Where giants dare to build

Ġgantija Temples

According to local Gozitan folklore, a giantess who ate nothing but broad beans and honey bore a child from a man of the common people. With the child hanging from her shoulder, built these temples and used them as places of worship

Temple complex
The Ġgantija temple complex is a unique prehistoric monument, situated at the centre of an extraordinary archaeological landscape, the Xagħra plateau on the island of Gozo.

The oldest part of this complex dates to 3600BC, thus making it one of the earliest free-standing man-made structures in the world.

It represents a remarkable achievement in the history of mankind and its global importance is reflected in its UNESCO World Heritage status.

The Site

The name Ġgantija derives from the word ġgant, the Maltese word for giant as the site was commonly associated with a race of giants.

The pathway linking the Interpretation Centre to the temple site is considered a significant part of the Ġgantija Heritage Park experience.

Besides providing a physical link, the pathway, which is immersed in the open landscape, instills a sense of anticipation that grows as one nears the Neolithic ruins.

The construction of the prehistoric monuments was likely a response to the natural landscape in which they were immersed.

The hard-wearing coralline limestone is used extensively at Ġgantija, and is one of the reasons behind the preservation of the monument.

The softer Globigerina limestone is reserved for inner furnishings such as doorways, altars and decorative slabs. Each temple consists of a number of apses flanking a central corridor.

There is evidence of the internal walls having been plastered and painted over, as proven by two plaster fragments with red ochre.

Notwithstanding its age, the monument survives in a considerably good state of preservation.

This is evident in the boundary wall which encloses the two temples, and which is built in rough coralline limestone blocks.

Some of the megaliths exceed five metres in length and weigh over fifty tons.

Remains of animal bone suggest some sort of ritual involving animal sacrifice.

The use of fire is evidenced by the presence of stone hearths. A number of libation holes in the floor may have been used for the pouring of liquid offerings.

It is probable that during ceremonial activities, the congregation would have assembled outside the temple complex, since the large forecourt in front of the two temples was purposely raised by the same temple builders.

The northeast end of the temple facade survives to a lesser height

The smooth globigerina limestone of the door of the North Temple contrasts with the rougher and greyer coralline limestone of the facade and external walls

The larger of the two temples, Ġgantija south, comprises a five-apsed unit, differing slightly from the North Temple in which the central apse is reduced to the size of a modest niche

Interpretation

The Ġgantija temples seem to have been focal places for ancient ritual.

The architectural layout of the temples and features found within them indicate that these were places where the community gather to follow or perform rituals.

The Ġgantija temples captured the interest and imagination of various communities. From legends to folktales, from poetry to paintings, local and foreign visitors have commented on this site that left an imprint on their emotive and artistic expression.

Each comment is indicative of the changing world they are emanating from. The common factor is the site itself.

Despite the colossal surge of information and knowledge about the Temple period, generated primarily by the 20th century archaeological excavations of the megalithic prehistoric monuments of Malta, little was said on the temple-builders’ daily habits and domestic environment.

Current archaeological investigations on the Maltese Islands are now focusing primarily on these previously overlooked but crucially important themes, in a bid to acquire more intimate knowledge of the people behind the impressive monuments.

Discoveries

Archaeological evidence suggests that artistic representation reached its peak in the Tarxien phase (3150 – 2500BC), The Tarxien phase ceramic sherd was discovered in the Ġgantija terrace wall in 1954.

Transportation of megaliths to the temples’ construction site could have employed a variety of solutions. The remains of Globigerina stone spheres at a number of temples sites, including Ġgantija, indicate that they might have somewhat assisted transportation.

Conservation and Interpretation

The main aim of the ERDF co-financed Ġgantija project is to provide an enhanced experience to the thousands of visitors who are drawn to the Ġgantija Temples UNESCO World Heritage Site every year.

The project included the construction of an interpretation centre providing visitors with an insight into the islands’ Neolithic heritage.

Entrance to the Ġgantija Temples is from a newly constructed Interpretation Centre that provides visitors with the opportunity to explore various aspects related to life in the Neolithic.

The centre is also home to a selection of the most significant finds discovered at various prehistoric sites in Gozo.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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