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Ġgantija temple.

The Ġgantija Temples of Gozo: A Mysterious Megalithic Complex of Maltese Giants and Dwarfs


The Ġgantija temples of the megalithic complex in Xaghra, Gozo, are one of the most important and mysterious archaeological sites in the world.

Gozo is one of three Maltese islands; Malta, Gozo, and Comino, situated just 90 kilometers (55.92 miles) south of Sicily, smack in the middle of the Mediterranean. The two main islands of Malta and Gozo are served by an hourly ferry service. Comino is the smallest of the three and is primarily a tourist destination famous for its Blue Grotto.

Ġgantija is situated on a plateau, located on the outskirts of the town of Xaghra. Many tourists flock to the town for their weekly open market and beautiful church, totally unaware of the magnificent historic site that lies just around the corner.

Investigating the Ġgantija Temples

Scientific investigations carried out comparatively recently have proven that these temples have been standing here for over 6000 years. Evidence remaining shows that originally the temples had roofs that were plastered and painted. The exact purpose for which they were built is still a mystery - although there is little doubt that they were places of worship.

Ġgantija consists of two separate temples: The South Temple (3600 BC) and the North Temple (3000 BC). The temples were excavated in 1826, though scientific excavation did not commence until around the late 1920’s.

View of the Ġgantija temple complex.

View of the Ġgantija temple complex.

The huge dimensions of the megaliths have sparked the imagination of all who behold them. It is suggested that the gigantic structures were erected during the Neolithic Age, (c. 3600-2500 BC). This would make them more than 6000 years old, some of the world's oldest free-standing structures, and of course some of the world's oldest religious structures, pre-dating the Pyramids of Egypt. (The Old Kingdom is most commonly regarded as spanning the period when Egypt was ruled by the Third Dynasty through to the Sixth Dynasty (2575 BC–2134 BC).)

This timeline also places the Ġgantija temples to about the same time as Stonehenge. Stonehenge is a Neolithic and Bronze Age monument located near Amesbury in Wiltshire, England, about 8 miles (13 km) northwest of Salisbury. I have visited Stonehenge several times since I was stationed nearby during my British Air force service in the early 50’s. It is composed of earthworks surrounding a circular setting of large standing stones, also known as megaliths. There is some debate about the age of the stone circle, but most archaeologists think that it was mainly constructed between 2500 BC and 2000 BC. The older circular earth bank and ditch which constitute the earliest phase of the monument have been dated to about 3100 BC.

To this day, locals believe that the Islands’ temples, in particular those of Ġgantija, were the work of giants! Its name, Ġgantija, is Maltese for “belonging to the giant”, bearing witness to this ancient legend.

‘Gozo (Giants’ tower)’. (Public Domain) An 1848 view of the Ġgantija megalithic temple in Gozo, Malta, from the series ‘L'Univers pittoresque.’

‘Gozo (Giants’ tower)’. ( Public Domain ) An 1848 view of the Ġgantija megalithic temple in Gozo, Malta, from the series ‘L'Univers pittoresque.’

Signs of an Earth Mother Goddess Cult

It is believed the temples were possibly the site of an Earth Mother Goddess Fertility Cult. Numerous figurines and statues have been found on-site which are believed to be connected with that cult.

A mother goddess is a goddess, often portrayed as the Earth Mother, who serves as a general fertility deity, the bountiful embodiment of the earth. As such, not all goddesses should be viewed as manifestations of the mother goddess. She ranges in Western traditions from the elegant snake-offering goddess figures of Knossos to the rock-cut images of Cybele, to Dione ("the Goddess") who was invoked at Dodona along with Zeus until late Classical times.

Early “Mother Goddess” figure at the Tarxien Temples (Malta).

Early “Mother Goddess” figure at the Tarxien Temples (Malta).

Life in the Neolithic Age

Neolithic peoples were farmers and manufacturers of tools necessary for harvesting crops and food production. They were skilled producers of a wide range of stone tools and ornaments. Neolithic peoples in Central Asia were also skillful builders, utilizing mud-brick to construct houses and villages. In Europe, houses from wattle and daub were constructed.

Unique tombs were a major part of their culture. These tombs are particularly numerous in Malta, where there are many hundreds still in existence. Neolithic people in Britain built long barrows and chamber tombs for their dearly departed.

They were skilled at finding ways of keeping food for future months and using substances like salt as preservatives. With few exceptions, the Neolithic Americans and their Pacific cousins remained at the same level of technology up until they made European contact.

Early Neolithic farming was limited to a few crops and the raising of sheep and goats. Around 7000 BC, cows and pigs were added, and the establishment of permanent or semi-permanent settlements and the use of pottery are also indicated.

Example of a Neolithic grindstone or quern for processing grain. (José-Manuel Benito/CC BY SA 2.5)

Example of a Neolithic grindstone or quern for processing grain. (José-Manuel Benito/ CC BY SA 2.5 )

The earliest farming societies in the Near East did not use pottery, and in Great Britain it remains uncertain to what extent plants were domesticated in the earliest Neolithic, or even whether permanently settled societies existed. In other parts of the world, such as Malta, North Africa, India, and Southeast Asia, Neolithic cultures appear to have arisen completely independent of those developing in Europe and Southwest Asia.

