Wednesday, November 17, 2010

MALTA - MERHBA - WELCOME

"What is there to see in Malta?" A friend of us asked contemptuously when we told him we visited there. A lot is to see, to explore and to experience in Malta and I would love to travel there again!
The modern Malta has a very charming character  - the painted doors, the old buses, the colorful boats with the Maltese Eye pictured on them, the busy bustling markets, the glass blowers studios and workshops, the cliffs and beaches, the blue sea - to name only the most obvious ones! We have been there in spring and nature was splendid, with a huge variety of wildflowers, very similar to those we have in Israel, and we had a wonderful half day walk through the Dingli Cliffs along the sea and through blooming meadows. The food is delicious, Hobz biz-zejt (a kind of tuna sandwich with tomatoes and olive oil) and fenek (rabbit) with pasta, together with a glass of cool Cisk, the local brewn beer, were our favorites! 
It is a beautiful little country with a very interesting history. Composed of two small islands in the Mediterranean sea, Malta and Gozo, and a third tiny one, Comino, it is located less than 100 km south of Sicily, with a population of about 370.000 very friendly people. Its capital is Valletta, a city with heavy buildings, many stairways and filigree balconies, a city with baroque character. The Museum of History is very rich on artifacts found at the temples and a place to linger at for hours. We saw "Werther" in the most enchanting Manoel Theatre. The Maltese ladies were dressed in their best fur coats - and we smiled at the overwhelming smell of naphthalene mixed with perfume!
The climate at the islands is mild, with not much rain, and dry hot summers. Malta is without mountains and has no rivers.  Maltese and English as well is spoken. Maltese is a Semitic language interspersed with many Arabic and Italian words, and my husband had most fun with understanding some of it. Most of the Maltese of today belong to the Roman-Catholic Church and there is a lot of Christian history to be found on and off the last 2000 years, especially in Valletta.
But we were mostly interested in the ancient history, of Malta, going back to prehistoric times when the megalithic temples were built. Those are 500 till 1000 years older than the pyramids of Gizeh in Egypt. The Maltese islands probably were first settled in  the Neolithic, the New Stone Age, about 5200 BCE by humans who had arrived from Sicily, likely on rafts, then establishing and building a life there as farmers and hunters.
The megalithic temples in Malta are the oldest known standing stone structures, rediscovered by archeologists, beginning in the 19th century. The most important of the complexes are recognized by UNESCO as world heritage. The temples are constructed from limestone in a clover leaf form (trefoil) out of huge slabs of stone, weighing mega tons. How were those colossal boulders transported and piled up? Maybe like it is told in this nice legend about a giant woman with the pretty name Sansuna who is said to have carried the stone blocks to their destinations on her head,  from far away.
The entrance gates are constructed of two large vertical stone slabs on each side, with a horizontal third slab on top, which reminds a bit of a dolmen. Inside the temples are smaller examples of these gates, leading to small niches and rooms believed to be oracle enclosures and sacred sanctuaries. The temples were roofed with animal hides over wooden poles.  
Embellishments are chiseled into the stones and altars, the spiral motif recurring all over. We saw reliefs of animals, sheep and goats, a sow with seven young piggies and a bull. Plants show up on the stones and many of the slabs are decorated with hundreds of small holes. 
Big stone vessels were found and of course the gorgeous Maltese stone sculptures, some of them very large and voluptuous in size. The headless one from Tarxien, which would have been about 2 m in height with the upper parts.
And the "Venus of Malta", found in Hagar Qim, also headless, opulent but petty, 13 cm in height.
And several more statues were found in Hagar Qim, this one is 21 cm high.
The so called "Fat Lady" is the most famous, found in the Hagar Qim temple too, carved from limestone she has a hollow socket at the top, which suggests that a separately worked head was inserted. She is 51 cm high and sold as reproductions to the tourists, as you can evidently see! :-)
Very little is known about the people who built these temples. They worshiped a Mother Goddess and sacrificed animals, which was proofed by finds of bones. But only guessing can really be made about their religious rites and ceremonies. 
As I already said, the interior chambers of the temples are small and could hold only a few people, therefore big public worship would not have been possible. Maybe those ceremonies of reverencing the Mother Goddess were intended only for the priestesses and non cleric population did not participate. Fertility rites are usually associated with women and were assumable carried out by female priests, but statues of male priests have been found in the temples as well. 
Malta was mysteriously left by its people around 2500 BCE, they just disappeared - no explanation of this can be thought of till now, there are only speculations. They left nothing in writing, only those impressive stone structures, the temples, who have been surely a very important or maybe even the key element in practicing their religious culture and in living their daily life.
There could be so much more told about this sunny country. We visited many of the small cities and villages, the market in Marsaxlokk, Birzebbuga, which has a marvelous sandy beach, but also a big  port for container ships, the quiet Mdina with the medieval flair,  the catacombs in Rabat, the biggest and very touristic city Sliema with its wonderful and much frequented beach promenade. Of course we went with the ferry to Gozo, a fascinating gem of an island,  and adored the Azure Window, a giant, 50m high natural scenic rock arch, with the blue "azure" sea below and behind it! 
We strolled through Mgarr, Ghajnsielem, and walked around in the temples of Ggantija near Xaghra, they are the most ancient. In Xaghra itself we searched out the Ta'Kola Windmill. High up the Calypso cave is overlooking the beach of Ramla I-Hamra. It is said to be the cave where the beautiful nymph Calypso held Odysseus as a 'prisoner of love' for seven years. Well Homer can not be asked anymore about the exact location, but of course we had to have a look inside, and what we saw was not very impressive! 

