Megalithic temples of Maltese culture
Megalithic temples of Maltese culture

The Maltese archipelago lies in the central Mediterranean. The people who once inhabited it, apparently, arrived here in the VI-V millennia BC from Sicily, located 90 kilometers north of Malta. They chose not a paradise at all.

The small islands that make up the archipelago are rather poor. There are almost no rivers here; there are also no normal conditions for farming. It is difficult to understand why the Maltese archipelago was already inhabited in the Neolithic era. It is even more surprising why around 3800 BC - more than a thousand years before the official appearance of the Cheops pyramid! - the inhabitants of the islands begin to build huge megalithic temples.


Just some 100 years ago, these structures were attributed to the monuments of Phoenician culture, and only new dating methods made it possible to clarify their age. Until the discovery of Göbekli Tepe, they were considered the oldest stone temples in the world. Scientists continue to argue about how the culture of such buildings originated, whether it was brought to the island from somewhere from the East or created by local residents.


There are 28 temples in Malta and the adjacent islands. They are surrounded by walls of stone blocks and are somewhat reminiscent of Stonehenge. The length of the walls is on average one and a half hundred meters. The temples are oriented strictly to the southeast, and on solstice days, light falls directly on the main altar. Some of the temples are located underground.

The most ancient are two temples that form the sanctuary of Ggantiya ("Giant") on the island of Gozo. Erected on a hill 115 meters high, they were clearly visible from afar. Both temples are surrounded by a common wall.


The older ("southern") temple consists of five semicircular apses, which are located around the courtyard in the form of a trefoil. In some apses of the "southern" temple and in one of the apses of the "northern" temple, you can still see where the altars were. The height of the outer walls in some places reaches 6 meters, and the mass of some limestone squares exceeds 50 tons.


The lumps are held together with a kind of mortar. Traces of red paint have also been preserved. In the most ancient cults, magical power was attributed to this color; he could herald a rebirth, a return to life. A fragment of a female statue about 2.5 meters high was also found here. This is the only large sculpture found in the Maltese archipelago.

In all other ancient temples, only small figurines with a height of no more than 10-20 centimeters were found. According to some researchers, Ggantija was a kind of "Vatican" of the Neolithic era - the center of the entire spiritual and secular life of the Maltese civilization. Apparently, the sanctuary was once covered with a vault, but its remains have not survived. Temples were erected on the island of Malta according to a similar plan.

We know little about the people who created this megalithic culture. We do not know who they were, what gods they worshiped, what festivities were performed within the walls of these sanctuaries. Most experts believe that these local temples were dedicated to the goddess, who in ancient times was known as "Magna Mater" - the Great Mother. Archaeological finds also support this hypothesis.


In 1914, during plowing, stone blocks of the Tarshin sanctuary, which had long been hidden in the ground, were accidentally discovered. The director of the National Museum Themistocles Zammit, after a cursory survey of the area, decided to start excavations. For six years of work, four interconnected temples were discovered here, as well as numerous figurines, including two half-meter sculptures of FatLadys, "The Maltese Venuses".

The slabs of the temples are decorated with reliefs depicting pigs, cows, goats, framed with abstract patterns, such as spirals. The spirals were believed to symbolize the all-seeing eyes of the Great Mother. Excavations have shown that animals were sacrificed here.

The oldest of these sanctuaries was built around 3250 BC. During the construction of the temple complex, which occupied an area of ​​10 thousand square meters, blocks of limestone were used, weighing up to 20 tons. They were moved with the help of stone rollers - like those found next to one of the temples.

On the southeastern outskirts of Valletta is the Hal-Saflieni underground sanctuary (3800-2500 BC). In 1902, the "father of Maltese archeology", the Jesuit Emmanuel Magri, began excavations here, and they continued after his death, Themistocles Zammit. Soon, huge catacombs were discovered, in which the remains of more than 7,000 people rested on several tiers.

In some places on the vaults of the catacombs, ornaments appeared, primarily spirals, colored with red paint. It is now known that this complex served as both a necropolis and a temple. The total area of ​​the excavated sanctuary is about 500 square meters. But perhaps the catacombs stretch beneath the entire capital of Malta, Valletta.

This is the only fully preserved Neolithic sanctuary. We can only guess what kind of scenes were played out in these halls. Maybe bloody sacrifices were made here? Have you asked the oracle? Communicate with the demons of the underworld? Did they ask the souls of the dead to help them in the storms of life? Or ordained young women as priestesses of the goddess of fertility?

Or here, on the eve of death, they healed the sick from ailments and, as a token of gratitude, they left statuettes to the goddess? Or was it all limited to funeral rituals? By the rituals performed on the bodies of the dead? Or maybe everything was more prosaic and here, in an underground cache, they collected the grain collected in the area?

Among the thousands found here - not seeds, statuettes - the Sleeping Lady, the "Sleeping Lady" reminiscent of a giantess, is especially famous. She is resting on the couch, comfortably turned on her side. She put her right hand under her head, pressing her left tightly to her chest.

Her skirt, hugging huge hips, heaves like a bell; feet peek out from under it. Now this figurine, 12 centimeters high, is kept in the Archaeological Museum of Malta.

This and other finds suggested that 5000 years ago there was a matriarchal society in Malta, and noble women - fortune tellers, priestesses, etc. were buried in the underground necropolis. However, this interpretation is controversial.

In fact, in a number of cases it is difficult to establish whether these figurines represent men or women. Similar figurines were found during excavations of Neolithic settlements in Anatolia and Thessaly. Later, by the way, a sculptural group was discovered, which received the name "The Holy Family": a man, a woman and a child are represented here.

The construction of the temples ceased around 2500 BC. Perhaps the cause of the death of the megalithic civilization of Malta was a prolonged drought or depletion of arable land. Other researchers are inclined to believe that in the middle of the III millennium, warlike tribes, armed with the most powerful then copper weapons, invaded Malta.

They conquered these blissful "islands of great magicians, healers and seers," as one historian said about Ancient Malta. A culture that flourished for many centuries was destroyed in an instant.

Archaeologists have yet to uncover many of its secrets. Perhaps people have never lived on this archipelago? They sailed here from the mainland to perform rituals in temples or to bury the dead here, and then left the "island of the gods"? Maybe Malta and Gozo were something like a sacred district of the people of the Neolithic era?

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