Amazing architecture in Prehistoric Malta

National Museum of Archaeology, Malta

An overview of the major architectural and artistic achievements from 3500 to 2500BC

Until the 1880s, scholars attested that these temples dated to the Phoenician period. This was probably due to the fact that no similar buildings in the Mediterranean could be remotely compared to these megalithic structures.

Pottery identification dates these megalithic structures to ca. 3600 – 2500 BC, nowadays known as ‘The Temple Period’.

Architecture
From 3500 to 2500BC, the islands of Malta and Gozo saw a major change in the structures that were being built. The architecture of these monuments are a unique achievement.

These megalithic structures are considered to be the world’s first free standing stone monuments and are for this reason listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Due to their monumentality the reason for such buildings was certainly one of great importance and their size suggests they were not built for domestic use.

The large forecourt suggests that some communal activities were held there.

It is very evident that these temples were very carefully planned before being built with such stability to last for generations.

Some artefacts attest to these planning phases and show what seem to be architect’s plans, made from clay or stone.

It is likely that the temple plans developed from the rock cut tombs concept. The apses of the earlier temples resemble single or double tomb chambers ...

... later evolving into three apses ...

... and four apses.

The most complex temple is that of Tarxien Temples.

A number of experiments have been carried out to figure how these temples were built. Quarried stone was transported on site probably on stone rollers aided by logs and directed, pushed or pulled by men.

The megaliths were probably put in place by means of earth ramps which would be dismantled and mounted to accommodate the next block.

Materials and Tools
The megalithic temples were built using the local stone. The majority of the temples are built out of Globigerina limestone which is a soft stone which can be carved with relative ease. 

All the decorated stone blocks were carved out of this stone. At times the Upper Coralline limestone was used. The latter stone is harder and therefore not as susceptible to weathering.

Tools at this time were made out of stone, wood or bone. Metal was not yet available but this lack of resources certainly did not hinder the creativity of these prehistoric people.

A small temple model from Ta’ Hagrat shows a roofed-over temple. When the temples were excavated none of them had a roof.

It is possible that the roof was made of wood which is a perishable material, or else of stone which was re-utilised prior to the temples being buried under the soil, as they were found.

The partially corbelled roof and horizontal slabs bring to mind the interior of the underground Hal Saflieni Hypogeum.

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