To identify origin is to understand one’s self. This glance at the ancient civilizations of Malta digests their connection to the land, their worship deeply pinned to the need to sustain life off the land.
In this collection, we look at three of the ancient sites to be found on the Maltese islands, with the idea of celebrating their features, their architecture and their function within the society of the time and their connection to the land, the afterlife and astronomy.
It is estimated that Ġgantija dates back to the early 4th millennium BC. Making it amongst the oldest free-standing structures of such complexity in the world, preceding Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Egypt.
Consisting of two buildings and situated in Xagħra Gozo, Ġgantija is part of the Megalithic Temples of Malta UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a marvel of its time with some of the huge boulders that were used in its construction estimated to weigh over 40 tonnes.
In fact, local legend has it, that a Giantess built the Ġgantija, holding her child in one hand, whilst constructing the building with the other.
The inner walls were probably decorated with ochre, and it is suggested that this site was used originally for some form of communal rituals and feasting with the internal spaces and structures being iconic of the site.
Mnajdra was built in the early 4th millennium BC, with different parts being built at varying times. It is believed that it may have originally been larger as clearly shown by the ruins in the vicinity.
Mnajdra is very well preserved, and its interior chambers display very detailed patterns etched out of the huge stone boulders. The precision with which the rocks are cut and placed is also quite impressive, adding to the air of magic that this complex possesses.
Most fascinating is the fact that the South building of Mnajdra was built in perfect alignment with the equinox and solstice which, it is suspected, served as an agricultural calendar for the first civilization that inhabited the Maltese islands.
Discovered in 1902 during excavation works, the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is an underground prehistoric burial site, which is made up of interconnecting rock-cut chambers set on three levels.
The complex was used over a span of many centuries, with the earliest remains dating back to about 3800BC.
The walls still bear traces of complex designs such as spiral patterns, honey-comb designs as well as checker-board patterns painted in natural pigments such as red ochre. Although these are today seen as decorations, they may have carried further meaning and significance in the Neolithic. Of the three levels, the so-called Middle Level appears to be the most ornate. Some of the chambers here are hewn out of the rock in a way to appear very similar to the above-ground megalithic architecture of the Neolithic. This helps us also understand how the megalithic buildings may have been originally roofed.
Most interesting is the so-called Oracle Chamber. When a deep voice hums or sings into a niche in this chamber, the sound resonates throughout the whole complex, creating an eerie and somewhat ethereal atmosphere.