Knossos, Crete: View of the North Gate Fresco

Forsaken by their Gods, Four Ruins of the Oldest Temples in the World


On Orkney, the archipelago of the north coast of Scotland, ancient temple sites such as the Ness of Brodgar and Barnhouse Settlement, stone circles like Ring of Brodgar and Standing Stones of Stennes, were built between 3200 BC and 2500 BC. Being born and raised in the region of the earliest outdoor temples in the world, inspired historian Ashley Cowie to take a look at four of the oldest temple structures in the world.

Ashley Cowie at The Ring of Brodgar Neolithic henge and stone circle located about 6 miles (9.6 kilometers) north-east of Stromness on the Mainland, the largest island in Orkney, Scotland. This stone temple is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. (Image: Ashley Cowie)

Ashley Cowie at The Ring of Brodgar Neolithic henge and  stone circle  located about 6 miles (9.6 kilometers) north-east of Stromness on the Mainland, the largest island in Orkney, Scotland. This stone temple is part of the  UNESCO World Heritage Site  known as the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. (Image: Ashley Cowie)

The word ‘temple’ is derived from the Latin templum which dates to around the 6th century and was used to describe a structure built for religious or spiritual activities ranging from worship, prayer and meditation to animal sacrifices. The templum was a delineated sacred space managed by a priest (or augur) and thought of as a spiritually charged location offering the devoted a broadband connection with heaven, god, gods and spirits. The designs of temples are wide and diverse and dispersed across the ancient world.

The entrance to the northern Ġgantija temple in Gozo. The megalithic ceremonial temples were centers of fertility rites. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The entrance to the northern Ġgantija temple in Gozo. The megalithic ceremonial temples were centers of fertility rites. ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Ggantija Temple, Malta

Located high on a hill on the island of Gozo, on the Xagħra plateau, are the earliest megalithic temples in Malta, which pre-date Egypt’s pyramids and Britain’s Stonehenge by over a thousand years. The temples on Malta are among the oldest in Europe and the Ggantija (Giants' Tower) prehistoric ‘twin’ temple complex was constructed from 3600 to 3000 BC within a boundary wall, and are among the world's second oldest existing manmade religious structures. Numerous figurines and statues indicate that the temples were used by a fertility cult. According to Gozitan folklore, a giantess who ate nothing but broad beans and honey conceived a child with a human man and with the child hanging from her shoulder, she built these temples and used them as places of worship.

A view of the Ġgantija megalithic temple in Gozo, Malta, from the series L'Univers pictoresque. Augustin François Lemaître - Marie-Lan Nguyen (2013). (Public Domain).

A view of the Ġgantija megalithic temple in Gozo, Malta, from the series  L'Univers pictoresque . Augustin François Lema ître - Marie-Lan Nguyen  (2013). (Public Domain ).


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 Ashley Cowie  is a Scottish historian, author and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems, in accessible and exciting ways. His books, articles and television shows explore lost cultures and kingdoms, ancient crafts and artifacts, symbols and architecture, myths and legends telling thought-provoking stories which together offer insights into our shared social history .

Top Image: Knossos, Crete: View of the North Gate Fresco (Image: Micki Pistorius)

By Ashley Cowie

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