Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hagar Qim - Prehistoric Temples of malta

Name : Hagar Qim (English: Standing/Worshipping Stones)

Location :

This megalithic temple complex found on the Mediterranean island of Malta, dating from the Ġgantija phase (3600-3200 BC).

The Megalithic Temples of Malta are amongst the most ancient religious sites on Earth, described by the World Heritage Sites committee as "unique architectural masterpieces." In 1992 UNESCO recognized Haġar Qim and four other Maltese megalithic structures as World Heritage Sites. Vere Gordon Childe, Professor of Prehistoric European Archeology and director of the Institute of Archaeology in the University of London from 1946-1957[5] visited Hagar Qim. His observation was:

    I have been visiting the prehistoric ruins all round the Mediterranean, from Mesopotamia to Egypt, Greece and Switzerland, but I have nowhere seen a place as old as this one.
    —Vere Gordon Childe, Professor of Prehistoric European Archeology

Hagar Qim's builders used globigerina limestone in the temple's construction. As a result of this, the temple has suffered from severe weathering and surface flaking over the millennia. In 2009 work was completed on a protective tent.

Excavation :

Ħaġar Qim was first explored in 1839 at public expense during the Governorship of Sir Henry Bouverie, by T.G. Vance of the Royal Engineers. Within two short months, that officer had made a plan of the buildings and sent to Valletta a stone altar, a decorated slab and seven stone statuettes which are now exhibited in the Valletta Museum. The account of his excavations was published in 1842. Further excavations were done in 1835 by Dr. A.A. Caruana.

In 17 September 1949, three statuettes and several pieces of a much larger stone statue were discovered buried beneath a rectangular stone. These statuettes, commonly known as the "fat ladies", are on display in the National Museum of Archaeology, Valletta.

The megalithic complex of Haġar Qim is located atop a hill on the southern edge of the island of Malta, on a ridge capped in soft globigerina limestone. All exposed rock on the island was deposited during the Oligocene and Miocene periods of geological time. Globigerina limestone is the second oldest rock on Malta, outcropping over approximately 70% of the area of the islands. The builders used this stone throughout the temple architecture.

The temple’s façade is characterized by a trilithon entrance, outer bench and orthostats. It has a wide forecourt with a retaining wall and a passage runs through the middle of the building, following a modified Maltese megalithic design. A separate entrance gives access to four independent enclosures which replace the north-westerly apse.

Features of temple architecture reveal a preoccupation with providing accommodation for animal sacrifices, burnt offerings and ritual oracles. Recesses were used as depositories for sacrificial remains. Excavation has uncovered numerous statuettes of deities and highly decorated pottery.

No burials exist in the temple or the area surrounding Ħaġar Qim, nor have any human bones been discovered in Maltese temples. Bones of numerous sacrificial animals have been found. It is theorized that the Ħaġar Qim complex was built in three stages, beginning with the 'Old Temple' northern apses, followed by the 'New Temple', and finally the completion of the entire structure.

500 metres from Ħaġar Qim stands the Mnajdra megalithic temple. The surrounding area is typical of Mediterranean garrigue in its starkness and isolation; it is designated as a Heritage Park. A few hundred metres from the temple is one of the thirteen watchtowers built by Grand Master Martin de Redin, called Ħamrija Tower. A memorial to General Sir Walter Norris Congreve, Governor of Malta from 1924–1927, is located nearby. The village of Qrendi is a further two kilometres southwest of the temple complex.

The Temple Complex :

The Ħaġar Qim complex consists of a main temple and three additional megalithic structures beside it. The main temple was built between 3600 and 3200 BC; however, the northern ruins are considerably older. The outside entrance serves as an interior passage and connects six large chambers. The right apse is constructed as an arch to prevent the upright slabs falling inward. The outside wall, built of huge upright blocks, projects inwards, thus creating an extremely solid building. This entrance passage and first court follow the Maltese megalithic pattern but as building progressed, this design was considerably modified. The northwesterly apse was replaced by four independent enclosures.

