Malta has been at the crossroads of the Mediterranean cultures for about seven thousands years, and has some of the most spectacular archaeological and historical sites in Europe resulting from a fascinating and complex past. The density of sites here is said to be greater than anywhere else in the World. This amazing and unique heritage together with an agreeable climate makes Malta a popular destination for culturally inspired travellers.
Evidence for the first people on the island dates back to about 7,000 years ago. These people were farmers who brought livestock with them, from the nearby island of Sicily. To begin with they inhabited caves – the cave of Ghar Dalam is open to the public.
Around 5,600 years ago the Neolithic farmers began constructing megalithic structures that have long been called ‘temples’. A number of these temples are open to the public, including Ggantija, Mnajdra and Hagar Qim, but in all there are 30 known examples – all of which are on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites. These temples are unique in European prehistory, with nothing else quite like them other than the use of large blocks of stone in their construction. As abruptly as these structures appeared on the landscape their use ended at about 4,500 years ago.
As with elsewhere in Europe the Bronze Age followed the Neolithic period. Archaeologists believe that a new group of people brought a new way of life to the island at this time, including human cremations and metal working. The Tarxien Temples were built by the Neolithic farmers, but they were used by the Bronze Age communities as a crematorium, and it is from this site that much of what we know about this period comes.
Given Malta’s geographic position as well as the natural harbours, the island was not only in a strategic location but it was good for the seafaring Phoenicians from modern-day Lebanon, who began trading right across the Mediterranean seas from about 800 BC. But it was the Carthaginians who created the first towns on the island. Following the Second Punic Wars between the Carthaginians and the Romans, Malta fell to the Romans. Just beyond the walls of Mdina is the best preserved Roman site on the island open to the public: the Domus Romana Museum.
Megalithic Temples in Malta
Of the thirty or so temples on the islands of Gozo and Malta, the temple complex at Gganjita could be said to be the most important for a number of reasons. The complex is made up of two temples side by side, both surrounded by a single boundary wall. These are the best preserved of all the Maltese temples. Despite being exceptionally well preserved, the older of the two temples here is the oldest of all the megalithic temples. The temples were built between 5,600 and 5,200 years ago … More Information
Hagar Qim Temples
The first temple complex in the Hagar Qim and Mnajdra Archaeological Park are the Hagar Qim Temples. As with the other Maltese temples, the main entrance to the temple was placed in a concave façade. Unlike the other temples, on the other side of the temple there is a second concave façade with a second entrance flanked by the usual large blocks of limestone. This large, well preserved megalithic structure, built between 5,600 and 5,200 years ago, is flanked by the remains of two other structures … More Information
Three temples make up this extraordinary temple complex – located not that far from the cliff top. The earliest of the three temples is a relatively simple one, built about 5,600 years ago. The second one, the South Temple constructed about 5,000 years ago, is aligned with the rising sun at the equinoxes and solstices. The last of the temples, the so-called Middle Temple, was built on an artificial platform sandwiched in between the earlier two temples sometime between 5,000 and 4,500 years ago. Given the presence of remains beyond these temples, it is thought they are just a part of a much larger ritual centre … More Information
Roman & Byzantine Sites in Malta
Domvs Romana Museum
In 1881, quite by chance, the remains of a Roman town house were discovered just beyond the Medieval walls of Mdina. The spectacular polychrome mosaic floors and the artefacts recovered during excavations indicate the domus belonged to a rich aristocrat. At the centre of the house is a peristyle courtyard, with a mosaic floor. This mosaic and the mosaic floors of two adjacent rooms are well preserved, and have been left on display in situ … More Information
St. Paul’s Catacombs
St. Paul’s Catacombs are the largest and most impressive of all the underground Roman cemeteries in Malta. The first burial dates to the third century BC, and the tombs continued to be used until the 4th century AD. The underground cemetery was beyond the walls of the Roman capital of Melite, present day Mdina; the Romans did not bury the dead within the city walls. While these catacombs might nothing like the scale of the underground tombs and cemeteries you can visit in Rome, they nonetheless represent the earliest and most significant archaeological evidence for Christianity in Malta … More Information
Fortifications in Malta
At the heart of modern-day Victoria, also called Rabat, and observable for miles around on the island of Gozo is the Citadel – a Medieval walled city. Beneath the imposing fortifications is a flat-topped hill has provided a natural vantage point for people since at least the Bronze Age. The strategic location also attracted the Phoenicians, but it was the Romans who first laid out a fortified city on the hill top. The impressive walls and bastions we see today are, however, much later in date. The northern walls are an original 15th century build, while the southern stretch were reconstructed during the reign of the Order of St John in their attempts to defend the town against the Turks … More Information
Archaeology Museums in Malta
National Museum of Archaeology
In the centre of the Maltese capital of Valletta, is the ‘Auberge de Provence’. Built in 1571 for the Knights of the Order of St John, this is one of the finest examples of baroque architecture in the city. Originally, the ‘auberge’ occupied the entire block and included stables and even a bakery. The idea was that in the even of a siege, the Knights would be self sufficient. The museum opened to the public in 1958. Currently the museum has permanent displays for the Neolithic, Bronze Age and the Phoenician period, with galleries for the Punic period and the Roman and Byzantine era in the pipeline … More Information
Gozo Museum of Archaeology
Housed in one of the few remaining townhouses from the seventeenth century within the Medieval Citadel is the island’s archaeology museum. Although the museum was opened in 1960 – the first public museum in Gozo, since 1986 it has been entirely dedicated to the prehistoric, classical and Medieval periods of the islands of Gozo and Comino. With artefacts from a range of sites on both Gozo and Comino, the displays focus on such topics as religion and burial, art and technology, and food and daily life over a timespan of about 5,000 years … More Information