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The Stone Temples of Malta

The stone temples of Malta, built 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, are the oldest human-made monuments in the world. Over time they’ve partially crumbled, but the immense structures remain. Now they are protected, entrance fees are charged, and parts are off limits to the public.**

statue of a woman at Tarxien one of the stone temples of Malta
Remnants of a stone statue of a woman at Tarxien

The Stone Temples of Malta

Tarxien is the most recent temple (3300 BCE) and the most elaborate. Inside the entrance is the lower half of a female figure with a pleated or striped skirt and immense legs; if she were whole she would stand 8 feet tall. She is a replica of a sculpture in Valletta’s Museum of Archaeology, and probably represents the goddess of abundance and fertility.

monument at Gaantija

My friend and I took the ferry to Gozo to see Ggantija, two now-roofless structures with curved chambers, altars and niches. Holes in the stone might have been used for libations of wine or water, or perhaps blood, though the people were likely peaceable — there are no traces of weapons or defenses.

The ancient site of Hagarqim, one of the stone temples of Malta
The ancient site of Hagarqim

Hagar Qim is a hilltop ruin that invites meditation, with the scent of wildflowers wafting over the stones. At Mnajdra, another curved temple, the sun’s rays fall directly on the altar at the solstices. The sites may have been dedicated to childbirth, ceremonies to the Mother Goddess, astronomical observations — or all those and more.

The site of Hypogeum, one of the stone temples of Malta
The site of Hypogeum

To me, the most impressive structure is the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum. If you can visit only one place on Malta, make it this one. The sacred burial site, dating back to Neolithic times, was discovered in 1902. More than 7,000 skeletons were found in the underground complex of chambers carved to resemble the temples. Only 80 visitors a day are allowed into the Hypogeum. You should purchase tickets at least a month in advance, and you can order them online at Malta Ticket. You can learn more about these and other temples at Heritage Malta.

 Casa Rocca Piccola in Valletta
Casa Rocca Piccola in Valletta

All is not ancient history on Malta. Tourists come to scuba dive, swim in a blue grotto, jet-ski, take harbor cruises, and, for somewhat more recent history, tour Casa Rocca Piccola. The Casa, in Valletta, is the beautifully furnished home of the Marquis de Piro, and the marquis himself guides visitors through.

Malta has quaint churches and celebrates dozens of festivals, and Valletta has lively outdoor cafes and several good restaurants. My friend and I feasted on fresh fish and pears in wine and cream at Ristorante Giannini (great, though expensive) and tasted the tiny, delicious Maltese olives. We snacked on another national specialty, pastizzi, flaky pastries wrapped around peas or ricotta cheese.

Valletta, the main city in Malta
Valletta, the main city in Malta

Malta, on the euro, has hotels that cover a broad price range. The Hilton St. Julian, overlooking a yacht marina, is a 294-room luxury resort.

In the bayside town of Qawra, on the north end of Malta, the 4-story, 28-room Park Lane Aparthotel gets high praise from guests. They say the service is excellent and prices reasonable (and since the owners also own “Popeye’s Village,” guests get a discount on the entrance fee! The Village is the set for the film starring Robin Williams, but now it’s a theme park with rides for the kids.)

Restaurants that travelers favor include Paparazzi, on St. Julian Bay, which has outdoor terraces; the small and more expensive Peperoncina; and Wiji’s for views over Bolutta Bay and excellent seafood. Other raves go to romantic Girasole, with a great harbor view and traditional Maltese dishes on the menu, and to the small and local Da Pippo, in Valletta.

Written by Marilyn McFarlane for

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