Malta has several prehistoric temples, both below and above ground level. Those above are thought to be the oldest free standing structures in the world, built from as early as 3600 BCE, although the temple at Gobekli Tepe is considered older. The cultural changes and local innovation that brought about these buildings came to an end around 2500 BCE when the temples fell out of use.
The underground Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni at Paola was discovered by accident in 1902 when workmen were cutting below a new house, at first the find was not disclosed, but archaeological excavation eventually began in 1903. A labyrinth of manmade chambers were found cut in the limestone to a depth of 40 feet on three levels.
The rock cut temple, similar to earlier temples on the islands in Xemxija, dates to around 3800 BCE, and was dug by Neolithic man using antler picks. The upper level consists of natural caves which were extended artificially to form a sanctuary. It was used as a necropolis as the remains of over 7,000 people have been found. It is the only known underground prehistoric temple in the world.
The second level appears more important, comprising many chambers where vases, amulets and statues were found, including the famous reclining Sleeping Lady. The main chamber is circular its walls washed in red ochre, with trilithon doorways cut around it. Whilst some are blind others lead into further chambers. The Oracle room is rectangular its ceiling decorated with red ochre spirals and blobs, similar to cup and ring markings. This room has unusual sound properties and in 2014 a team of scientists studied the acoustics there.
Beyond it lies the decorated room, a large circular hall its smooth walls decorated with spirals. The holy of holies has further trilithons carved, a corbelled ceiling and a circular hole cut. On this level there is a six foot deep pit known as the snake pit, but whose use is unknown. The third level has not produced any finds and its use is unknown at this time, though storage has been suggested.
The Neolithic megalithic temple complex known as the Ggantija, the Giant’s Tower, which stands on the Xaghra plateau on the island of Gozo, are considered the second oldest manmade religious structures in the world after Gobekli Tepe.
Built by a Giantess, according to local legend, and used by a fertility cult, the boundary wall contains two temples built at different times. The chambers are laid out as a central aisle with semi circular apses in a clover leaf shape, with the gaps between walls filled with rubble, and the inner walls having traces of being plastered. The apses, which contain altars, are thought to have originally roofed.
Although the temple was well known to visitors, excavation did not take place until 1827, when unfortunately site clearance may have lost some artefacts and information, and the site fell into decay until taken over by the government in 1933.
Unfortunately the megalithic complex of Hagar Qim, known as the Worshipping Stones, standing in southern Malta, is built of a soft limestone which over the centuries has eroded, so much so that a protective tent has now been erected over the stones. The façade is built of the largest stones used in a Maltese megalith, up to 57 ton in weight and 17 feet in height, and more resembling Egyptian or Minoan style, with carefully dressed stone walls and trilithon entrances.
An interior passage leads from an extensive forecourt through a wall built of huge blocks to three chambers, an oval chamber with semi circular apse on each side. Pillars and slabs are found inside, along with a phallic stone. From the main chamber a hole aligns with the Summer Solstice Sunrise. There are also several additional apses and altars, showing carved spiral decorations, and there is evidence of a fire.
Despite some archaeological excavations, much of the story of the temples is conjecture.
The Hypogeum of Saflieni
Holy of Holies
Showing Carved Blind and Real Doorways
(No Photography is Allowed!)
The Giant Stones of Ggantija
(Note Person Stood In Front)
"Oracle Hole," Ggantija
Variety of Building Materials
Dressed Stone, Boulders, Rubble Packing
Hagar Qim, with Protective Tent
Hagar Qim, Trilithon Entrance
Hagar Qim, Apse
Hagar Qim, Altar with Tree Carving