When you visit some of the heritage sites on Malta (map), you will find that the architecture on the islands (some dating back to more than 5000 years a go) reveal something exceptional: the Maltese temple culture disappeared abruptly in the 3rd Millennium BC and researchers still don’t know exactly why. Surrounded by mystery, Malta’s megalithic structures served as the inspiration for the beautiful and monumental churches that you can find all over the villages these days. In addition to that, the country has no less than three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, the megalithic temples and the capital city Valetta. Let’s take a further look at all the rich history you can find and discover why these Malta Heritage sites are so remarkable.
The Heritage sites of Malta and Gozo
Ggantija Temples, Xaghra, Gozo
Ggantija is believed to be the world’s oldest free-standing structure. It consists of two temple units built side by side, both with a single and central doorway, opening onto a common forecourt that is raised on a high terrace. Before their excavation, these temple ruins were believed to be the remnants of a defensive tower built by a race of giants (‘ggant’ is Maltese for ‘giant’). Later studies showed that rituals of life and fertility seem to have been practiced here. When you see the size of some of the limestone blocks (some more than 5m in length and weighing over 50 tons), you can imagine how the giant story came about.
Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, Malta
The Hypogeum is a unique, prehistoric underground temple and cemetery dating back to about 3600-2400 BC. It’s one of the most extraordinary archaeological sites in the world and has been recognised as a UNESCO site because it ‘bears a unique testimony to a civilisation which has disappeared’. Discovered in 1902 during construction works, the Hypogeum is a complex made up of interconnecting rock-cut chambers set on three levels. You can see burial chambers, red ochre wall paintings and beautifully carved features that imitate the architectural elements that are common in Megalithic Temples built above ground. Because no temple roofs had ever been found intact, this gave researchers a good idea of how they would have looked like.
The Maltese Government is preserving the site by maintaining the climatic conditions, that’s why there are only 80 visitors allowed to go inside every day, with a maximum of 10 people per hour. Depending on the time of the year, tickets can be booked out weeks before, so plan ahead if you don’t want to miss it (and you really shouldn’t).
The City of Valletta, Malta
Valletta was founded by the Knights of St John in 1566. They created a late renaissance city within fortified walls strong enough to withstand any assault. It’s hard to miss the legacy of the Knights, as this era has left such an imprint on the islands. Referred to as ‘The Golden Age’, Malta’s baroque period showcases important works of architecture and other arts. You can visit most of it in the Palaces and Churches of Valletta, Mdina and the Three Cities. Besides fortifications, watch towers and aqueducts, one of Malta’s best known symbol is the eight-pointed cross, which you’ll see everywhere on the islands.
The City of Valletta was officially recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980. It is currently undergoing restoration of historic buildings, installation of new monuments, rebuilding the city entrance and various other projects.
Malta’s Heritage… and Legacy
The Arab occupation of Malta helped shape the Maltese language, but their proximity to Italy and Sicily had a great impact on the language, as well as cuisine and various religious traditions. The short French rule led to important changes in the legal and educational systems and the British Empire led to fundamental changes in administration and business and the adoption of English as a second national language alongside Maltese. With a rich and varied history and cultural heritage of more than 7000 years, Malta is an unmissable stop if you’re interested to learn more about the rise and melting of cultures and civilizations. It is also a perfect place for those of you looking to be amazed by simply looking at the beauty and legacy that has been created by man.
See more Heritage Sites of Malta and Gozo
Heritage Malta is the national agency for museums and cultural heritage on Malta and Gozo. It was founded in 2003 to conserve, present and interpret the sites so that they can be enjoyed by many more generations to come. Besides the UNESCO sites as mentioned above, you can also find the following heritage sites:
- Valetta – National Museum of Archaeology, The Palace Armoury, National Museum of Fine Arts and The Palace State Rooms.
- Harbour Area – The Inquisitor’s Palace, Tarxien Temples and the Malta Maritime Museum.
- Rabat & Mdina – National Museum of Natural History, Domvs Romana, Skorba, St. Paul’s Catacombs and Ta’ Ħaġrat.
- In the South – Għar Dalam, Mnajdra Temples and Ħaġar Qim Temples.
On Gozo: Ta’Kola Windmill, Gozo Museum of Archaeology, Folkore Museum, Gozo Nature Museum and the Old Prison.
Note: Nienke Krook (The Travel Tester) visited Malta on behalf of Velvet Escape as part of the #MaltaIsMore campaign, organised by the Malta Tourism Authority and iambassador. All words and photos represent Nienke’s personal and honest views and experiences during her visit of the Heritage Sites on Malta and Gozo.