Malta: Mnajdra cover

Malta: Mnajdra

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Mnajdra, one of the world’s oldest stone structures, is comprised of three prehistoric temples.
Skilled craftsmen built them many centuries before the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge. Prehistoric people had truly great abilities - it seems that these temples have been planned and aligned according to the Sun, serving as a kind of calendar.





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Malta: Mnajdra

About Mnajdra

Mnajdra, one of the world’s oldest stone structures, is comprised of three prehistoric temples.

Skilled craftsmen built them many centuries before the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge. Prehistoric people had truly great abilities - it seems that these temples have been planned and aligned according to the Sun, serving as a kind of calendar.

Mnajdra

Mnajdra

TPHolland

(CC BY 2.0)

Advanced Prehistoric Culture

Around the year 5200 BC, skilled farmers with unknown origins arrived in Malta. They were not the first people on the islands.

Earlier hunter/gatherers could not survive on these small islands after they extirpated the exotic animals that had inhabited the islands and then disappeared.The prehistoric farmers of Malta were more successful and developed a local culture that for some time was more advanced than other known cultures of the world.

They created some of world's oldest stone structures and we can only wonder: how could they make such sophisticated buildings with their limited resources and prehistoric technologies?

Construction of the unique temples in Malta started around 3600 BC and abruptly ended around 2500 BC - 2400 BC due to unknown reasons.

Lower Temple

Lower Temple

Such structures were created long before Stonehenge and Egyptian Pyramids.

Steve Deeves

(CC BY 2.0)

Temples at the Harbor?

The original number of prehistoric temples in Malta is unknown due to the fact that some may have been lost.

However six complexes of these amazing structures have been preserved in comparatively good shape have been included in theUNESCO World Heritage list since 1992 (Ggantija - since 1980). One of them, the best preserved, is Mnajdra.

Five to six thousand years ago the sea level of the Mediterranean was somewhat lower than now and this made a suitable place for a harbor. Thus prehistoric seafarers witnessed a dramatic view upon arrival to Malta with the impressive temple on the cliff towering above the harbor.

Protective Tent

Protective Tent

Temples with a view of the sea. Protective tent is more than 70 M wide.

The Mnajdra temples are located near the rim of a seaside cliff at the southern coast of Malta. Exactly opposite, across the water some 5 kilometres from the temple is the small Filfla island but just some 500 m from Mnajdra is another outstanding prehistoric temple complex - Ħaġar Qim.

Frank Vincentz

(CC BY-SA 3.0)

Three Structures

Mnajdra consists of three closely located, although separate, structures - the upper, middle and lower temple.

Each structure has its own build time and architecture but together they form a typical example of prehistoric Maltese temples - in plan they look similar to a cloverleaf. To the east from the three temples are smaller chambers of unknown function.

There are no written sources about the origin and use of these structures but many finds testify that these were temples. Stone knives and rope holes for sacrificial animals have been found at the site as well as bones of animals and other cult related items. The site contains no traces of human burials.

Three Structures (cont.)

The temples have been made from coralline limestone, a much harder material than in the nearby Ħaġar Qim, which is made mostly from the soft globigerina limestone.

In general the harder coralline limestone was used for the structure of temples while the softer globigerina limestone was used for interiors, decorations. Arches were not invented in these times and roofing was created either by corbels made from smaller stones or posts and lintels from enormous stone slabs.

The construction date of Mnajdra is unverified. Archaeologists here have relied on structural similarities between the Mnajdra temples and similar temples with known age in other areas of Malta.

Model Of Mnajdra Temples

Model Of Mnajdra Temples

Upper Temple to the right, Lower Temple to the left, and Middle Temple – in the middle.

Shadowgate

(CC BY 2.0)

Upper Temple

This is the oldest of the temples, built in the Ggantija phase, between 3600 and 3000 BC. This temple has three apses - three semicircular rooms.

One can enter in this temple through an interesting megalithic feature - a large stone slab with a door cut in it, as though it was a piece of butter. Such entrance doors are typical for prehistoric temples in Malta. Its vaulted ceiling was resting on pillar stones. Small walls have been reconstructed, but the upright stones are original.

Middle Temple

This is the newest temple... if one can say "newest" about a structure that was built between 3000 and 2500 BC. This temple has been formed from slabs, which were covered with large, horizontal stone blocks.

The entrance area had an impressive 3 m tall stone slab (now broken) with a door hewn into it. On the left wall of the passage is a very interesting engraving which shows the temple as it looked from the facade.

Lower Temple

This temple was built in the early Tarxien phase, between 3150 and 2500 BC but parts of it could be older, even before 3600 BC. This could be the most impressive megalithic structure in Malta.

The enormous forecourt has authentic stone benches - just the same as when people may have sat on them six thousand years ago.

The entrance passage was covered with stone slabs, one of which is still standing. It is possible that the roof of this structure was domed, made from corbelled stones. The inner structures have been largely restored.

Engraving

Engraving

Engraving with the ancient Middle Temple

Dr. Zoidberg

(CC BY-SA 2.0)

Middle Temple (cont.)

This temple has some exciting features. Some stones are decorated with spiral carvings and dots, and some monoliths are covered with hundreds of closely located dots.

These dots are linked to another peculiarity, it seems that prehistoric people aligned this temple astronomically. During the spring and autumn equinox, the sun shines through the main doorway along a major axis of the temple. During the solstices the sun shines on the edges of megaliths on both sides of the doorway.

And, in regards to the dots, one stone pillar in the temple has numerous small dots in a row as if somebody has been counting days between equinoxes. There are 179 (with possible two more) dots in one line - as many days as between equinoxes.

Recent History

Mnajdra is one of the historic symbols of Malta and is depicted on Maltese coins of 1, 2 and 5 cents.

The temples have been explored since 1840 with numerous scientific articles and even books published about Mnajdra and we can be sure that there will be many more in the future.

Sad and unusual events took place here on 13th April 2001. Unknown people vandalized the temple during the night: some 60 stones of the Middle Temple and Lower Temple were toppled and damaged with crowbars as well as covered with graffiti and crosses drawn with chalk.

It is possible that an occult sect, possibly under the full moon of Good Friday, the 13th, committed this crime.

Stone Pillar With Rows of Dots

Stone Pillar With Rows of Dots

Possible number of days between equinoxes

(Tony Hisgett)

(CC BY 2.0)

Recent History (cont.)

Happily with modern restoration technologies including use of reversible hydraulic lime the stones have been restored.

This incident raised a discussion that the unique Maltese temples should be closed to the public but nevertheless in 2002 the temple was reopened for visitors.

Between 2007-2009 protective tents were built over Mnajdra and the nearby Ħaġar Qim to protect them from the damaging elements of sunlight, direct heat, wind and rain.

Main Characteristics

Coordinates: 35.8267 N 14.4363 E

No: 497 (list of all attractions)

Category: Prehistoric and ancient shrines, Megaliths

Values: Archaeology, Visual

Rank: 2

Address: Europe, Malta, Southern Region, south-west from Qrendi, at the southern coast

Age: Before (?) 3,600 - 2,500 BC

Culture: Ggantija phase of prehistoric Maltese

UNESCO World Heritage status: Part of "Megalithic Temples of Malta", 1980 (extension in 1992), No.132bis