There is much more to report about Malta, but somehow I have to end this post!

About the marvelous Hypogeum in Paola and the cave in Ghar Dalam I still will write the next days.

14 comments:

Smithy said...

What a fascinating place you have chosen to share with us, Yael. Once again, your historical knowledge leaves me breathless! Malta appears a really interesting place; I loved the first photo of the bay(?) with its pretty boats. Looking forward to more on this ancient land. xxoo

Irmi said...

Liebe Yael,
ich bin ebenfalls total begeistert von Malta, seiner Historie und seiner Kultur. Deine Bilder sind wunderschön und haben alte Erinnerungen wieder wachgerufen. Ob es die Opfersteine, die monumentalen Göttinen oder die Megalithbauten als solche sind - einfach nur faszinierend.
Atemberaubend fand ich auch die Spuren der Götter auf der Hochebene - beschrieben in einem Buch von Daeniken. Ich wollte auch immer noch einmal hin. Vielleicht klappt es ja noch. Ich freue mich auf die Fortsetzung.
Liebe Grüße
Irmi

Dawn of LaTouchables said...

I spent three weeks on a sailboat, sailing around Malta, Gozo, and the surroundings--it was heaven! There were so many highlights, I can't tell them all--but you have brought the memories back to me. One of the greatest evenings was spent wandering the streets of Valetta, and playing snooker in a large pool-hall. We learned how to prepare delicious fish, fresh from the fish-monger, and ...I could go on and on. Well worth a visit!

Hilde said...

Thank you for a very interesting post, Yael :) I have never been to Malta, but it looks so beautiful and sunny. And I loved seeing your photos and reading about the megalithic temples, that is a fascinating place!! Oh, I would like to go there sometime!

:)

Eva said...

What a wonderful picture book! We had the choice between Malta and Turkey for our 2010 holidays; maybe we made the wrong choice. I'd love to see these temples! And I will come back and take time to see the pictures on your blog, it is past bedtime now. Thank you so very much!

Pesky Cat Designs said...

What a very informative and interesting post about Malta. I think I remember some of this from my art history class. But that was almost 30 years ago so my memory is not that good. Thanks for sharing your adventures with us here!

zsazsazsu said...

Was in Malta a few years ago for my job, but mainly visited hotels, so glad to get to know all this extra information ! Thx for sharing

2 B's World said...

Vielen Dank für diese tolle Führung.
Die Bilder sind ganz wundervoll und ich habe das Gefühl, daß ich an deinen Erklärungen dazu erkennen kann, wie sehr Du deinen Aufenthalt dort genossen hast.
Den Bildern nach zu urteilen, ist Malta eine Reise wert.

Liebe Grüße von 2 B's

QuiltNCards said...

Thank you again, Yael! We learn so much from your posts. <3 terri

Bernstein said...

Bilder, die an so einem trüben und kalten Novembertag das Herz erwärmen. Und nicht nur das - ich habe bei dem Exkurs mit Dir wieder unheimlich viel gelernt.
Am besten gefallen mir die Venus und die "Fat Lady". Ich finde diese Darstellungen faszinierend und unglaublich interessant.
GlG Inbar

wanda miller said...

What a wealth of WONDER you have brought us, here!! i cannot thank you enough!

Loddelina said...

Beautiful post, Yael - it brings back the memories of a lovely time I had on Malta - it is where I met my husband...

Joanne@gr8jewellery said...

What an excellent post Yael! It is always fascinating to read a visitor's perspective and you have managed to highlight some of the most interesting and wonderful aspects of my country! :)
You may also be interested to know that, as can be seen from the photo of the temple, the shape of the temple itself is reminiscent of the goddess or 'fat lady' form.
I look forward to reading more about your visit, and hope you'll manage to visit again! :)
best regards,
Joanne.

ingermaaike said...

What a fantastic and very enticing post, Surely a place I would love to visit!