Maltese Temples

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The tiny islands of Malta and Gozo in the central Mediterranean south of Sicily provided the setting for the development of an impressive prehistoric architectural tradition of stone temple-building. Between <4000 and 2500 bc the inhabitants of the islands constructed at least 12 major temple complexes, most of which contained two or three separate temples, built in several phases over a long period of time. The temples are built of local limestone in Cyclopean masonry and are characterized by a series of apsidal courts or chambers arranged on either side of a central corridor opening from a monumental facade. The whole structure is enclosed by a solid outer wall and the space between this and the building itself filled with stone and earth rubble. Early examples are trefoil in plan, but later temples may have five, six or seven apsidal chambers. Characteristically they have a number of installations which are presumably ritual, including altar-like constructions, niches and port-hole openings. Some of the later temples have decorated slabs, with rows of drilled hollows, but the temples at Tarxien are unique in having slabs carved with spiral and animal ornament as well as the lower part of a massive free-standing statue of a ‘fat lady’, often interpreted as a mother goddess figure. In the past scholars often regarded the Maltese temples as part of a megalithic complex, showing influence from the east Mediterranean. More recently it has been recognized that the temples are unique in form and construction and are in any case too early to be derived from any east Mediterranean stone architecture. They are now seen as a local development, perhaps representing the visible witness to the man-power capabilities and organizational powers of chiefdom societies. See also Hagar Qim, Skorba, Tarxien.

The Macmillan dictionary of archaeology, Ruth D. Whitehouse, 1983Copied