In southern Europe, located in the Mediterranean Sea is the country of Malta. This country has some spectacular beaches, and is blessed with natural abundance. Interspersed among this scenic terrain are the ruins and monuments dating back to the prehistorical times, as well as the comparatively recent reminders of different rulers in Malta’s history. The Phoenicians, Romans, Moors, Spaniards, French, British all have ruled Malta (a very significant naval base) and in the process have left behind structures dating back to their times, which today narrate the stories of a fascinating and varied Maltese past.
There are many prehistoric structures and monuments spread all over Malta. These and the remains excavated from these sites date as far back as the Neolithic period and the Ice Age. Visiting Malta should be a must for all travelers who are inclined towards the archaeological and the historical offerings of any place. Visiting these extremely old architectural structures and to explore the Maltese past that goes as far back as 7000 years is a truly awe-inspiring and humbling experience.
There are numerous Maltese monuments worth visiting. The capital of Malta, the City of Valletta along with the Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni and the Megalithic Temples is included within UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni
It is also known as the Hypogeum of Paola. Literally Hypogeum means ‘Underground’. This structure has been dated back to the Saflieni phase of Malta’s prehistory. This phase is roughly divided as extending from 3000 to 2500BC. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the only underground temple worldwide that can be dated back to the prehistoric times. There are three levels to this Hypogeum, First, Second and the Third. Whereas only water can be found in the last level, the initial level contains natural caves. In order to make these more spacious, some of these caves were extended by artificial means. The second level has the most interesting sections, and this was the place where several important archaeological artifacts were discovered. The Oracle Room, Holy of Holies, Main Chamber, and Snake Pit are some of the rooms that can be found in the Second Level. Some of the walls in this section are highly adorned using mostly spiral shapes.
The acoustic resonance of the Oracle Room, and the famous figurine of the Sleeping lady excavated from here, is some of the other significant features of this level. Human remains of more than 5000 people and dating back to 2000 BC have been also found here. This suggests that the Hypogeum initially a place of worship was later used as a cemetery or for funeral rites. The artifacts discovered from and around the Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni are all displayed in the Museum of Archaeology, in Malta’s capital city of Valletta.
This is another site that has immense historical as well as archaeological significance. In addition it is also a popular tourist attraction. When translated Ghar Dalam literally means Cave of Darkness. There is a museum at the entrance of this 144 m deep cave. The museum contains the animal remains and the proofs of early human settlements that were excavated from this site which lies nearby Birzebbuga. The animal remains found here include those of deer, Hippopotamus and Dwarf elephants among others. These animals became extinct back in the Ice Age.
In the World War II, Ghar Dalam was also utilized as a shelter from the air raids. The animal bones and other remains found here date back to the prehistorical times, and the artifacts found that are used as a proof to justify early existence of human settlements here also stand as a testament to Maltese Civilization’s ancient nature.
Megalithic Temples of Malta
Dating back to the time bracket of 5000-700 BC, the eleven megalithic temples of Malta are the impressive monuments that are a result of a prehistoric temple-building culture. As historians and archaeologists have argued this culture must have become extinct around the same time when the last of the temples were built. Seven of these eleven structures are included among the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The most extensive amount of temple building is concentrated in the Ggantija Phase, which dates back to 3600-3000 BC roughly. Touted as the oldest free standing structures worldwide, these temples are spread over Maltese terrain, and attract lots of visitors.
Some of the temples which are also included in the World Heritage Sites’ list include the large temple complex in Tarxien, or the Tarxien Temples, the Hagar Qim in Qrendi, Mnajdra in Qrendi again, Skorba Temples in Zebbiegh, Ta Hagrat Temples in Mojare. Though these temples are built over a long span of time, there are some architectural features that can be found in all of them. That does not imply that there is nothing distinct about each of these temples, all of them have their own distinctiveness. Evidences of animal sacrifices, of early human settlements, prehistoric artifacts, pottery resembling their Italian counterparts, various fascinating figurines, animal remains have been discovered from these temples.
Valletta and Mdina
Mdina is a medieval city of Malta. Highly picturesque and photogenic, this city has preserved its medieval heritage. The timeless charm of this city comes from the narrow streets crisscrossing around striking houses built for the nobility in the old days. The evenings on Mdina are dreamlike and extremely scenic, owing to its beauty and further enhanced by the lamp lit streets.
Malta’s capital, the City of Valletta is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has been called the ‘most concentrated historical sites’ world over. The fortified city of Valletta, and many other forts and towers make up for some impressive military architecture. They also highlight the military past and battles fought in and over Malta. Forts like Madalena, St Michael, Ricasoli, and Chambray are some of the most important fortifications of Malta dating as far back as 16th century.
Malta is a popular tourist attraction owing to its fabulous Mediterranean beaches, favorable weather and scenic beauty. But for the more historically inclined travelers Malta is a haven of prehistorical monuments. It provides all with a chance to observe these ancient remains closely and leaves one with a fascinating experience.