Ġgantija

Ġgantija

Ġgantija (Ggantia) is a Neolithic, megalithic temple complex on the Mediterranean island of Gozo, which is part of Malta. Their makers erected the two Ġgantija temples during the Neolithic Age (c. 3600-2500 BC), which makes the temples more than 5500 years old and the world's oldest man-made religious structures. The temples were possibly the site of an Earth Mother Goddess Fertility Cult; archeologists believe that the numerous figurines and statues found on site are connected with that cult. The Ġgantija temples are the earliest of a series of megalithic temples in Malta.

According to a local Gozitan legend, giants built these temples, which led to the name Ġgantija, meaning 'Giants’ tower' . According to the legend, these giants resided in Gozo during ancient times and used the temples as places of worship.

Description and Design

The Ġgantija temples stand at the end of the Xagħra plateau, facing towards the south-east.

This megalithic monument is in fact two temples, built side by side and enclosed within a boundary wall. The southerly one is the larger and elder, dating back to approximately 3600 BC. It is also better preserved. The plan of the temple incorporates five large apses, with traces of the plaster which once covered the irregular wall still clinging between the blocks.

The temples are built in the typical clover-leaf shape, with inner facing blocks marking the shape which was then filled in with rubble. This led to the construction of a series of semi-circular apses connected with a central passage. Archaeologists believe that the apses were originally covered by roofing. The structures are all the more impressive for having been constructed at a time when no metal tools were available to the natives of the Maltese islands, and when the wheel had not yet been introduced. Small, spherical stones have been discovered; it is believed that these were used as ball bearings to transport the enormous stone blocks required for the temples' construction.

The temple, like other megalithic sites in Malta, faces southeast. The southern temple rises to a height of six metres. At the entrance sits a large stone block with a recess, which led to the hypothesis that this was a ritual ablution station for purification before entering the complex. The five apses contain various altars; evidence of animal bones in the site suggests the site was used for animal sacrifice.

Excavations and Recognition

The presence of the temple was known for a very long time, and even before any excavations were carried out a largely correct plan of its layout was drawn by Jean-Pierre Hoüel in the late eighteenth century. In 1827, the site was cleared of debris by Col. John Otto Bayer, the Lieutenant Governor of Gozo. – the soil and remains being lost without proper examination. The loss resulting from this clearance was partially compensated by the German artist Brochtorff, who painted the site within a year or two from the removal of the debris. This is the only practical record of the clearance.

After the excavations in 1827, the ruins fell into decay, and the land fell into private hands up until 1933, when the Government expropriated it for public benefit. Extensive archaeological work was done by the Museums Department in 1933, 1936, 1949, 1956-57 and 1958-59. The aim of these excavations was to clear, preserve and research the ruins and its surroundings.

The Ġgantija temples were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. In 1992, the Committee decided to further extend the existing listing to include five other megalithic temples situated across the islands of Malta and Gozo, and the Ġgantija listing was renamed as "The Megalithic Temples of Malta"

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