Not all of their cultural elements - like permanent villages, the farming of domestic crops, animal husbandry, and pottery appear in the same order.

Architecture of the Megalithic Complex

The temples were cloverleaf-shaped and built up with stones and filled in with rubble. Most were constructed in the form of semi-circular apses. These were connected with a hall in the center. Archaeological research has deduced that the apses were originally covered by masonry domes.

It is worth noting that no metal tools were available to the natives of the Maltese islands at the time and the wheel had not yet been introduced. Small round stones in a wide range of sizes have been found at the megalithic complex and many believe that these were used as rollers to transport the giant stone blocks used for the temples' construction, however this is a point where I differ greatly from my colleagues.

Stone spheres found at Ġgantija.

Stone spheres found at Ġgantija. (Kritzolina/ CC BY SA 4.0 )

The Ġgantija megalithic complex is surrounded by a massive common boundary wall, one of the most striking features of the entire complex. It was built using the alternating header and stretcher technique, with some of the giant megaliths exceeding five meters (16.40 ft.) in length and weighing over fifty tons.

Two views of the massive walls at the Ġgantija megalithic complex.

Two views of the massive walls at the Ġgantija megalithic complex.

The southern temple is much older and more extensive than its sister site. It is believed that the structure dates back to approximately 3600 BC. This temple, like many other megalithic sites in Malta, faces southeast. At the entrance there is a large stone block with a recess. Archaeologists have surmised that this was used as a station for purification before entering the complex.

Each temple contains five apses connected by a central corridor leading to the innermost trefoil section. The apses contain several altars and evidence of animal bones, which suggests the site was used for animal sacrifice. Images carved into the stone of goats, sheep, and pigs of both sexes give us a hint as to which animals were used by the sacrificial cult.

Several altars have been found.

The temples are built with rough, coralline limestone blocks. The older temple is larger and contains a variety of features such as altars, relief carvings, and libation holes. The second temple was built much later and is devoid of such features. Another fascinating element is the corbelling technique used on the inwardly inclined walls, proof that at one time that the temple was roofed.

Malta is, in this traveler’s experience, one of the most fascinating countries in the world, and along with Egypt and China it is a ‘must see’ destination for anyone’s bucket list! Whilst a one-day cruise stops to allow a sneak peek into the amazing architecture, the home to so many cultures over the world’s evolving history make exploring the sites and buildings an overwhelming experience deserving a much longer visit.

North Temple entrance at the Ġgantija megalithic complex, Gozo.

North Temple entrance at the Ġgantija megalithic complex, Gozo.

Top Image: Ġgantija temple. Source: Jose M. Rus/ CC BY NC ND 2.0

By Dr. Peter J. Shield PhD.

Unless otherwise stated, all images are credited to the author, Dr. Peter J. Shield PhD.

http://maltaheritage.com

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Comments

All the islands are connected by money, metal extraction and trade of the same.

Peter, I've reread this, it's a very good article. The artefacts and belief system seems to chime with the Minoan belief system. There seems to be a chain of such structures on all the metal bearing islands, going all the way from Akrotiri base, Cyprus to Iberia and onto the British Isles. I may be able to fill in some of the gaps and I suspect you may be able to fill in some more for me. The Minoan trade in tin may extend all the way to the British Isles! I found a casting stone for double axes in Cumbria! The iconography on new grange entrance stone is Minoan 'Archimedes' spirals. I fell off my chair when I saw this. The Minoans or at least the merchants with the same belief system were in the British Isles. I looked at the DNA data, the highest concentration of Minoan DNA across all Europe is in Britain! There seems to be a chain of trading islands to bring tin into the med around 2500 to 1500 BCE.

I posted this elsewhere it may give you some ideas, thoughts appreciated? Sorry it is a bit long and relates to the organisation of government, but encapsulates the belief systems, that seem relevant to the artefacts you've found at mounds/on metal bearing Malta:

