The megalithic temples of Malta are some of the oldest freestanding structures in the world. Built between 3600 and 3000 BC, they predate Stonehenge by a millennia. When construction started on Egypt’s pyramids, Malta’s temples were already 500 years old.
Even after centuries of excavations, the exact purpose of these massive stone structures remains a mystery. Some guess the megalithic temples of Malta may have served as a place of worship. Others say they were more of a community center.
What we do know is this: all of the remaining Malta temples were built on a southeastern slope near caves, a spring, and fertile land. From above the temples look like cloverleafs, with three to five round chambers opening off a central room. No bodies have been found in the temples, but archaeologists have unearthed plenty of statues believed to represent the ancient civilization’s goddess of fertility.
We visited two of Malta’s best-preserved temple sites: Ġgantija on the island of Gozo, and the Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra complex on the mainland. Each offered a unique perspective on the lives of the ancient Maltese.
These are the largest of Malta’s megalithic temples. The remaining walls of Ġgantija climb almost 20 feet into the air. The temples’ footprint covers more than 130 feet of arid hillside. From here you can see most of the southern tip of the 26-square-mile island of Gozo.
A raised walkway takes you over the giant threshold stone. Four holes on either side mark where the ancient Maltese may have left alcoholic offerings for their gods and goddesses. Inside, several altars offered more places to worship or meditate.
Of course, these are just our best guesses as to the original purpose of the crumbling structures we see today, as our guide Vince deBono points out in the video below.
Watch as he gives us a tour of Ġgantija and offers some insight into the mystery of these ancient buildings.
Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra Temples
The best preserved of Malta’s megalithic temples, this cliffside complex offers fantastic views of he Mediterranean. From here you can see the tiny island of Filfa, a nature sanctuary that occupying Brits once used as target practice.
As you walk down the hill from the visitor center, the first thing you’ll see is a giant tent stretching over the stones. This otherworldly canopy protects the stones from the elements and provides blessed shade to summer visitors. But the tents also distract from the grandness of the buildings, perhaps a small sacrifice in the name of preservation.
The roofs of these temples collapsed years ago. What remains today are the stone footprints of ancient chambers, crumbling doorways, and mysterious “oracle holes” that may have allowed prehistoric priests to convene with their gods.
Unlike the Ġgantija Temple, you can climb on Ħaġar Qim’s stones and explore the dusty, 5,000-year-old rooms.
We may never know the original purpose of these ancient structures, but that’s okay. The mystery is part of their appeal.
We partnered with Visit Malta for parts of this trip. All opinions expressed here are our own. To arrange a tour with Vince, contact him via Tours By Locals, a company we partner with often.