Malta Diary Ggantija Neolithic Temples – built by a giantess who devoured broad beans and honey?
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I have heard some strange stories in my life – but this has to be one of the strangest! Last week I dealt with myths, stories from the mists of time and mysteries.
The Ggantija Neolithic Temples at Xaghra (pronounced Sha-ra) in Gozo are calculated to be at least 5,600 years old, temples that are free-standing, monumental structures, one of the earliest group of structures in the world – some others also being in Malta such as Hagar Qim (Sacred Stones) and Mnajdra, as well as various dolmens and megaliths.
Gozitan folklore has it the temples were the work of a giantess (hence the name Ggantija – as well as because of their construction from giant stones) who thrived on a huge daily intake of broad beans and honey!
Well, all I can say is that if this is the case, then I would NOT have wanted to be in the vicinity when she had her bouts of flatulence!
This is an important year for the temples because it commemorates the 40th year since the temples were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, initially a very restricted list of the world’s most precious heritage constructions, a list that also included Malta’s capital city, Valletta, and the underground Hal Saflieni Hypogeum at Tarxien.
Daphne Sant Caruana, who is the Malta Heritage Principal Curator of the Ggantija Temples, said that considering that the Maltese Islands are among the smallest in the Mediterranean and indeed the world, such early inclusions in the UNESCO World Heritage List testifies as to the richness of the Islands’ cultural heritage.
This is endorsed by the stringent selection embraced by UNESCO that primarily the authenticity of a site is well preserved and has to be considered as being of “outstanding universal value” while transcending national boundaries and being of common importance to current and future generations.
What has always been a source of great surprise and wonder to me personally is how humanity over 5,000 years ago had the engineering and scientific knowledge and capability of constructing such monumental structures, and for what reason.
It must have been a tremendous feat of skilled labour to hew out such large stones and shape them and put them into a circular formation that would stand the test of 5,600 years. Metal tools were mainly not available or sparse, what kind of material was used for ropes and pulleys and was the muscle work provided by coordinated humans or a string of horses and donkeys which must have been constantly flogged to continue their labourious pulling.
A further wonder is that the Ggantija Temples are considered to be an unique achievement in the history of humanity.
After their inclusion in the first list drawn up in 1980, UNESCO reclassified the listing as ‘The Megalithic Temples of Malta’ and together with Ggantija included Hagar Qim, Mnajdra, the Tarxien Hypogeum, Skorba and Ta’ Hagrat and declared them to be the earliest group of free-standing monumental structures in the world. More importantly, they were original in that their construction was not influenced by copying foreign structures – because there were none.
Why were they built?
What made humanity assume that its origins and existence are attributed to a higher power that propelled the sun to appear and disappear every day; that rose and lowered a moon, that changed the seasons of the year and thus had to be venerated and adored by such magnificent constructions and man had to replicate through human and animal sacrifices to appease the higher and almighty deity or deities?
The construction of the Hagar Qim Temple in Malta was so carefully engineered, its principal portals enable the penetration of the rays of the rising sun as it rises over the offshore minute island of Filfla and during the summer solstice these are perfectly in line. This is a truly unparalleled achievement considering the lack of scientific knowledge as well as of engineering.
The construction of the Ggantija Temples is thought to have been built in three separate phases. The first was the South Temple originally constructed 5,600 years ago and consists of five chambers which back in time were roofed.
Then, 400 years later the site was extended with a smaller temple known as the North Temple and contains a niche and finally a large and semi-circular forecourt was built, probably to separate the “priests” operating the temple from the common herd that gathered to witness the sacrificial rites.
In recent years the temples have been enclosed to provide greater protection from the elements, public entrance is open but carefully controlled and there are exhibition rooms with artifacts on display and from 2013 onward EU Funds have been used to renovate and refurbish the stonework against decay.
“He relishes trouble as if eating his daily bread”
A description of a litigious person who is always causing trouble by picking on every issue over which to litigate.