The Ggantjia Temples

27 Apr

When discovered in 1840, historians believed that these two massive Neolithic temples must have been built by giants, ggantjia. The find was of tremendous archaeological significance as Ggantjia was established on the island of Gozo before Stonehenge, somewhere between 3600 and 3200 BC.

In the mid- to late 19th century those of sufficient means took ” The Grand Tour.”  The Grand Tour was the traditional trip of Europe undertaken by mainly upper class, well-educated Europeans. It was considered necessary for one to develop the mind and expand knowledge of the world to complete a classical education. No tour was considered complete without the trip to remote Malta to see the Neolithic temples. Chief among these temples were those at Ggantjia. Then it was common for visitors to carve their name and the date of their visit in the soft limestone rock of the temple walls. Those marks are still visible today.

The monumental nature of the ruins impressed all who visited. In fact many visitors took the largest limestone blocks, sculpture, pottery and altars away with them as souvenirs. By the 1920s little was left of the temples’ structure. It is only through the drawings in extant journals of many of the travellers that we are able to see aspects of the original temple ruins as they were found. Today the remaining walls are reinforced to avoid further erosion of the stones. And the site is protected to prevent loss of even more of its history.

The decorative and functional rock dimples found in other temples in Malta are found in Ggantjia. The depressions were made by the excruciating process of using a pointed stone fragment to laboriously drill small circular depressions in the rock. Among the sculptures found on the site were those of the corpulent, big-thighed goddesses used in ritual fertility ceremonies.

Altars found throughout the temple were likely to be used for animal sacrifice. Though more than one poet has intimated there may have been human sacrifice of virgins for a bountiful harvest and the continued good fortune of the community. Little is known definitively about the people of Ggantjia as there are no written remnants of the culture. Even the conditions that caused the culture’s downfall are unknown.

Today Ggantjia sits in a populated residential area. The contrast between the old and the new is jarring. Only through the intervention of the Malteze government and the designation of Ggantjia as a UNESCO World Heritage Site have the temples finally found protection to match their historical significance.

 

2 Responses to “The Ggantjia Temples”

  1. maryl@richtravis.com April 27, 2017 at 12:58 pm #

    Just when I think there can’t possibly be more historical sites to visit on the island, you find more to share. Such a fascinating place. Love taking this journey with you.

    • Jill April 27, 2017 at 1:00 pm #

      Ideas for next year?

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