Megalithic Temples of Malta
The Megalithic Temples of Malta are amongst the earliest free-standing stone buildings in the world.
Each of the monuments is different and all are massive, which would have required significant technical skill. Some are decorated with bas-reliefs with various motifs. They date from ca. 3000 BCE. Hagar Qin, Mnajdra, Tarxien, Ta'Hagrat and Skorba are on the main island, while the Gigantija temples can be found on Gozo island.
Community Perspective: Ġgantija temple comes out as the most impressive, while Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra have the most scenic locations.
Map of Megalithic Temples of MaltaLoad map
Whilst Malta may bear many cultural and linguistic similarities to nearby Italy and North Africa respectively, prices seem to be more influenced by the period of British rule than their Mediterranean neighbours. In 2023, Heritage Malta offered a pass for 50€ that covers most of their sites, but not all. Indeed, the Hypogeum requires a separate ticket at an eye-watering 35€ and a reservation long in advance. The multisite pass does include all of the temples inscribed as WHS so I bought one for convenience in spite of the high cost. All of the temples are easily accessible by Malta’s extensive bus network, which I found very easy to use with the contactless Tallinja card purchasable from vending machines in Luqa airport. Ġgantija on Gozo was the most impressive to me and it’s clear why it was inscribed first. I visited in a day trip from Valletta, where I was staying, using the fast ferry to the port of Mġarr followed by a bus. As the ferry pulled into the harbour, I could see the bus leaving so timing is rather tight but another one came along 30 minutes later. However, I did have to fend off taxi drivers and tourist bus touts during the wait. Ta' Kola Windmill is very nearby to Ġgantija and worth visiting if you have bought the multisite pass for an insight into 18th and 19th Century rural life but I’m not sure I would have paid for the site on its own merit. On the main island of Malta, the two seaside temples, Mnajdra and Ħaġar Qim, are also excellent, not just for the ruins but also the dramatic setting. Tarxien is similar although a little less well preserved, perhaps due to being surrounded by the urban environment. Perhaps I was unlucky but Tarxien was also by far the busiest, likely thanks to its proximity to Valletta, and I had to walk around quickly in between two enormous tour groups from a cruise ship that had just docked.
Ta' Hagrat and Skorba are located near the town of Mġarr, not to be confused with the port on Gozo of the same name, and are within easy walking distance of each other. Although a Google search suggested Skorba would open at 9am, when I arrived there was nobody to be seen with the gate padlocked shut but it didn’t matter too much as what little remains of the temple can be easily seen through and above the chain-link fence around the small site (see picture attached). Skorba is by far the weakest of the six inscribed temples and, whilst it be would reductionist to describe it as a ‘pile of rocks’ given this and nearby Ta' Hagrat are the oldest of sites, that would not be too far from the truth. Ta' Hagrat is at least recognisably a temple and did open at 10am as promised. My multisite pass was accepted without issue whereas others who tried to get in could not as it seems tickets are not sold on site with these other visitors directed to a nearby restaurant. There is a seventh, uninscribed temple that is included in the multisite pass called Borġ in-Nadur in the far south of Malta, on the outskirts of the port town of Birżebbuġa. Committed to getting full value from the multisite pass, I ventured on the bus south to visit this and the nearby cave of Għar Dalam, which has an impressive collection of fossil remains from hippos, deer, and the Maltese Dwarf Elephant, although there is nothing left to see in the cave itself. There is even less at Borġ in-Nadur than at Skorba so I can understand why it wasn’t inscribed. Several exhibits at these various sites make reference to the Xagħra Stone Circle on Gozo, supposedly a counterpart to the Hypogeum on Malta, but it is not open to the public. A second extension to the site would be likely well received to include this but the Maltese tentative list doesn’t seem to have been updated since 1998.
When we visited Malta in 2017, we really didn’t know what to expect. We stumbled on the temple complexes of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra, we were extremely surprised.
The megalithic temples in Malta are the oldest free-standing structures in the world, dating from 3000 B.C. We’ve been to old structures before: The Pyramids, Stonehenge, and even Ireland’s passage tomb. The megalithic temples of Malta are much, much older and were one of the most impressive things about Malta.
