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first settlers

Malta has been inhabited since about 5200 BC.
Archaeologists have been able to determine the origin of the first inhabitants of the island with the help of pot sherds, found in the cave of Ghar Dalam in Birzebbuga. The pottery used by these people shows a close resemblance to that of the Stentinello culture of Sicily from about the same time. Hence we may assume that the first inhabitants of Malta originated from there. Sicily is about 60 miles north of Malta - a distance that could be crossed even in prehistoric times.

temple period

After some new immigrants arrived in Malta, the so called Temple Culture developed around 4000 BC. The first temples were constructed about 3600 BC. Ggantija in Xaghra (Gozo) is one of them. The temples were built with huge stone blocks and almost always consist of a number of trefoil shaped rooms, interconnected by a corridor.

Map of the temple of Ggantija in Gozo Door opening in Hagar Qim Fertility niche at the outer wall of Hagar Qim

The temples were used for the veneration of the goddess of fertility, of which several statuettes were found. She is depicted as an obese woman; archaeologists call these images 'fat lady' statues. In many cultures obesity is a symbol of abundance and fertility.
Many discoveries were made in the temple complex of Tarxien, not far from the capital city of Valletta. This temple complex belongs to the last phase of the Temple Period and is characterized by numerous decorations, amongst others with spiral motives and animal reliefs. Tarxien was excavated in the beginning of the 20th century.
Apart from temples, several burial complexes were discovered dating back to the Temple Period, like the hypogeum in Paola, not far from Tarxien. Here as well large amounts of statuettes were found.
The Temple Period lasted until about 2500 BC, when the race of the temple builders became extinct.

Stone vessel in Tarxien The 'Sleeping Lady', found in the Hypogeum

bronze age

After the Temple Period the Bronze Age begins in Malta. Also from this period discoveries were made, like the cart ruts, used by slide carts to carry heavy loads of stone. The dolmens, found in many places in Malta, date back to these times as well.

Dolmen at Santa Margerita, Mosta Cart ruts at Dwejra, Gozo

 hints for visitors

Ghar Dalam, the cave in Birzebbuga, can be visited and is especially interesting because of the fossil remains from the Ice Age, that were found here. In the museum near the cave one can see bones of pleistocene animals, like (dwarf) elephants, hippopotamuses and deer.

The most visited temples in Malta are
  1. Ggantija in Xaghra (Gozo)
  2. Hagar Qim and Mnajdra, close to the village of Qrendi
  3. Tarxien
There are many other temple remains in Malta. Some are closed to the public, others are accessible. A good tourist map will show the location of most of them.

The hypogeum in Paola re-opened for visitors after a nine-year conservation project. Visits are limited to the time indicated on the admission ticket. Tickets can be bought from the site itself, up to 28 days in advance.

Cart ruts can be found in many places, both on Malta as well as on Gozo. A good tourist map will help you out again to locate them. Very interesting is Clapham Junction, not far from Rabat.

If you are interested in archaeological remains, don't forget to visit the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta. Most of the original finds from the Temple Period can be seen here.
There is also a small but nice Archaeology Museum in the citadel in Gozo.

The temple of Hagar Qim at Qrendi


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