Ħaġar Qim Temples
The temple of Ħaġar Qim, stands on a hilltop overlooking the sea and the islet of Fifla, not more than 2km south-west of the village of Qrendi. At the bottom of the hill, only 500m away, lies another remarkable temple site, Mnajdra found above the Southern cliffs. The surrounding landscape is typical Mediterranean garigue and spectacular in its starkness and isolation.
First excavated in 1839, the remains suggest a date between 3600 – 3200 BC, a period known as the Ġgantija phase in Maltese prehistory. Ħaġar Qim was in fact never completely buried as the tallest stones, remained exposed and featured in 18th and 19th century paintings. The site consists of a central building and the remains of at least two more structures. The large forecourt and the monumental facade of the central structure follow the pattern typical of Maltese Prehistoric Temples. Along the external wall one may find some of the largest megaliths used in the building of these structures, such as a 5.2m high stone and a huge megalith estimated to weigh close to 20 tonnes.
Mnajdra is found in an isolated position on a rugged stretch of Malta’s southern coast overlooking the isle of Fifla. It is some 500m away from Ħaġar Qim Temples. It consists of three buildings facing a common oval forecourt. The first and oldest structure dates to the Ġgantija phase (3600 – 3200 BC). The second structure to be built was the South Temple, constructed in the early Tarxien phase (3150 – 2500 BC). The Central Temple, inserted between the other two, was the last to be built. Remains to the north-east and south of these buildings indicate that these three structures are only the best preserved of a larger complex.
The South Temple has its entrance set in a concave monumental facade and leads to two rooms, or apses. Opposite the main entrance is the doorway to the second set of apses flanked by two large blocks decorated with small drilled holes. This doorway and the decorated blocks mark the position of the rising sun on the first day of spring and autumn (the Equinoxes) and the first day of summer and winter (the Solstices).
Reasons to Visit
1. Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, inscribed as part of ‘The Megalithic Temples of Malta’ in the World Heritage List.
2. A dedicated visitor centre offers information about the site in a fun and interactive manner, with a 4D Cinema experience.
3. The prehistoric chambers at Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra hold elliptical holes which are hewn out in alignment with the Summer Solstice sunrise. At sunrise, on the first day of summer, the sun’s rays pass through these holes and illuminate a stone slab inside the chamber.
Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum
The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is an underground prehistoric burial site. Discovered in 1902 during construction works, the site was first excavated by Fr Emmanuel Magri between 1904 and 1906. Fr Magri died in Tunisia and his excavation notes have been lost. Excavations were taken over by Sir Themistocles Zammit, who continued works until 1911. The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is a complex made up of interconnecting rock-cut chambers set on three distinct levels. Earliest remains at the site date back to about 4000BC, and the complex was used over a span of many centuries, up to c. 2500 BC.
The Hypogeum was first opened to visitors in 1908 and since then it has been visited by many thousands of people. Unfortunately, this has had a toll on the delicate microclimate of the site which has affected the preservation of the site and the unique red ochre paintings. For this reason, after a conservation project which saw the site closed for 10 years between 1990 and 2000, a new system was established in which only 10 visitors an hour are allowed in for a maximum of 8 hours a day, complemented by an environmental control system which keeps temperature and humidity at required levels.
Reasons to Visit
1. Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is a unique site inscribed on the World Heritage List as “a site that bears a unique testimony to a cultural tradition which has disappeared”.
2. Paintings in red ochre, which decorate some of the walls within the site, are the oldest and only prehistoric paintings recorded on the Maltese Islands.
3. Beautifully carved featured in imitation of architectural elements common in the above-ground temples, including an example of what a roof of these structures would have looked like.
4. The only prehistoric burial site which is accessible to the general public.
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For more information about the megalithic temples of Malta visit: http://heritagemalta.org/