Sunday, 9 August 2015

Malta Day 2

It seems fitting that today we started with the oldest temples on the island, we first visited the powerful star gate temple of Skorba.

The site of Skorba lies in the hamlet of Żebbiegħ, on the outskirts of Mġarr, overlooking the nearby valley and providing a spectacular view of the surrounding landscape.

The excavation of the site was important in providing evidence of village habitation on Malta in the period between 4500 and 4100 BC (earlier than the temple-building period), now known as the Skorba Phase. Fragments of pottery and figurines found on the site are displayed in the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta.

Remains of several domestic huts, in which the prehistoric temple builders used to dwell. Some structures date from before the Temple Period (i.e. before 3600 BC), and therefore, are amongst the oldest constructed structures on the Maltese Islands.

This temple was discovered in 1925 by Sir Temi Zammit, Malta’s first director of museums. Remains were first discovered in Mgarr after a mound of earth was sighted in a field.   It was called Ta’ Hagrat and as with Malta’s other temples, which are generally found in pairs, this too had a partner - Skorba temple lying just one kilometre away.

The site was thought to be of minor importance even though distinctive pottery was found.  In the early 60s however, further work was carried out by David Trump - curator of archaeology between 1958 and 1963 at the then National Museum of Malta - who uncovered a unique find:  a small model of a temple made from limestone (right).

He dated the larger temple between 3600 and 3000 BC while the smaller one at 3300 and 3000 BC. A flight of steps between the two temples is thought to have provided access to an oracle hole at ceiling level in the inner apse of the larger temple. Skorba was excavated in the 1960s.
Although the temple is now greatly dilapidated, the Menhir still stands directly in front of the entrance.

At Skorba, a typical three-apsed temple was built in the Ggantija phase (3600 – 3200 BC), replacing a village that had been inhabited since the Ghar Dalam phase (5000 – 4300 BC). Remains include the stone paving of the entrance passage, with perforations to carry libation offerings, the torba floors of the apses, a 3.90 metre high slab of coralline limestone, and a step covered with pitted decoration.

The use of globigerina limestone in the construction of the doorway leading to the inner apse of the West temple is noteworthy since globigerina is not present in the immediate surface geology around Skorba. The nearest source is about a mile away. To transport blocks weighing more than one tonne across a mile of open country must have been an extraordinary feat.

 A second temple was added to the east in the Tarxien phase (3150 – 2500 BC). It was in a more ruinous state when found, but originally consisted of four apses and a central niche.

Skorba was occupied long before the temples were built. The earliest structure identified on the site is an almost straight length of wall, of which 11m were exposed. This was dated to the Ghar Dalam phase (5000 – 4300 BC). Among the domestic waste found on its north side, which included charcoal and carbonised grain, were several fragments of daub, accidentally baked. In the field east of the Tarxien phase temple, a much more extensive structure came to light. It consisted of two rooms dated to the Red Skorba phase (4400 – 4100 BC). The irregularity of the floors and the absence of hearths seem to preclude the site’s domestic use. The group of figurines found in the northern room, now on display at the National Museum of Archaeology, suggest that this building had a religious function. It may be considered then a true predecessor of the temples which first appeared some centuries later.

We then walked to see Ta Hagrat temple, set in the heart of Mġarr, a village in Northwest Malta, and smaller than most other sites of a similar nature, Ta’ Ħaġrat is home to two well-preserved structures. The site was excavated between 1923 and 1926 with some other minor interventions in 1953 and in the 1960s. The larger of the two buildings dates from the earliest phases of megalithic construction – the Ġgantija phase (3600 – 3200 BC).

This structure has a monumental doorway and semi circular facade which give the site two of its most awe-inspiring and renowned characteristics. This leads into a rectangular central court that in turn leads to three semi-circular rooms, one on each side. Other features include a bench, running along the facade’s length, as well as a courtyard, measuring approximately 2.5m by 4.5m, surrounded by a raised stone kerb. This space, accessible through the entrance corridor of the temple, provides access to three chambers through megalithic doorways. The main doorway of this structure was restored in 1937 with the replacement of the door lintel in its original position. The smaller structure, built on a 4-apse plan, is linked to the earlier one through a doorway in the eastern room.

The dating of this building is still uncertain although the finds indicate a Saflieni phase (3,300 – 3,000 BC) date. Ceramic material from both earlier and later periods were also found within the site indicating that the site was used both before and after the construction of the Temples.

The only Temple site which is built entirely of local Upper Coralline Limestone. The second, smaller building is accessed through the eastern room of the larger building, which was modified in antiquity to make space for the other building.

Maree standing at the entrance to the temple, we were both struck with the feeling of those who had walked before us into this sacred site. That we were now able to stand on these same steps and feel the ancient mothers of old speak with us.

We then had coffee in a little cafe/pub in Mgarr and found that there is a folk fair tomorrow evening in the courtyard of the Church Of Saint Maria so we think we may catch the bus back to take part in this local festival.

Site of tomorrow night’s festival. We went inside the church and were fortunate enough to be greeted with the choir and band practising for the performance, so we sat quietly to listen.

On our bus ride back to Sliema we got off to see the huge domed church of Mosta however unfortunately it was shut so we caught a bus back to Valetta to buy our weekly bus passes and to go for a walk through the gardens and around the waterfront to see views over the Grand Harbour.

The church was so large that I could not fit it all in the photo.

The ornate Auberg De Castelle building at Valetta.

Views over Grand Harbour Valetta.

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