While impressive, the structures confused us. So much is unknown: who built them and what they were for. For us, the uncertainty took away from the impressiveness of these prehistoric structures.
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It's kind of weird that a small island nation like Malta hosts two great prehistoric sites. But it does, with the Hypogeum being the most stunning. The temples are also great and they offer the added benefit of taking you all across the islands of Malta.
Of the temples I have seen Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra were the most scenic; the previous reviewers seem to indicate the same. Built on a cliff, you get great views of the Mediterranean Sea and Filfla island. Nowadays, both temples are covered by huge tent constructions for protective reasons. Our resident Maltese, Clyde, disparaged the constructions. While I understand the necessity, I have to agree with Clyde: The tents really take away from the atmosphere. The light just isn't the same
Also tent covered is Tarxien. It's a fairly large site and it's also not as old as the others. To me, it offered the best visitor experience as there are pathways and signs. There is even some rock-art. If you visit only one temple, Tarxien is a good choice. It's also a good choice if you are time limited as it's the closest to Valletta and a few blocks down the road from the Hypogeum. Indeed, with proper planning (and a reservation for the Hypogeum) you could cover all Maltese sites in a single day.
Skorba and Ta'Hagrat are without a tent cover. Both a rather small. For Skorba, you can skip buying a ticket as you can see everything through the fence. The same is more or less true of Ta'Hagrat.
Due to time reasons, I had to skip Gozo. I think you need a full day to make that visit worthwhile. And I am a bit sad that I did not find the time to go.
There are direct buses to all sites on Malta island from Valletta and google maps has the connections. The only minor challenge is to travel between the southern temples (Ħaġar Qim & Mnajdra Qrendi) and the western ones (Skorba & Ta' Hagrat), but it's possible, too.
In my case, I took a morning bus from Valletta to Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra. After my visit, I took another bus to the Coastal Cliffs (T), from where I hiked to Mdina (T) with a short stop at the St Paul's Catacombs (T). And as I was in a hiking mood, I continued to Ta' Hagrat. I am also pretty sure that I passed through the Victoria Lines (T) along the way. Word of advice, though: Malta is not a hiking place. It's a pity, but most of the time I had to walk along the road.
Tarxien I combined with the Hypogeum the next day.
Having to buy a ticket at each site felt cumbersome. There is no combined ticket for all temples. But there is a Multipass covering most of the Malta heritage sites (i.e. everything but Hypogeum). It is expensive, though, coming in at 50€.
I visited 4 of the 6 Megalithic Temples in January 2015: Tarxien, Ta’ Ħaġrat, Skorba and Ġgantija.
Tarxien is located near the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum (which was maddeningly fully-booked when I was in Malta), a 40 minute walk from Valletta. We passed through some quite untouristy areas and saw groups of African migrants (presumably 'boat people') looking for work. Malta is one of those countries shouldering more than its fair share, so I would imagine work is scarce for them.
Ta’ Ħaġrat and Skorba are near one another but far enough from Valletta that we needed a hire car. They are very low-key but you're likely to the only ones visiting, which is a plus!
Ġgantija is on Gozo and is the grandest of those I saw. Getting there required a roll-on roll-off ferry ride, but was worth it because the island is a treasure trove of photogenic churches and coastlines (we also visited the Azure Window).
I have visited this group of WHS several times. My favourite has to be Ggantija Temples in Gozo because of their unique shape. The Hagar Qim Temples in Malta were also my personal favourite because of its alignment with the sun. However, in recent years, a controversial tent-like structure has been built to protect the megalithic temple from sea erosion, rain and direct sunlight. IMO this is too much of an eyesore compared to how the temple looked without this modern monster. Apart from this, the sun played an important role in the construction of these temples that are older than the Pyramid of Giza or Stonehenge!
I'm from Malta and am 51 years old now.
I mention this because in my childhood, my family visited many historical places which were not yet "institutionaliased". We frequently had picnics at some of these sites. We explored these places and knew every nook and cranny of these temples. I've played hide and seek in these temples. Great fun! At that time they were simply open to the public.
While I think it is laudable for many of these historical sites to now be recognized as part of our heritage, and to be preserved, and while I am glad there are funds allotted to conservation, I think there has been a lot lost along the way.
