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Neolithic Temple of Mnajdra

Listed under Sacred Spaces in Malta.

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The small Mediterranean island of Malta appears in European history due to its association with the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, who arrived in 1530. Yet Malta has a far greater importance in European prehistory due to its collection of mysterious stone temples. While first occupied by Neanderthals in Paleolithic times, the earliest Neolithic people probably arrived around 5200 BC, from the island of Sicily 80 kilometers to the north. Approximately 1600 years later these people began the erection of stupendous megalithic temples. By 2300 BC this megalithic culture had declined and Malta seems to have been deserted until the arrival of Bronze Age peoples around 2000 BC.

On the islands of Malta and nearby Gozo, the remains of 50 megalithic temples, menhirs and dolmens have been found. The massive ruins of Hagar Qim (pronounced ‘agar-eem’) and Mnajdra (‘eem-na-eed-rah’) stand on a rocky plateau on the southwest coast of Malta. Mnajdra consists of two buildings, a main temple with two chambers and a smaller temple with one chamber. Among other possible uses, the temples of Mnajdra fulfilled astronomical observation and calendrical functions, in particular marking the periods of the solstices and equinoxes. In addition to their celestial alignments the Maltese temples also reveal clear evidence of mathematical and engineering sophistication such as their use of the Megalithic Yard of 2.72 feet, a precise unit of measurement found throughout ancient Europe.

A common misconception about Malta concerns the human statues found in some of the stone temples. Their skirts, thick thighs and small feet have caused some visitors to call them fertility goddess deities. However, these statues are of indeterminate sex, and furthermore, the “ladies” have no breasts. Additionally, statues of men in skirts with braided hair, and numerous examples of carved phalluses demonstrate that the Maltese temples had a fertility function which included both masculine and feminine elements. Also of importance as a pilgrimage site, the Romanesque basilica of Ta’ Pinu on the island of Gozo is a healing shrine and sacred to local sailors.

Mnajdra on the Sacred Sites Website.

Written by  Martin Gray.

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