Photo: © Cenix/iStock/Thinkstock
Despite its diminutive size, Malta is speckled with a number of impressive archaeological and historical locations, including three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. From the mysterious prehistoric temples of Mnajdra and Tarxien, to the eerie burial grounds of the Xagħra Stone Circle and Għar Dalam, all the way to the fantastic ruins found at the Domvs Romana, there’s something for every adventurer to discover along the rocky shores of Malta.
Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum
This intriguing labyrinth of subterranean chambers is one of Europe’s most impressive and well-preserved ancient sites. Consisting of a series of burial chambers on three separate levels, this site is thought to have been in use between 4000 and 2500 BC. The Hypogeum is currently closed for restoration works and will reopen its doors to welcome visitors in May 2017. Early online booking is strongly recommended as only a limited amount of visitors are allowed in each day.
Kids going through a dinosaur craze? Here’s something you won’t want to miss. Deemed as Malta’s oldest ancient site, Għar Dalam, which translates to ‘Cave of Darkness’, houses a variety of ancient fossils, fascinating animal bones and human remains. The oldest parts of the cave (which incidentally are over 500,000 years old) have led to the discovery of a fantastic collection of Ice Age animal remains that includes mini hippos and dwarf elephants.
Surrounded by chalky white cliffs and featuring stunning views of the sprawling Mediterranean with the uninhabited islet of Filfla ahead, the Ħaġar Qim temples boast a large megalithic temple complex and a number of prehistoric chambers – with one of its megaliths weighing over 20 tonnes. Stargazers and spiritualists will appreciate the mystical aura of the temple, which is believed to have been originally built as an observatory.
Ancient folklore has it that the imposing Ġgantija Temples were put together by a mythical giantess who ate only beans and honey. A serious accomplishment indeed considering that the larger of the massive stone blocks weigh in at over 50 tonnes. Older than Stonehenge or the Pyramids of Egypt, the Ġgantija Temples are considered to be amongst the most impressive historic sites in Malta.
Located right beside the Ħaġar Qim temples, the stunning Mnajdra temples are rumoured to increase fertility and heal illness. Built from enormous slabs of coralline limestone, these temples are partially decorated with carved spirals. A large number of animal bones and flint knives were recovered from this site suggesting that it was once used for sacrificial rites and religious ceremonies.
The Domvs Romana was accidentally stumbled upon in 1881, where the remains of a fabulous Roman noble household were discovered by chance. Although most of the house hasn’t survived the passage of time, a series of its impressive mosaic floors remain untouched. An interesting selection of ancient ornate hairpins and a number of Roman-era intricate glass perfume bottles may be viewed at the small museum next door.
St Paul’s Catacombs
Keep away if you’re scared of the dark, things are about to get spooky. Make your way down a series of interconnected passages down to the catacombs dedicated to Malta’s patron saint, and visit the ancient cemetery beneath. St Paul’s catacombs represent Malta’s largest underground burial chambers with over a thousand graves and 24 catacombs, two of which are open to the public.
Xagħra Stone Circle
Located on the neighbouring island of Gozo, the Xagħra Stone Circle is an underground burial site that dates back to around 4000 to 2500 BC. Amongst many macabre findings and engrossing facts surrounding this location, archaeologists have discovered over 200,000 human body parts ever since excavations took off in the 1820s.
Can you imagine what it might have been like for those farmers who accidentally discovered this temple complex back in 1913? Probably considered as one of the most photographed sites in Malta, the Tarxien temples offer visitors the opportunity to wander around and create their own personal discoveries.
Misraħ Għar il-Kbir Cart Ruts
To this day, no-one is really sure what the function of Malta’s ancient cart ruts might have been, or why they were constructed, yet they have attracted enthusiasts and scholars for centuries. Carved deeply within the rock, this web of interwoven tracks is commonly referred to as Clapham Junction, allegedly thanks to an Englishman exploring this site, who said they reminded him of the busy London railway station…