Hagar Qim Archaeological Park, Il-Qrendi, Malta

The temple of Ħaġar Qim stands on a hilltop overlooking the sea and the islet of Fifla, not more than 2km south-west of the village of Qrendi. At the bottom of the hill, only 500m away, lies another remarkable temple site, Mnajdra found above the Southern cliffs. The surrounding landscape is typical Mediterranean garigue and spectacular in its starkness and isolation.

First excavated in 1839, the remains suggest a date between 3600 – 3200 BC, a period known as the Ġgantija phase in Maltese prehistory. Ħaġar Qim was in fact never completely buried as the tallest stones, remained exposed and featured in 18th and 19th century paintings. The site consists of a central building and the remains of at least two more structures. The large forecourt and the monumental facade of the central structure follow the pattern typical of Maltese Prehistoric Temples. Along the external wall one may find some of the largest megaliths used in the building of these structures, such as a 5.2m high stone and a huge megalith estimated to weigh close to 20 tonnes.

The building itself is made up of a series of C-shaped rooms, known as apses. Walking through the main entrance, one finds a central paved space with an apse on each side. These apses are more firmly screened off than is usual at other temple sites using walls and slabs with square shaped portholes cut through as doorways. During excavations a slab bearing a pair of opposing spirals in relief and a free-standing pillar decorated on all four sides were found in the area. These have been replaced with replicas on site and the originals can be found at the National Museum of Archaeology.

Through the inner passage one finds an apse on the right and a large space on the left. The apse on the right has a curious setting of low stone slabs forming an inner enclosure. At the rear of this apse is a small elliptical hole. The rays of the rising sun on the first day of summer, the Summer Solstice, pass through this hole and illuminate one of the low slabs.

The large space on the left holds three high so-called ‘table altars’ and a doorway to an additional chamber reached by three steps. Three more chambers form part of this building but these can only be reached through doorways along the outer wall. Much of interest has been unearthed at Ħaġar Qim, notably stone and clay statuettes of obese figures which are also found at the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta.

The prehistoric temples of Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra hold a special place in the visitor’s heart. It has captured the attention of many locals and visitors alike leaving one with a sense of reverence and awe. Their idyllic setting, the questions they raise and the awe they inspire have placed them on the itinerary of visitors to the Maltese islands since the 18th century The value of these temples has been recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Soon after their excavation, Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra became national icons appearing on Maltese stamps and currency since 1926.

Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra are found in the garigue landscape along the south-western coast of Malta, 2 km from the village of Qrendi. Standing at the top of a ridge, with the ground sloping away on all sides, Ħaġar Qim must have always been a conspicuous landmark.

Both megalithic complexes were built between the 4th and 3rd millennia BC, placing them amongst the earliest monumental buildings of such sophistication in the whole world.

Through the application of carbon dating techniques to the Maltese prehistoric sequence in the 1960s, Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra were unequivocally attributed to the 4th millennium BC.

The site consists of a number of structures; the most extensive and best preserved of these, the main building, is found at the centre of the complex.

There are also two smaller outlying ones and the remains of a wall of another structure. The monumental concave façade has become an icon of the Maltese islands. It faces south-east and is approached across an oval forecourt.

Particularly noteworthy in the façade are the larger megaliths which are notched in the corners of horizontal blocks.

The entrance in the middle of the façade, is of the typical trilithon construction consisting of two uprights standing on either side of a threshold and supporting a horizontal lintel.

Flanking either side of the entrance is a stone ‘bench’ running along the length of the façade. Its function was probably structural helping support the upright megaliths, although it may have had other purposes once in place.

In front of the entrance are two interconnected holes cut in the rock floor. Similar holes are often found in front of the temple entrances.

Their original use is not clear; theories about them range from the possibility that they were libation holes for liquid offerings to their having a technical role in the construction of the doorway.

An item that was discovered in the Mysterious statues and intricate pedestals was1839 excavation was a stone decorated altar discovered in the first central court. In 1839, five statuettes were found close to the altar and another four were excavated from apse 2. This clay figurine, one of the most refined statuettes discovered at Ħaġar Qim, was unearthed from the first apses of the Main Building.

Once the monuments were unearthed, natural elements started having its effect on these megalithic structures. The position of the temples on top of a ridge is subject to such conservation issues. In 1999, following an international meeting of experts held in Malta to identify the way forward for the conservation of the Megalithic Temples, a Scientific Committee was set up. The task of this committee was specifically to look into the problems of deterioration of the Temples and to recommend solutions.

In 2000 the Maltese Government approved committee’s recommendation to protect the temple sites by means of open-sided shelters. These shelters protect against solar radiation by directly shading the Temples. It also eliminates the effects of water through rainfall, preventing the leaching of infills which could lead to structural instability. These also reduce plant growth and diminish wind impact.