View inside the prehistoric Tarxien Temples, Tarxien, Malta.

Tarxien Temples: This Megalithic Complex is the Height of Temple Building in Prehistoric Malta

(Read the article on one page)

A group of enormous megalithic structures stand tall in Tarxien, on the southeastern part of the main island of Malta. Called the Tarxien Temples, the huge structures remain as a testament to the architectural, artistic, and technological abilities of the ancient islanders who constructed them.

The Tarxien Temples have been dated to the Temple Period (which lies between the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age). This temple complex is one of six sites that form the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Megalithic Temples of Malta (the other five being Ġgantija, Ħaġar Qim, Mnajdra, Skorba and Ta’ Ħaġrat).

View of the Tarxien Temples megalithic complex.

View of the Tarxien Temples megalithic complex. (Frank Vincentz/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

The Largest Known Prehistoric Site in Malta

The Tarxien Temples consists of four structures built out of enormous stone blocks. It is the largest known prehistoric site in Malta. These four separate temples are connected by a square court and each of them may be accessed via separate entrances. The construction of these structures has been dated to between 3600 and 2500 BC, with a phase of re-utilization between 2400 and 1500 BC. The temples were then abandoned, only to be re-discovered during the early part of the 20th century.

Entrance to the Tarxien Temple complex in Tarxien, Malta.

Entrance to the Tarxien Temple complex in Tarxien, Malta. (Frank Vincentz/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

Whilst little survived of the Tarxien Temples when they were re-discovered, their layouts were still clearly visible. Three of the temples have a five-apse plan, whilst the Central Temple has a six-apse plan. This is unique, as it is the only known example of such a temple layout on the island. It has also been suggested that the Central Temple was the last one to be built and it represents the pinnacle of the evolution of temple architecture in pre-historic Malta.

Possible Purpose for the Megalithic Temples

It has been suggested that the Tarxien Temples were initially used for animal sacrifices. This is supported by the discovery of animal bones, tools (including a flint knife), altars, and reliefs of domestic animals.

A relief showing goats and rams at the Tarxien Temples megalith complex.

A relief showing goats and rams at the Tarxien Temples megalith complex. (Berthold Werner/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

Additionally, the presence of fertility goddess figurines indicates that the temples were dedicated to the Earth Mother, a feature shared by many other pre-historic Maltese temples. One of the figurines, dubbed the ‘Fat Lady’, depicts a woman with large hips and thighs. It is the best-known statuette found at the site. During the Bronze Age, the temples were re-used by the islanders. The discovery of human bones in the center of the South Temple, for example, suggests that the site functioned as a burial ground during that time.

The ‘Fat Lady’ statuette in the Tarxien Temple complex in Tarxien, Malta.

The ‘Fat Lady’ statuette in the Tarxien Temple complex in Tarxien, Malta. (Frank Vincentz/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

Spirals and Spheres at the Megalithic Site

Apart from the animal reliefs, the Tarxien Temples are also decorated with spirals, which is a common motif in the megalithic art of Malta. It is believed by some that spirals symbolize eternity, and therefore this was a popular motif, not only in pre-historic Malta, but also at other megalithic sites across the globe.

Stone spheres have also been found at the Tarxien Temples. These, however, served neither a ritualistic purpose nor a decorative one. Instead, these objects are believed to shed some light on the way the structures were constructed. The most widely-accepted theory is that the builders of the temples moved the massive blocks of stone by rolling them over these spheres whilst towing them with ropes.

Malta, Tarxien Temples, stone with spiral design.

Malta, Tarxien Temples, stone with spiral design. (Berthold Werner/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

Rediscovery and Conservation

The Tarxien Temples were abandoned and only re-discovered during the beginning of the 20th century. In 1913, local farmers came across some huge stone blocks whilst ploughing their fields. Archaeologists were called in, and between 1915 and 1919, the site was excavated under the direction of Sir Temistocles Zammit, the first Director of the National Museum of Archaeology in Valetta, Malta. Apart from excavating the site, Zammit also substantially reconstructed three of the four structures.

Further interventions were carried out during the 1960s, and in 2012, an elevated walkway was completed, allowing visitors to have a view the site from a higher angle. Finally, in 2015, a protective tent was constructed to shelter the site from the elements.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Aristotle’s Masterpiece Completed in Two Parts.
A perverted "sex manual" featuring shocking magical and mythical X-rated content will be sold at a UK auction next month. The first edition of this sordid book entitled Aristotle's Masterpiece Completed In Two Parts, The First Containing the Secrets of Generation, was published in London in 1684.

Myths & Legends

An illustration of Vasilisa the Beautiful, by Ivan Bilibin.
[…] In the evening the girl laid the table and began waiting for Baba-Yaga. It grew dark. The black horseman swept by and it was night. The skulls’ eyes began to shine. The trees creaked, the dead leaves crunched, the earth trembled, and there was Baba-Yaga…

Human Origins

Silhouettes (Public Domain) in front of blood cells (Public Domain) and a gene.
Most people who have the Rh blood type are Rh-positive. There are also instances, however, where people are Rh-Negative. Health problems may occur for the unborn child of a mother with Rh-Negative blood when the baby is Rh-Positive.

Ancient Technology

The Lycurgus Cup.
A strange chalice made its way into the British Museum’s collection in the 1950s. It is a 1,600-year-old jade green Roman artifact called the Lycurgus Cup. The image on the chalice is an iconic scene with King Lycurgus of Thrace...

Ancient Places

The highly-decorated tomb is built in a distinctive ‘L’ shape
A mysterious ancient tomb with “unusual and rare” wall paintings has been discovered in Egypt. Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Enany told BBC reporters the discovery of a 4,400-year-old tomb found during excavation work in Giza’s western cemetery “likely belonged to Hetpet, a priestess to Hathor, the goddess of fertility, who assisted women in childbirth.”

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article