A Prehistoric Solar Calendar

The Hagar Qim Archaeological Park

The South temple of the Mnajdra Temples delineates equinoxes and solstices. Such temples are not only a feat in itself when it comes to architectural layout and construction but is proving to have features such as this calendar that gives us an insight to how advanced such societies were.

Mnajdra is found in an isolated position on a rugged stretch of Malta’s southern coast overlooking the isle of Fifla. It is some 500m away from Ħaġar Qim Temples.

Mnajdra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, inscribed as part of ‘The Megalithic Temples of Malta’ in the World Heritage List. They are “an outstanding example of a type of building which illustrates a significant stage in human history”.

Mnajdra temples consist of three separate buildings accessed across a common forecourt. 

The temples proudly attest the resourcefulness and skill of the prehistoric society that created such lasting monumental structures.

The forecourt is paved and has a set of interconnected holes in front of the entrance to the South Temple, similar to the ones in front of the Main temple at Ħaġar Qim.

Although the South Temple was built in the Ggantija phase (3600 – 3200 BC), pottery from the earlier Zebbug and Mgarr phases found here ...

... indicate that the area was in use prior to the construction of the temples.

The concave façade of the South Temple is oriented towards the east and is constructed in a series of vertical megaliths.

At the foot of the megaliths are horizontal stone blocks forming a bench and providing support for the uprights.

A trilithon doorway in the centre of the façade holds a threshold which was likely chosen for the particular dark crystalline vein running along its length.

The central Temple was built in the late Tarxien phase (3150 -2500BC) and is set on a terrace, at a higher level than the South Temple.

Excavations in 1910 and 1954 revealed that the Central Temple was constructed on an artificial platform, formed by piling up stones against the wall of the South Temple to level off the area over which the Central Temple was built.

The main access to this temple is through a large porthole slab, fronted by two upright slabs which form a passage in front of it. Beyond the porthole slab are two other pairs of uprights continuing the passage into the first apses.

Just to the east of the Central Temple is a smaller building with a trefoil plan. Its entrance is to the south-west and may have consisted of three doorways or openings.

Interesting finds inside this temple gives one an insight on how advanced such communities were. Not only did they have an artistic flair, but they also were one with the environment surrounding them

The taller orthostat to the left of the passage leading to the inner apses carries an engraving of a temple façade.

These twists of clay were found in apse 4 during excavations in 1910

Some finds from the Temples suggest that the people who built them had an interest in astronomy; the movement of the stars, sun and moon.

Other indications of an interest in celestial bodies are two megaliths in the East Temple which may have been used to mark observations related to the movements of the stars.

These megaliths have a series of holes drilled into their surface linked to the rising and setting of particular stars and constellations.

Time has had it toll on such monuments. The moment such precious treasures were exposed, the elements surrounding them started having a direct effect on them.  Sea spray, wind, varying temperatures, dew and humidity are natural strains that leave a mark.

Following their excavation in 1839-40, Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra were exposed to the natural elements, including rain, sun and wind which gradually wore away the megaliths.

In order to reduce the progressive deterioration of these World Heritage monuments by natural agents, a protective shelter was constructed around Mnajdra in 2009. This project benefited from EU ERDF funds within the 2004-06 Structural Funds Programme.

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