maandag 12 maart 2012

Malta, Megalithic Temples of Malta

Seven megalithic temples are found on the islands of Malta and Gozo, each the result of an individual development. The two temples of Ggantija on the island of Gozo are notable for their gigantic Bronze Age structures. On the island of Malta, the temples of Hagar Qin, Mnajdra and Tarxien are unique architectural masterpieces, given the limited resources available to their builders. The Ta'Hagrat and Skorba complexes show how the tradition of temple-building was handed down in Malta.

The monuments that make up this World Heritage site constitute the most characteristic examples of structures representing a major development in the cultural as well as the artistic and technological domains. Professor Lord Renfrew (Cambridge University), one of the leading prehistorians of the present day, has described the group of megalithic temples on the islands of Malta and Gozo as 'the oldest free-standing monuments in the world'. They are, moreover, remarkable for their diversity of form and decoration.
Being among the remarkable megalithic temples of the Maltese archipelago, the prehistoric ensemble of Ġgantija on the island of Gozo may be favourably compared with the three great temples of the island of Malta: Mnajdra, Ħagar Qim and Tarxien. Within a completely preserved enclosure wall, Ġgantija consists of two temples of multi-foil plan.

The southern temple, with its two elliptical cells, is the oldest; the northern temple, which is small in size, is more recent, although no later than 2200 BC. The ensemble of Ġgantija which serves as a point of archaeological reference - the 'Ġgantija Phase' (c. 3000-2200 BC) is one of the most important periods of the Maltese Bronze Age. The complex structure of the cultural group of Ġgantija, the excellent state of preservation of its materials - hard chalky coralline and the softer globigerina limestone - make it an excellent testament of megalithic prehistoric art.
Ħagar Qim and Mnajdra, although in the same tradition as the Ġgantija temples, are in no way duplicates of them. Each of these complexes is the result of a separate individual development, differing greatly in plan and articulation, as well as in constructional techniques, from Ġgantija and from each other. Both illustrate full mastery of the use of globigerina limestone for orthostats and for the regular courses of corbelling above in the interiors, in contrast to the rough boulders used in Ġgantija South. Each complex has to be ranked as a unique architectural masterpiece which would be immensely impressive at any date, given the very limited resources of the builders, but is quite staggering when taken with the extraordinarily early dates now attributed to them.

The same considerations hold for the Tarxien complex, except that it is considerably less well preserved than the others. It too is the product of individual development and displays some architectural features not found elsewhere. It is also unique in the wealth of elaborate carved ornament found there (although all this has unfortunately had to be removed from the site for protection), and the lower half of an extraordinary colossal stone figure. Another point is that because it is the only one of the monuments of this scale that has been regularly excavated and reported on, much more is known about what kind of use was made of it than of the others. The elaborate rituals to which the temples are testimony are a very remarkable manifestation of the human spirit, especially on a remote island at such an early date.
Ta' Ħaġrat offers the best preserved example of a temple with the early trefoil plan, plus the poorly preserved remains of what is assumed to be the earliest type of all. The former, although on a much smaller scale than the above monuments, would be considered remarkable for its date if they were not available for comparison. Its chief importance is as evidence of the development of the tradition, rather than in its own right, and this applies even more so, of course, to the smaller and earlier unit.
Both Ta' Ħaġrat and Skorba are significant mainly in terms of the information they provide about the development of the temple tradition in Malta. They are both essential to the proper understanding of the great masterpieces.

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