FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Temples of wonder

Posted in Malta, Paola, Valletta by folkestonejack on March 23, 2014

A short hop on the bus delivered us to Paola, just outside Valletta, which is home to some remarkable monuments from the neolithic islanders.

Our first stop was to be the Tarxien Temples, a complex of four temples built between 3600 and 2500 BC. The site was first discovered by farmers in 1913 after they had repeatedly hit large stones whilst ploughing the field. An elevated walkway makes it easy to get around the site and get clear views of each temple from different angles.

The Tarxien Temples

The Tarxien Temples

The excavations at the site, under the direction of Themistocles Zammit, revealed some particularly fine decorative work, including reliefs of domestic animals and spirals. Some of the most significant blocks from the site were removed in the mid-twentieth century but their replacements have already deterioriated way beyond the state of the originals removed from the site. Unfortunately, most of the original site is still exposed and at significant risk. The intention is to use European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) funding to install a protective covering that will shelter the structures from the elements.

Tarxien Central

Tarxien Central

In the afternoon our education in prehistoric temple culture continued at the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, a temple and burial complex in use from approximately 4000 to 2500 BC. The hypogeum was discovered by accident in 1902 when workers digging a cistern broke into one of the chambers in the site. Full exploration of the site uncovered some incredible stone and clay figurines, such as the ‘Sleeping Lady’ which is now on display in the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta.

It is a tricky site to visit as just 80 admissions are permitted per day in order to keep the microclimate stable and prevent irreparable damage – bookings usually have to be made six weeks in advance. We had been lucky enough to secure tickets, though at thirty euros per head for a forty five minute visit it has to be just about the most expensive tourist site that we have visited in the world!

The site is a complicated site of rock-cut chambers spread across three levels. The audio guide does a good job of explaining the significance of what you are looking at, from ochre wall paintings to the sheer beauty of the beautifully carved chamber that mimics the architectural elements seen in temples above ground. It really is quite unlike anything I have seen anywhere else and worth every penny of the admission fee.

After visiting these two sites we added a trip to the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta to see the original finds from the Tarxien Temples and the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum. It really tied up everything that we had seen during the day, especially with the help of elements such as a 3D model of the Hypogeum. I think it is a must if you are visiting those two sites (and probably best done afterwards).