Postage stamp: The Ggantija temples on Gozo (Malta)

Malta, postzegel

 The Ggantija temples stand on the island of Gozo, part of the the Republic of Malta. On two occasions the temples have been featured on postage stamps – the floorplan of the complex in 1975 [fig.1] and in 1983 on a Maltese Europa stamp [fig.2]. Since 1980 the temples have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Malta postage stamp

The temples stand on the edge of the 115 metre high Xaghra Plateau and face the southeast to greet the rising sun. Built between 3600 and 3200 BC, these neolithic temples, older than the pyramids, are among the oldest religious structures on Earth. Little is known about their history, although the presence of animal bones, water holes and stone hearths lead archaeologists to believe that the temples were probably used for rituals involving animal sacrifices.

Ggantija tempels op Gozo
Ggantija tempels on Gozo
Ggantija temples on Gozo

The structures consist of two adjacent temples surrounded by one stone wall. The temples share a courtyard area and have a clover-leaf ground plan. The southern temple is the larger and older of the two, dating from the Ggantija Period which began around 3600 BC. It is also the best preserved. The floorplan comprises five large apses (a round or polygonal niche, often found in a church) linked by a central passageway. The diameter of the second pair of apses (fig. 1: the left temple) is 23 metres. These apses contained various altars.

Malta, postage stamp

When rubble was cleared from the site in 1827 the floor of the site was irretrievably damaged resulting in the loss of much valuable information. After that the site was abandoned and passed through various hands until 1933 when the government designated the complex for public use. Between 1933 and 1959 archaeological work was intermittently carried out in order to clear and protect the site from further damage.

What is remarkable is that the temples were built at a time when the wheel had not yet been invented and no metal tools were available. Some of the stones weigh more than 50 tons and it is thought that the many small spherical stones found in the complex may have been used as ball bearings to help transport the massive stones. For centuries local people thought the temples had been built by giants (Ggantija means giants in Maltese). This belief is also of course found in the Netherlands in the word ‘hunebed’ or ‘giant’s bed’.

Learn more here about the temples on Malta.

Text                 Aaldert Slot

Translation      Alun Harvey


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