Ġgantija Temples

Other Neolithic Temples in Malta

Other important temple complexes are Tarxien, the Hypogeum, and Tas-Silġ, in Malta, and Ġgantija on the nearby island of Gozo. The Tarxien site (pronounced "tar-sheen"), discovered by a farmer in 1915, is composed of three temples, one of which contains a famous statue of the lower body of a standing figure. Sometimes interpreted as a goddess statue by feminist writers (there is really no way of knowing this as the gender is indeterminate), it is one of the world's earliest known and most powerful representations of a deity (the statue in the temple is a replica, the original being in a museum in the nearby capital city of Valletta.)
 
Another important temple, the Hypogeum at Ħal Saflieni, departs from the norm of Maltese temples. Located close to the Tarxien temple complex, in the modern suburb of Paola, it was discovered by chance in 1902 during the digging of a well. The Hypogeum is a multi-storey underground labyrinth (25 x 35 meters) consisting of chambers, halls, corridors and stairs, which over the centuries were extended deeper and deeper into the soft limestone. Constructed (according to the orthodox chronology) between 4000 and 5000 years ago, the Hypogeum was both a sanctuary and a cemetery; the bones of some 7000 humans have been found within. The most impressive chamber, commonly called "the Holy of Holies" has pillars and lintels that are architecturally remarkable. With its walls coated in red paint, it has been suggested that the chamber was used for animal sacrifices. Another chamber, the so-called Oracular room, has a square niche cut into the wall that may have been used in order that a priest's voice could echo around the temple. In fact, a mysterious quality of this particular room is that a man's voice will powerfully reverberate around the chamber while a woman's voice is all but absorbed by the ancient stones. The Hypogeum was closed for much of the 1990's for repair and restoration but was reopened after the beginning of the new millennium.
 
The recently excavated temple called Tas-Silġ is unique in Malta because it shows evidence of continued religious use over thousands of years and by various cultures. Initially constructed as a goddess' temple during the megalithic phase, it was used by Bronze Age peoples of the first millennium BC, next incorporated into a sanctuary of Astarte (the Goddess of fertility, beauty and love) established by the Phoenicians in the 8th century BC, maintained and improved by the Carthaginians, used by the neo-Punic natives as a shrine of Astarte-Tanit, adopted by the Romans as a temple of the goddess Juno, taken over by the Christians in the 4th century AD, and finally becoming the site of an Arab mosque in the 9th century.
 
Certainly, the largest and best preserved of all the Maltese temples is on the small island of Gozo (a 20-minute ferry ride from Malta). Constructed (according to the assumptions of conventional archaeology) between 3600 and 3000 BC, the temple of Ġgantija covers 1000 square meters and its astonishing rear wall rise up to 7 meters and contains megaliths weighing in at 40-50 tons. According to local legends, the massive blocks of Ġgantija (the word means gigantic) were carved in the south of Gozo by a female giant.


Tarxien Temples
Tarxien Temples
Model of the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum
Model of the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum
Interior of Hypoguem
Interior of Hypoguem
Remains of Tas-Silġ Temple
Remains of Tas-Silġ Temple

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