Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Day 4 Malta

Today Maree and I caught the bus to catch the ferry to Gozo. Due to a flat tire breakdown we missed the connecting ferry and arrived in Gozo to see the temples at 11.30am.

Views of Gozo

Views of Comio Island and the amazing blue waters there

Perched on the crest of the hill to the south of Xagħra, the megalithic Ġgantija Temples command a splendid view over most of southern Gozo and beyond to Comino and Malta. As the name implies (ġgantija – dje-gant-ee-ya – means 'giantess'), these are the largest of the megalithic temples found on the Maltese Islands – the walls stand over 6m high, and the two temples together span over 40m. The site consists of two temples dating back to between 3600 and 3200 B.C.

The name Ġgantija derives from the word ġgant, the Maltese word for giant as the site was commonly associated with a race of giants. This is evident in the boundary wall which encloses the two temples, and which is built in rough coralline limestone blocks. Some of the megaliths exceed five metres in length and weigh over fifty tons.

The hard-wearing coralline limestone is used extensively at Ġgantija, and is one of the reasons behind the preservation of the monument. The softer Globigerina limestone is reserved for inner furnishings such as doorways, altars and decorative slabs. Each temple consists of a number of apses flanking a central corridor. There is evidence of the internal walls having been plastered and painted over, as proven by two plaster fragments with red ochre, now preserved at the Gozo Museum of Archaeology.

Remains of animal bone suggest some sort of ritual involving animal sacrifice. The use of fire is evidenced by the presence of stone hearths. A number of libation holes in the floor may have been used for the pouring of liquid offerings. It is probable that during ceremonial activities, the congregation would have assembled outside the temple complex, since the large forecourt in front of the two temples was purposely raised by the same temple builders.

Both temples face towards the southeast, and both have five semicircular niches within. The south temple (on the left) is the older, and is entered across a huge threshold slab with four holes at each side, thought to be for libations. The first niche on the right contains an altar with some spiral decoration – there was once a pillar here with a snake carved on it, but the pillar now lives in Victoria's Archaeology Museum. The left-hand niche in the inner chamber has a well-preserved trilithon altar; on the right is a circular hearth stone and a bench altar. Each temple consists of five apses connected by a central corridor that leads to the innermost trefoil section.

The outer wall of the later north temple complex is particularly impressive in scale. The largest of the megaliths measures 6m by 4m and weighs around 57 tonnes, and the wall may originally have stood up to 16m tall – it's incredible to contemplate how these huge stones were put in place, brought here from around a kilometre away.

In addition to being the oldest, the Gjantija temples are the most complete shrine complexes on Malta. The two temples cover a total of 10,000 square feet. They are surrounded by a common wall, which reaches up to 17 feet, and they share a forecourt. The large common forecourt may have been where congregations gathered to attend rituals, while the inner rooms of the temple were reserved for the priestess.
Round in shape and containing statues of full-figured goddesses, the Ggantija temples were dedicated to the Great Earth Mother, a goddess of fertility and included an oracle as at the much-later Temple of Apollo at Delphi. A priestess prophesied while in a trance, possessed by the spirit of the goddess. Ggjantija also seems to have been a place to pray for healing. The site was a place of pilgrimage for the ancient inhabitants of Malta and drew pilgrims from across the island and even from North Africa and Sicily.

Cow Toe Bones carved to form figurines

Goddess figurines carved in limestone found in Xaghra Circle as were the cow toe figures above

Seated pair of goddesses also found in the circle.

Figurine from behind

According to an ancient legend, the temple walls were built in one day and one night by a female giant named Sunsuna, who did it while nursing a baby. Ggantija is Maltese for "giant's grotto."

The Ggjantija complex is characterized by round, curved architecture, reflecting a powerful, full-figured Mother Goddess. The two shrines themselves suggest the body of the Earth Mother, with broad hips and full breasts. The ritual rooms are round, and it is thought that the priestess entered symbolically into her Mother's womb and returned reborn. The temples were roofed with great domes, painted in red on the inside.

Many of the doorway slabs have round holes carved in them. The purpose of these is uncertain, but they may have held wooden rods on which fabric was draped to create curtains or screens. More holes can be seen in some floor slabs, but these do not go all the way through and were almost certainly libation holes for holding liquid offerings.

The altars in the larger temple are trilithons; that is, made of three stones to form a vertical surface. There is evidence of animal sacrifice on these altars, most of which have been reconstructed. Another interesting feature is the evidence of a sacred fire - a stone hearth, some paving stones of which have been reddened by fire, can be seen on the floor of the inner right-hand niche of the larger temple.

A few artefacts have been found at the site, which are now displayed in the national museum. They include a small clay figure of a full-figured sleeping goddess that was found in an egg-shaped chamber. Some architectural decoration can still be seen in its original position in the temple, including three stone blocks with spiral carvings and several stones with decorative pitting.

Approaching the temples from the rear

The entrance to the smaller temple

One of the libation holes at the temple entrance

Looking back out the entrance from within the smaller temple

Looking from the first chambers into the central chamber of the first temple

The front of the first temple

Entering the second larger temple

Libation stone at the entrance of the second larger temple

Here you can see the pitted carving in the stones

Looking back at the entrances to the two temples

Last views of the back of the temples as we leave this sacred site

After seeing the temples we went to see the windmill and then went to catch a bus to Victoria for lunch and the see the museum. We waited an hour and the bus did not come and we caught the next bus into the town of Victoria which was so lovely with ornate decorations across the streets and beautiful pillars along the street. We found somewhere to have a late lunch before heading to see the Museum.

Unfortunately at present the sail is under restoration

The Gozo Museum of Archaeology illustrates the cultural history of Gozo from prehistoric times to the early modern period. Covering themes like burial, religion, art, food and daily life, making use of material from various archaeological sites in Gozo.

Goddess figures in the museum would fit in the palm of the hand

I could not get over the size of these goddess figures about the size of a thimble

A glass jar from the 1st – 2nd century AD used as a funerary urn – olla.

The Cittadella, also known as the Citadel, is a small fortified city and citadel which lies in the heart of Victoria on the island of Gozo. The area has been inhabited since the Bronze Age.

The Cathedral within the Citadel.

The medieval enceinte.

The streets of Victoria are beautifully decorated with lights over the street etc

We then went to see the folklore museum before catching the bus back to the ferry and crossing to Malta to return home. All the passengers rush off the ferry and stand together at the bus stop no matter the bus they wish to catch. Due to the numbers of people that cross on the ferry there are not enough buses to transport everyone and the pushing to get on the buses was truly something that I have never experienced before and so dangerous. Maree and I did manage to get on board we were some of the lucky ones.

We returned to the unit after a quick dinner so exhausted, the heat and the sun are so all consuming it is really hard to walk all day and see the sites and have an energy left at the end of the day.

Last views of Gozo as we sail back to Malta.

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