Nowadays when I take visitors to see these sites, I have to explain that "round that corner they can't see", unless they are giraffes with EXTREMELY long necks, there's a really interesting feature, etc etc.
Many museums are making features more accessible to visitors. Unfortunately, I can now only walk a very limited walkway in the centre of the temple structures. Why can't I come up closer? Move around the structures more freely? Would I be vandalizing them by doing so?
Such a pity that in the interests of preservation, visitors can't explore more. Can't come up close. Can't feel the excitement of walking through the temples from room to room.
It 's a see but don't touch feeling. What a shame! There's no engagement.
Spread across Malta and Gozo, these temples are over 5,000 years old - meaning they are older than the Pyramids and older than any other manmade, free-standing structure on Earth. They are among Malta's biggest tourist attractions, and are certainly an impressive sight. Most people visit the temples at Tarxien in a Valletta suburb and the famous Ggantija temples on the island of Gozo. I went there as well, but I found the complex of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra to be the most impressive, especially because of their scenic location on the southern coast. Mnajdra especially has a beautiful setting, even though both temples are now covered by a tent-like structure to protect them against the elements.
The inscribed site also includes Ta Skorba and Ta Hagrat, but these seem to be little visited and not as impressive as the others.
“Megaliths” are defined as “large mostly undressed stones arranged by man for a religious purpose …(during the period) from the 5th to the 2nd millennium BC (approx Neolithic to Early Bronze)”. The UNESCO list contains a number of such sites from among the many thousands in Europe (I wonder if Els’s “themes” shouldn’t separate them out from within the general archaeological list?). Those on Malta are “up with” the best and should not be missed by anyone visiting the islands. OK they might not equal Stonehenge for grandeur and mystery (though that site unfortunately is impossible now to see under ideal conditions) but you will I am sure be amazed at the technical achievements of these long passed peoples and left wondering about the beliefs which drove the constructions. The wonderful “fat ladies” (photo) also add a human touch. Ideally you will need a car and merely searching out the sites can provide a useful framework for a tour of Malta. You should cross to Gozo to see the original 2 temples at Gijantija as well as at least a couple of the other 5 (Hagar Qim and Mnajdra in the south of the island are perhaps the best?).
I visited them the wrong way around, I now notice: the "youngest" temple first. This one is at Tarxien, in the town of Paola (close to the Hypogeum). It looks like you're in someone's backyard, but there are really fine features here. For example the animal reliefs.
On the other side of the island are the temples of Hagar Qim and Mnjadra. The Mnjadra temples have the most beautiful setting, near the sea and the islet Fifla.
After that, I went to Gozo island to visit the Gigantija temples. Less refined, bulkier than the others they are. A visit to the archeological museum in Valetta to see the more delicate findings finished it all.
These seven temples are distributed across Malta and its sister island of Gozo. They consist of some of the oldest freestanding buildings in the world, providing an insight into some of the earliest forms of human worship. As such there is no doubt about the legitimacy of this inscription.
The first group of temples we visited were those at Tarxien, in the suburbs of Valletta and only a few minutes walk from the Hypogeum. These temples were built in the latest phase of temple building on Malta and contain some more advanced features, such as carvings of animals and the statues of ‘Fat Ladies’ in Paul Tanners picture below. I have to say that I was very under whelmed by this site, to the uninitiated it looks little more than a pile of large boulders in a patch of wasteland left over in the middle of town. However the staff were friendly and informative and they had great plans for a new visitors centre so hopefully things will be looking up for this site.
The other site we visited was the Ġgantija temple on the neighbouring island of Gozo. These were much more impressive and larger than the other temples, they also claim to be the oldest free standing structures in the world, though the temples at Ta'Hagrat and Skorba are probably older. I enjoyed this visit much more as the temples were in a much nicer location overlooking Gozo and back to Malta, the structures were also much larger. As a quick note if you plan to visit on Sunday there are only three busses to the temples, a return taxi fare should be around 7-8 Lm (€18). The Citadel at Victoria is worth a quick look around if you are in this part of the country.
These sites are worthy of their place on the list, however I was a little disappointed by my first experience, so a visit to a few of the temple would provide a more representative idea of their worth, and also a nice way of seeing more of the country.
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5 extra Temples. Renamed also
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