Ħaġar Qim shares its basic architectural design with the Mnajdra, Tarxien and Ġgantija temple complexes. The basic shape includes forecourt and façade, elongated oval chambers, semi-circular recesses and a central passage connecting the chambers. This configuration is commonly termed "trefoil". It is also suggested that the shape of the temple in some way mimics the sacred sculptures found within them.

Main Temple

Beyond the temple entrance is an oval area 14.3 m (47 ft) long and 5.5 m (18 ft) wide with large slab walls, originally topped by courses of masonry. The two apsidal ends are separated from the central court by two vertical slabs pierced by rectangular openings. These openings are thought to have been adorned with curtains to limit access to the side apses. Visual access from the apses seems to have been limited to porthole slabs.

Past the first pair of apses, the temple interior is more firmly screened off than is usual at other temple sites. The central area is paved with well-set smooth blocks, and along the walls are low stone altars, originally decorated with pit-marks. Some of these blocks are discolored by fire. In 1839, archaeologists discovered important objects in this court, now shown in the Valletta Museum. These include stone statuettes, a detailed altar-stone with deep carvings representing vegetation, a stone slab with spirals in relief and a displaced sill-stone, illustrating a pair of opposing spirals similar to those of the Tarxien Temples.

On the outer side of the north flank of Hagar Qim a open-air shrine has been inserted into the wall, whose facade combines the suggestive symbols of the male and female generative organs. There is also the unique four-sided altar. Various facades of the temple have been interpreted as symbolically depicting male and female reproductive organs.

The right-hand apse contains a setting of low orthostats forming a pen, theoretically intended for the corralling of animals. The left-hand apse has a high trilithon altar on its left, two others on right with one in a smaller chamber. It also serves as a passage, admitting access to an additional chamber combining a central court, niche and right apse. A low-standing pillar stands at the end of the apse.

The entrance to the enclosure is well-paved and neatly flanked by slabs on end. A threshold is provided by a couple of conical pits connected at the apex, demonstrating the "rope holes" seen in many other Maltese temples. Heavy slabs form a Niche to the left of the entrance, to the right a cell contains an altar constructed out of a single block of stone and deeply discolored by action of fire. This space is theorized to have been the most sacred in the temple.

Northern Temple :

The northern temple is the oldest part of Ħaġar Qim, containing an oval chamber with a semi-circular apse on each side. Following the second doorway is another chamber with similar apses.

The northern temple uniquely has three insulated layers of flooring. The pavement on the topmost level is not marked by sacrificial fires, unlike the lower floors. Due to the different methods used in polishing the stone, scholars have theorized that the three layers of pavement illustrate three major shifts in construction at Ħaġar Qim.

Stone balls of different sizes are located alongside the walls of the northern temple and other parts of the structure. These are theorized to have been the rollers used to transport the megaliths. Excavations have revealed such rollers buried beneath the megaliths, thus contributing to a solid foundation.

Il- Misqa - The Watering Place 

Il-Misqa (English: the Watering Place), is a flat area of bare rock atop a hill nearby the temple complex. It contains seven bell-shaped reservoirs that still retain rain-water during any winter with an average rainfall. Of the seven, five wells hold water; the three wells which no longer hold water are the deepest and are joined as a single tank through subterranean channels. A monolith surmounts one of the dry holes and is theorized to have been used in drawing water from the well. An eighth well exists but is blocked up by a mature fig tree.

The water-channels cut in the surface of the rock distribute rain-water into the wells individually and the level of water in any well is kept relative to that of the immediately adjoining well. 

Women's Chamber 

The Northern Temple's first recess contains a round stone pillar and a rectangular slab held vertically ahead of the pillar. Resting on the slab are spherical hollows which may have served as holders in which to stand small libation jars. Jars excavated from the site are characterized by a specifically oval base, designed to stand upright when placed in the slab.

Remnants of the vertical blocks which once flanked the recess are still observable today. To the right of this chamber is another recess, containing an acoustic opening called the "oracle hole". Sound passed from the main chamber into the recess, and vice-versa. The hole has also been linked to alignments of the Summer solstice. On the right side of the chamber is a horizontal block that may have served as seating.

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