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Malta - 06 Tarxien Temples



Type of Spiritual Experience


The Tarxien Temples are an archaeological complex in Tarxien, Malta. They date to approximately 3150 BC. The site was accepted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980 along with the other Megalithic temples on the island of Malta.

The Tarxien temple complex is found some 400 metres to the east of the Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni.

The Tarxien consist of three separate, but attached, temple structures. The three temples found here were thoroughly excavated in the early twentieth century by Temi Żammit. Unlike the other sites, this temple is bounded on all sides by modern urban development; however, this does not detract from its value.


One enters into the first great forecourt of the southern temple, marked by its rounded façade and a cistern, which is attributed to the temple. The earliest temple to the north-east was built between 3600 and 3200 BC; it consisted of two parallel sets of semi-circular apses, with a passage in the middle.

The south and east temples were built in the Tarxien phase, between 3150 and 2500 BC. The second one has three parallel semi-circular apses, connected by a large passage; the third one has two parallel sets of apses with a passage in a direction parallel to that of the first temple. The first temple is solidly built with large stones, of which some are roughly dressed. The walls are laid with great accuracy, and are very imposing in their simplicity. The second temple is more elaborately constructed, the walls being finished with greater care, some of the standing slabs being decorated with flat raised spirals. In one of the chambers, two bulls and a sow are cut in low relief across one of the walls. The third temple has a carelessly-built frame, but most of its standing stones are richly decorated with carved patterns.

Many of the decorated slabs discovered on site were relocated indoors for protection at the Museum of Archaeology in Valletta.


A description of the experience

Function in prehistory

Excavation of the site reveals that it was used extensively for rituals, and, given the number of little female figurines found, it was a Mystery site with High Priestesses.  Its use as a site using sexual techniques is supported by the phalli found there, the use of symbols such as the bull and goat and the existence of the female figures who would have both been representative of the earth mother and of the priestesses who worked there.


It appears that it had a change of use to become a cremation and burial site, as evidence of cremation has been found at the centre of the South temple, which is an indicator that the site was reused as a Bronze Age cremation cemetery.  It rather indicates that its use as a site for the Mysteries ceased relatively early.

History of discovery

The large stone blocks were discovered in 1914 by local farmers ploughing a field. After the accidental discovery of the nearby Tarxien hypogeum in 1913, the proprietor of the land underneath which the temples were buried figured that the large stones that were continually struck by workers' ploughs may also have had some archaeological value.

He contacted the director of the National Museum, Sir Themistocles Zammit, who began inspection of the site; he discovered the centre of the temple compound. It was not long before Zammit found himself standing in what appeared to be an apse formed by a semicircle of enormous hewn stones.

Over the course of three years, Zammit enlisted the help of local farmers and townspeople for an excavation project of unprecedented scale in Malta. By 1920, Zammit had identified and carried out restoration work on five separate but interconnected temples, all yielding a remarkable collection of artefacts, including the famous "fat lady" statue, and several unique examples of prehistoric relief, including ships.

The temples were included on the Antiquities List of 1925. Further excavations at the temples were conducted in the post-World War II period under the directorship of Dr. J.G. Baldacchino.

Protective tent-like shelters, similar to those at Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra, were built around the Tarxien Temples in 2015.



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