3 Cultural Heritage Sites To See In Malta

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3 Cultural Heritage Sites To See In Malta

Date: Jan 23, 2022
Author: Collins.cidar 205 No Comments

Malta is an island encompassed with blue water from the south Mediterranean Sea. Maltese island is a small island full of captivation that will stand you rooted to the spot. Perhaps the country is immensely influenced by the North Africa culture due to its border with Tunisia and other North Africa countries. For the fact that there is no chance of snowfall in Malta, it therefore celebrate it year under the scorching sun. From the beautiful landscape spotted with colorful sea, excavated cliff, sun-kissed beach, structured ancient building and natural ecotourism destination, the country has much to offer that will beat your expectations, despite being a small island. In order to help you plan your trip to Malta, our list below will be of a guide.

City of Valletta

City of Valletta/Photographer:Nick Fewings/Unsplash

Malta’s capital Valletta is a fortified city located on a hilly peninsula between two of the finest natural harbours in the Mediterranean. The Siege of Malta in 1565 captured the European imagination and mobilised the resources needed to create the new city of Valletta, founded soon after, in 1566. The Knights of St John, aided by the most respected European military engineers of the 16th century, conceived and planned the city as a single, holistic creation of the late Renaissance, with a uniform grid plan within fortified and bastioned city walls. Since its creation, the city has witnessed a number of rebuilding projects, yet those have not compromised the harmony between the dramatic topography and the Hippodamian grid. The fabric of the city includes a compact ensemble of 320 monuments that encapsulate every aspect of the civil, religious, artistic and military functions of its illustrious founders. These include the 16th century buildings relating to the founding of the Renaissance city, such as the cathedral of St John, the Palace of the Grand Master, the Auberge de Castile et Léon, the Auberge de Provence, the Auberge d’Italie, the Auberge d’Aragon and the Infirmary of the Order and the churches of Our Lady of Victory, St Catherine and il Gesù, as well as the improvements attributed to the military engineers and architects of the 18th century such as the Auberge de Bavière, the Church of the Shipwreck of St Paul, the Library and the Manoel Theatre. 

Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum

Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum/photographer: damian entwistle/Flickr

The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum (underground cemetery) was discovered in 1902 on a hill overlooking the innermost part of the Grand Harbour of Valletta, in the town of Paola. It is a unique prehistoric monument, which seems to have been conceived as an underground cemetery, originally containing the remains of about 7,000 individuals. The cemetery was in use throughout the Żebbuġ, Ġgantija and Tarxien Phases of Maltese Prehistory, spanning from around 4000 B.C. to 2500 B.C.

Originally, one entered the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum through a structure at ground level. Only a few blocks of this entrance building have been discovered, and its form and dimensions remain uncertain. The plan of the Hypogeum itself is a series of three superimposed levels of chambers cut into soft globigerina limestone, using only chert, flint and obsidian tools and antlers. The earliest of the three levels is the uppermost, scooped out of the brow of a hill. A number of openings and chambers for the burial of the dead were then cut into the sides of the cavity.

The two lower levels were also hewn entirely out of the natural rock. Some natural daylight reached the middle level through a small opening from the upper level, but artificial lighting must have been used to navigate through some of the middle level chambers and the lowest level, which is 10.60 m below the present ground level.

One of the most striking characteristics of the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is that some of the chambers appear to have been cut in imitation of the architecture of the contemporary, above-ground megalithic temples. Features include false bays, inspired by trilithon doorways, and windows. Most importantly, some of the chambers have ceilings with one ring of carved stone overhanging the one below to imitate a roof of corbelled masonry. This form echoes the way in which some of the masonry walls of the contemporary above-ground temple chambers are corbelled inwards, suggesting that they too were originally roofed over.

Some of the walls and ceilings of the chambers were decorated with spiral and honey-comb designs in red ochre, a mineral pigment. These decorations are the only prehistoric wall paintings found on the Maltese Islands. In one of these decorated chambers, there is a small niche which echoes when someone speaks into it. While this effect may not have been created intentionally, it may well have been exploited as part of the rituals that took place within the chambers.

Excavation of the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum produced a wealth of archaeological material, including numerous human bones, which suggests that the burial ritual had more than one stage. It appears that bodies were probably left exposed until the flesh had decomposed and fallen off. The remaining bones and what appear to be some of the personal belongings were then gathered and buried within the chambers together with copious amounts of red ochre. The use of ochre seems to have been a part of the ritual, perhaps to infuse the bones with the colour of blood and life. Individuals were not buried separately, but piled onto each other.

Artefacts recovered from the site include pottery vessels decorated in intricate designs, shell buttons, stone and clay beads and amulets, as well as little stone carved animals and birds that may have originally been worn as pendants. The most striking finds are stone and clay figurines depicting human figures. The most impressive of these figures is that showing a woman lying on a bed or ‘couch’, popularly known as the ‘Sleeping Lady’. This figure is a work of art in itself, demonstrating a keen eye for detail.

Megalithic Temples of Malta

Megalithic Temples of Malta/Photographer:Greg Johnson/Flickr

The Megalithic Temples of Malta (Ġgantija, Ħaġar Qim, Mnajdra, Skorba, Ta’ Ħaġrat and Tarxien) are prehistoric monumental buildings constructed during the 4th millennium BC and the 3rd millennium BC. They rank amongst the earliest free-standing stone buildings in the world and are remarkable for their diversity of form and decoration. Each complex is a unique architectural masterpiece and a witness to an exceptional prehistoric culture renowned for its remarkable architectural, artistic and technological achievements.

Each monument is different in plan, articulation and construction technique. They are usually approached from an elliptical forecourt in front of a concave façade. The façade and internal walls consist of upright stone slabs, known as orthostats, surmounted by horizontal blocks. The surviving horizontal masonry courses indicate that the monuments had corbelled roofs, probably capped by horizontal beams. This method of construction was a remarkably sophisticated solution for its time. The external walls are usually constructed in larger blocks set alternately face out and edge out, tying the wall securely into the rest of the building. The space between the external wall and the walls of the inner chambers is filled with stones and earth, binding the whole structure together.

Typically, the entrance to the building is found in the centre of the façade, leading through a monumental passageway onto a paved court. The interiors of the buildings are formed of semi-circular chambers usually referred to as apses, symmetrically arranged on either side of the main axis. The number of apses varies from building to building; some have three apses opening off the central court, whilst others have successive courts with four, five, and in one case even six apses.

The temple builders used locally available stone of which they had a thorough knowledge. They used hard coralline limestone for external walls and the softer globigerina limestone for the more sheltered interiors and decorated elements.

Decorated features found within the buildings bear witness to a high level of craftsmanship. These elements consist mainly of panels decorated with drilled holes and bas-relief panels depicting spiral motifs, trees, plants and various animals. The form and layout of these buildings, as well as the artefacts found within them, suggest they were an important ritual focus of a highly organized society. 

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