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Malta - 08 Mnajdra Temple

Identifier

022552

Type of Spiritual Experience

Background

Mnajdra is a megalithic temple complex found on the southern coast of the Mediterranean island of Malta, built around the fourth millennium BCE. It is approximately 500 metres from the Ħaġar Qim megalithic complex. It is one of the Megalithic Temples of Malta described as ‘among the most ancient religious sites on Earth’ and by the World Heritage Sites committee as "unique architectural masterpieces." In 1992 UNESCO recognized the Mnajdra complex and four other Maltese megalithic structures as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In 2009 work was completed on a protective tent.

Mnajdra is made of coralline limestone, which is much harder than the soft globigerina limestone of Ħaġar Qim. The main structural systems used in the temples are corbelling with smaller stones, and post-and-lintel construction using large slabs of limestone.

Description

The cloverleaf plan of Mnajdra appears more regular than that of Ħagar Qim, and seems reminiscent of the earlier complex at Ggantija. The prehistoric structure consists of three conjoined but not connected temples: the upper, middle and lower.

  • The upper temple is the oldest structure in the Mnajdra complex and dates to the Ggantija phase (3600-3200 BC). It is a three-apsed building, the central apse opening blocked by a low screen wall. The pillar-stones were decorated with pitmarks drilled in horizontal rows on the inner surface.
  • The middle temple was built (or possibly rebuilt) in the late Tarxien phase (3150 – 2500 BC), the main central doorway of which is formed by a hole cut into a large piece of limestone set upright, a type of construction typical of other megalithic doorways in Malta. This temple appears originally to have had a vaulted ceiling, but only the base of the ceiling now remain on top of the walls  and, in fact, is the most recent structure. It is formed of slabs topped by horizontal courses.
  • The lowest temple, built in the early Tarxien phase, is the most impressive and possibly the best example of Maltese megalithic architecture. It has a large forecourt containing stone benches, an entrance passage covered by horizontal slabs, one of which has survived, and the remains of a possibly domed/beehive shaped roof. The temple is decorated with spiral carvings and indentations, and pierced by windows, some into smaller rooms and one onto an arrangement of stones.

 

Layout

Mnajdra  is centred on a near circular forecourt. The three adjacent temples overlook it from one side, while a terrace from the other separates it from a steep slope that runs down to the sea. The first buildings on the right are small irregular chambers, similar to the enclosures in Ħaġar Qim.

  • Trefoil temple -  Then there is a small trefoil temple, dating from the Ġgantija phase, with pitted decorations. Its unusual triple entrance was copied on a larger scale in the second temple.
  • Middle temple - The middle temple was actually the last to be built, inserted between the others in the Tarxien phase, after 3100 BC. It has four apses and a niche. 
  • The third temple, built early in the Tarxien phase and so second in date, opens on the court at a lower level. It has a markedly concave façade, with a bench, orthostats and trilithon entrance.

The southern temple is oriented astronomically, aligned with the rising sun during solstices and equinoxes; during the summer solstice the first rays of sunlight light up the edge of a decorated megalith between the first apses, while during the winter solstice the same effect occurs on a megalith in the opposite apse. During the equinox, the rays of the rising sun pass straight through the principal doorway to reach the innermost central niche.

 

A description of the experience

Uses

Many artifacts were recovered from within the temples suggesting that these temples were used for religious purposes, and as Wikipedia guardedly says “perhaps to heal illness and/or to ‘promote fertility’”.

 

It was also an astronomical observatory.

Wikipedia

Recent research shows that it was a solar year calendar and astronomical observatory. The design, based on the principle of the camera obscura, was the result of long evolution from the earliest archaic design, such as the small unit at the site. The image of the sunrise was translated mathematically into a linear passage of days. In the archaic design this was done in the central apse which converted sinusoidal movement of the image of the sunrise on the horizon into a linear progression. In the evolved design the solstice stone translated sinusoidal movement into linear directly and more accurately. Besides calendric information, the later design was found to enable forecasting of the solstice date (and hour) with surprising accuracy.

The 'graffiti' on the wall shows that the temple was beehive shaped, like a ziggurat

The source of the experience

Shaivism

Concepts, symbols and science items

Concepts

Egg

Symbols

Twin pillars

Activities and commonsteps

Activities

Commonsteps

References