter, with outer temple walls rising well over twice the height of a person. For example, the two-temple complex at Ggantija measures about 120 feet side-by-side; the major axis of the larger temple is about 90 feet. As one enters the temples and proceeds through a tall and narrow corridor to the smaller, enclosed apses, initial feelings of expansiveness and awe change to feelings of enclosure and intimacy. No doubt such a progression of feelings played an important part in the emotional experience of the people who worshipped here.

Due to the size and complexity of the temples, and the extensive resources which must have been required to build and maintain them, they must have played a very important part in the ongoing life of the community. Without more evidence, though, we can only wonder and admire, across the gap of millennia that separates us from the temple builders.
 

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Trina Demario
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« Reply #1 on: January 31, 2008, 01:11:36 pm »



Plan Of The Temple Complex At Ggantija.

Ggantija is the earliest of the four major temple complexes on Malta, and probably dates to sometime around the middle of the fourth millennium. One source (Bonanno 1997) gives 3600 - 3300 BC, although other dates may be found in various reference books.

In the plan of Ggantija, the basic trefoil (three-lobed) shape was modified by the addition of pairs of side apses. The complex consists of two temples, one having five apses and the other having four apses plus an end niche. The whole is enclosed by an outer wall. The temple axes are oriented to the southeast.

Gozo, Malta. 1998.



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Trina Demario
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« Reply #2 on: January 31, 2008, 01:12:13 pm »



Ggantija. Interior, post-and-lintel niches.
The walls of Ggantija (upper part of photo) are made of rough coralline limestone, in contrast to the interior architectural elements (lower part of photo) which are made of Globigerina limestone. The soft Globigerina limestone is more easily worked and smoothed. This makes it suitable for interior finishing, such as the trilithic niches shown here.

Gozo, Malta. 1998.

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Trina Demario
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« Reply #3 on: January 31, 2008, 01:12:55 pm »



Ggantija. Postholes.
Animal hides, used as roofing or doors, were suspended from poles. Poles could also be used to tether animals. The poles would fit into sockets such as these.

Gozo, Malta. 1998.
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Trina Demario
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« Reply #4 on: January 31, 2008, 01:13:29 pm »



Ggantija. Apse.
Note the semicircular stone which marks off the entranceway.

Gozo, Malta. 1998.


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« Reply #5 on: January 31, 2008, 01:14:02 pm »



Ggantija. Closeup of the entrance stone to an apse.
The color and texture of this stone resembles marble. It is the only one of its kind which I have seen on the island. The grey areas are modern cement repairs.

Gozo, Malta. 1998.

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« Reply #6 on: January 31, 2008, 01:14:38 pm »



Ggantija. Sacrifice chamber.
The dark bloodstains on the ground show that animals were sacrificed here.

Gozo, Malta. 1998.
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Trina Demario
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« Reply #7 on: January 31, 2008, 01:15:12 pm »



Ggantija. Passageway.
The people in this passageway give some idea of the scale of the temple.

Gozo, Malta. 1998.

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Trina Demario
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« Reply #8 on: January 31, 2008, 01:15:56 pm »



Ggantija. Corbelled wall and platform.
The inward curvature of the wall can easily be seen here. Below the wall is a platform decorated with numerous small pits. A closeup of the platform appears in the following photograph.

Gozo, Malta. 1998.

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Trina Demario
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« Reply #9 on: January 31, 2008, 01:16:33 pm »



Ggantija. Pitted stones.
The repetitive pitted designs on these stones are often found in the temples, and in prehistoric art generally. Their meaning is unknown.

Gozo, Malta. 1998.

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« Reply #10 on: January 31, 2008, 01:17:08 pm »



Ggantija. Timber Rollers.
Builders transported the temples' heavy stone blocks on timber sleds. Spherical stones, such as the ones shown here, were used as rollers for the sleds.

Gozo, Malta. 1998.

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« Reply #11 on: January 31, 2008, 01:17:47 pm »



Ggantija. View from the Temple Site.
The outlook - the view looking outwards from the site of a temple - was an important consideration in deciding where to build.

Gozo, Malta. 1998.

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« Reply #12 on: January 31, 2008, 01:18:28 pm »




Ggantija. Temple Grounds.
The attractive landscaping at Ggantija forms a nice contrast to the bare stone temples. Intensive gardening, such as this, is a labor of love.

Gozo, Malta. 1998.

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« Reply #13 on: January 31, 2008, 01:19:26 pm »



Ggantija. Corbelled Dome.
A corbelled partial dome supports the roof of each apse.

Gozo, Malta. 1998.



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« Reply #14 on: January 31, 2008, 01:20:22 pm »




Plan Of The Temple Complex At Hagar Qim.
Hagar Qim was built during the Tarxien phase, between 3000 BC and 2500 BC. The floor plan seems less regular than its predecessor at Ggantija. Six large, circular rooms are connected by an interior passage. Most of the rooms also have outside entrances, and an open-air shrine is set into the outer wall.

Hagar Qim is notable for its impressive and finely-smoothed entrance facade, for the huge stone blocks used in its construction, and for its associated artifacts: the "Venus of Malta" and other female statuettes, and a four-sided altar with plant carvings.

Malta. 1998.



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