Malta – Gozo – Ġgantija Temples

Ġgantija is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and although it is slightly argued over, this site is perhaps the second oldest man-made structure in the world which is still standing. The temples date back 5,500 years and mark a significant and quite remarkable construction effort for the time.

A visit for most people starts at the entrance, but I decided to try and get into the exit before a staff member helpfully mentioned I was in the wrong building. Anyway, the visit for everyone else starts at the entrance and they first go into a museum which gives the background of the temples.

Above are circular stones which were found on the site and it’s thought that these were used in moving the larger stones into place. This site pre-dates the creation of the wheel and these circular stones have been found in similar temple sites on the islands.

The sheer age of this site means that most items found here are some of the oldest of their kind in the world. This is a decorated pot, with the decoration added after the pottery was fired. It’s thought to be around 4,500 to 5,000 years old.

This is one of the stone slabs found at the site, but moved inside in 1957 to better protect it. It has a carving on a snake on the side, again making this one of the earliest representations of a snake in existence.

These are cow toe bones found at the site, sculpted to represent human faces.

A skull found at the site which dates back to the Neolithic period.

Using the above skull they have been able to recreate what the person would have looked like, it was a young female.

Significant analysis has been made on the bones found at the site, and this individual suffered from spina bifida. They died at between the age of 8 and 13.

This individual suffered from osteomyelitis, which is a bone infection which can apparently now be treated easily today with antibiotics.

After visiting the museum there is then the site itself. There was a coach party ahead of me, but they were leaving just as I arrived at the site. So, I had this site pretty much to myself.

They picked a nice site to place their temple.

The front of the site. Unless some other temple sites, this has avoided being messed around with too much. The British cleared the debris from the site in the 1820s, which probably caused significant loss, but nearly everything visible is original. Other than the scaffolding and the walkway obviously.

The side of the site.

Some of the structure is being supported by scaffolding to prevent any little collapsing incidents. There are long-term plans to remove the scaffolding by fiddling about with the stone, but I hope they don’t do too much fiddling with it.

A walkway into the main temple area.

It is thought that this is a later amendment to the main doorway as there is evidence of metal working, which wasn’t available to the original builders.

The walkways inserted into the site to let visitors see the stonework.

This is one of the few areas where there has been some restoration, but it was done in the nineteenth century shortly after the stones fell and was based on paintings drawn a few years before.

The scaffolding is extensive around the site.

This is nineteenth century graffiti which was added to the stones by people who visited the site, often as part of their Grand Tour. It was acceptable at the time, I assume because no-one thought to put a visitor’s book at the site. There are cameras at the site to stop anyone adding their little inscriptions now, although it’s still happening on occasion much to the fury of Heritage Malta.

Anyway, I felt that this was an amazing site and one of the most important heritage sites that I’ve visited. For this to have been created by the people of the time with such limited means is a substantial achievement, and it’s impressive that it has remained standing since. Some of the site got buried over time, but it would have been easy to quarry some of the stone, history has certainly treated this site well.

To amuse myself, I had a little look on TripAdvisor at the negative reviews, and this was a favourite:

“Please don’t waste your money,or more importantly time visiting this place. How other people reviewed this at five stars beggars belief.Its a collection of nothing”.

Hmmmm. The site’s response was professional and quite accurate IMO…

“The Ġgantija Temples Heritage Park has recently benefitted from a major investment, which saw the construction of an Interpretation Centre that presents detailed information of the site, audiovisual facilities and a collection of unique artefacts from Gozo’s prehistoric legacy. This precedes the visit to the Neolithic temples of Ġgantija, a monument which has survived 6,000 years and which has been recognized by UNESCO as one of the earliest architectural accomplishments in human history. In view of this, the comment ‘a collection of nothing’ seems hardly fair.”

Another little treat:

“We visited on a rainy day and had it to ourselves. The museum was semi interesting. We then walked to the site and saw a bunch of rocks, many of which were held in place by metal scaffolding. Anything of interest was removed long ago, so you saw a pile of rocks. It really wasn’t much different than any other pile of rocks we’ve seen on Gozo. We left feeling quite disappointed. Sorry for the critical review but we expected a lot more.”

The site didn’t deem this one worth replying, perhaps the metal scaffolding should be removed so that everything could fall down. And then they could build a McDonald’s at the site…. Great plan….

And my final TripAdvisor review which I enjoyed reading:

“We were taken to the Xaghra Stone Circle as part of our full-day guided tour of the island of Gozo. When the tour arrived there and we were guided through the small museum and then out on to the site under the blazing midday sun, we were wondering what we were actually doing there. We were taken around to see several different piles of rocks with the tour guide providing descriptions as we went. However, as it was so hot, very few members of the tour group could actually concentrate on what she was saying. If you are an archaeologist and piles of old rocks are your thing then this is the place for you. If not, give it a miss!”

I thought that as piles of old rocks go, they’re some of the most amazing that I’ve seen. But, each to their own  🙂