Here is a seal which shows how Minoan Society was organised, it is the model that Greeks later adopted.
https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/82472236910560680/
The tree of life (society). To the right are the practical aspects of life. Ruler Lion (Minos), noting the caves which the society originally came from. The Priestess (civil servants) below, noting there are four houses. They seem to have equivalent functions to deities, organised by a mother superior (axis of the earth), with a Griffin on the altar, this is the celestial cone that the earth wobbles within due to precession, rotates backwards every 26,000 years (they would not have observed a full cycle, they would have known that the pole star North was moving 1.4 degrees every century). https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/530087818632348945/
On the left: LIFE in society. The deities represent the time of day, seasons and cardinal directions in a unified system of how the world and celestial bodies actually work. The Earth moves around its own axis once a day and around the sun once a year. It is possible Palace (Government) was organised on similar lines, with the four houses of prestresses having responsibilities for parts of a day, society tasks relating to seasons and/or geographic stations (local Governance or organising diplomatic relations/supply of commodities with trading ports). This can be seen as phases of life, probably also represent the accession into senior positions within Palace life (Government) with experience, many acolytes, some leave to marry, those that stay take on more senior roles (the Wise ones) and then assume the most senior role (in effect Secretaries of State), under Minos direction. I suspect that Greek deities MAY be referring to individual Minos. The society would be perceived as advanced and Minos could have been perceived as a god by other societies in the region – the stories the Minoans told of important people in their society may have transformed into the Greek Parthenon), they were so advanced by comparison (at the time), they brought the most advanced trade goods to port (essential – bronze tools – they controlled the supply of tin), Minos held sway over the Greeks (they couldn’t sail across the med without paying duty).
The Minoan deities (top left) are: Mother EARTH (Gaia) – North, Midnight, Winter Solstice. Her Son, the SUN, Master of [Domesticated] Animals, South, Mid-day, Summer Solstice, Apollo. Apollo’s consort VENUS, East, sun-rise, Spring Equinox. Virgin twin Sister, MOON, sunset West, Autumn Equinox, Mistress of [Wild] Animals: Artemis. The Twins look after the Circle of Animals (The Zodiac constellations, 13 Months – moon phases). Also shown here: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/420453315201842137/
The population are shown bottom left (content), marrying continuing life, some staying home, the pioneers setting up new trading colonies. In Minoan society, property almost certainly passed by the female line, there is probably a good reason for this, many of the men where at sea, the females managed the estate the sailors may not return home. There is gender equality, some of this transferred to the Spartans, but it’s taken three to four millennia for the natural order to re-establish itself again.
Notes: The reason there are so called snake priestesses (holding snakes) is to show the Mother superior’s authority as axis of the Earth pointing to the Pole star Thuban (the snake) and referencing the serpens constellation with snake bearer, next to the home constellation (Crown or bulls horns directly overhead – directly above Crete). The sisters in law generally do get confused as the moon and venus can appear at night or daybreak. These morphs into Athena and Aphrodite (birth) later. There is no mysticism of the underworld, it is just that, the Earth in shadow away from the Sun. The deities are context specific depending on whether it is the time of day, season or direction being referred to. For example, the Twins look after light (sun and moonlight), both show south (the shortest shadow at midday points directly south, Artemis arrow through the crescent points of the moons to the horizon, the same).
The Spartans adopted the idea for a professional army from the Egyptians, however, this is a Minoan concept, but is lost due to the Mycenaean invasion of Crete after Thera, the Minoans had the world first professional military. From the iconography: training camps that Minos would graduate through and another elite service: Carians (lived on Delos and another adjacent Island) that proved Marines detachments for Minos (merchant) navy – board, inspect, levy duty if foreign, they paid no tribute to Minos, they were paid by him (at a celebration to Apollo on Delos – all the islands bring payment in huge head of herds – recorded on the Santorini flotilla Fresco – the so called Ship wreck fresco (is actually part of the same fresco) shows pay day for services rendered!). Carians later changed sides to Greece (a civil war – it was this that lead to the ultimate demise of their society). Carians were accredited (later) as being the most disciplined soldiers, the Spartan tactics to fight as a military unit is from Carian teaching. They introduced battle dances (formations) and innovation of weapons (mostly armour, shields and helmet plumes). The Minoans enjoyed peace in their island home while those on the mainland fought for more land, wealth and power by conquest. It is entirely incorrect that the Minoans were entirely peaceful, they policed the Mediterranean Sea trade routes suppressing piracy, to promote Minoan ‘free’ trade between Europe, Africa and Asia. The Greek idea of Government is based on a memory of a very stable, organised and successful civilisation that preceded it and where the idea of governance to build a successful society came from. The difference is that the Minoans had a leader with a fixed term in office and civil servants to implement new policies quickly, the Greeks to an extent were held back by the infighting and politics of the assembly.
It is worth noting that a natural disaster (volcano) can wreck an advanced society and human nature when basic physiological needs are taken away (food) result in societal collapse, destroying itself. And in came the tyrant – that systematically attempted to destroy all traces of this useful philosophy to organise and safeguard the greater good. The Greek sages may have preserved some of this, but where did they get their ideas from?

Also, using the Minoan directional system, Artemis is often shown with her little hunting companion above, Britomartis, I wonder if this is a reference to a Minoan state secret, where the source of the tin is, as in west to the pillars of Hercules, then follow the coast north to Britanney or the British Isles.
Have you seen any other references to Britomartis, I can't see an obvious link in the etymology, but the names themselves seem to have a common root.

Link to the origin of Britomatis - sweet maiden, Brigit (invasion of Ireland - triple godess). https://pantheon.org/articles/b/britomartis.html
Good article on the Phoenician derivative of Brittanica (which appears is pre-roman): http://www.jrbooksonline.com/pob/pob_ch07.html
For some reason, the Phoenicians seem to swop Artemis and Venus around. I wonder if they did this to hide where key ports were, the would scupper a ship rather than be followed to the tin islands. It's curious, the early version of Britannia is associated the Sun and fire (particularly forging of metal), but all the qualities are those of Potnia Theron, that becomes Athena.

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