Postage stamp: The Tarxien Temples in Malta


Tarxien is a megalithic temple complex which lies close to Valetta, the capital of Malta. The temples appeared on a postage stamp in 1956 at which time the island was still a British colony. On 21 September 1964 Malta became independent but remained a member of the British Commonwealth.

Although now surrounded by modern buildings, the complex is one of seven megalithic temples on Malta and Gozo which since 1980 have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The Tarxien Temple Complex consists of three separate, but attached, temple structures dating to approximately 3100 – 3000 BC. The main entrance is a reconstruction dating from 1956, when the whole site was restored. At that time, many of the decorated slabs were moved to the Museum of Archaeology in Valletta for protection. The middle temple is unique in that, unlike the rest of the Maltese temples, it has three pairs of apses instead of the usual two. The remains of another temple, smaller and older, dating from 3250 BC, are visible further east.

The large stone blocks were discovered in 1914 by local farmers and excavated by Themistocles Zammit, director of the National Museum. Over the next three years, with the help of local farmers and townspeople, Zammit identified and restored five separate but interconnected temples. These provided a remarkable collection of artefacts, including the famous “fat lady” statue. This is  a representation of a Mother Goddess or a fertility charm (although it could represent a man or a woman). In 1923 Zammit presented some of the artefacts to the British Museum in London.

The temples are noted for their rich and intricate stonework. This includes depictions of domestic animals carved in relief, and altars and screens decorated with spiral designs and other patterns. The skill of the builders is reflected in a chamber set into the thickness of the wall between the South and Central temples, which contains a relief showing a bull and a sow.

Tarxien Tempel complex

From the many engravings of domestic animals (goats, bulls, pigs and a ram), and the large number of bones discovered on the site, it is believed that the temples were probably used for rituals involving animal sacrifices. Near what is assumed to have been the high altar, a stone plug was removed to reveal 13 pieces of flint knives and remains of sacrificed animals. A large hearth in one of the internal corridors is evidence that fires were burned inside the complex.

In the Early Bronze Age (after 2000 BC) new inhabitants of the island used some part of the site for burials, leaving behind a wide range of objects.

For more information see

Text                 Aaldert Slot

Translation      Alun Harvey / Wikipedia

Tarxien Temple complex


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