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What we see of the Maltese islands today is merely the peak of a large mountain, which in the Ice Age, some 12,000 years ago, was inhabited by wild animals and with no sign of human existence on them. When the glaciers melted and the waters rose high, over the centuries, they reduced the size of the mountain until the present shape was formed. The first occupants who inhabited the islands lived in caves, as the place called Ghar Dalam  would suggest, as well as other scattered small villages. They lived mainly in isolation and used limited resources from their own farming produce. Contacts with the outside world, namely Sicily, Lipari and Pantelleria, as well as Italy and even beyond, were maintained, but this was limited to importation of raw materials for tools such as flint and obsidian.

The rocks of Malta and Gozo in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea formed a convenient shrine for those seafarers who looked for a rest while crossing the open waters to carry out their trade. Their fears of rough seas and terrible storms made them turn to the deity and pray for protection while on their long voyages. Their history dates back from about the year 3500 BC, although it is believed that the first settlers on the islands might have come from nearby Sicily around 7000 years ago. Those who lived on these islands worshipped their gods and dedicated special temples to yhem. Today there are still remnants of these old shrines scattered in many places, which describe the inhabitants of Malta and Gozo of those times as people who held their god as a Supreme Being. The size of some rocks used to build these temples is of a gigantic nature, and one may wonder how these were placed on top of each other.

It was in this Neolithic period that the population of the Maltese islands began to organise themselves culturally. This they did completely alone and without any outside influence. Out of their idea of a religious deity or a divine being they began to erect places for suitable worship. The temples at Ggantija  in Gozo and those in Tarxien, Hagar Qim  and Mnajdra  in Malta, are chronicles of the early Maltese culture. It is so fortunate for us today to still have the remains of these temples in such a good shape and almost intact after so many centuries. Other places where temples were built are at Paola where the Hypogeum  lies underground, and those at Mgarr known as Skorba  and Ta' Hagrat.  Perhaps other Neolithic temples may lie buried awaiting excavation. There is no doubt that between 3500 and 2500 years BC the Maltese islands were inhabited by an extraordinary people, intelligent and resourceful. They were both technologically as well as artistically endowed. Evidence of these qualities lies in the sheer size of the stone blocks used and the perfect interlocking between them to produce a solid structure according to a preconceived architectural design. The fineness of the sculpture that used to decorate the temples as well as the perfection of design of the hand moulded ceramic production, is sufficient to convince oneself of the artistic genius of these people.


 

However, there is mo explanation why this temple-building civilization disappeared abruptly about 2500 years BC, only to give way later to the Bronze Age civilization, which settled on the islands thereafter.

It is not possible here to expand on the structure, character, sizes, engravings and sculpture of each of the prehistoric temples of the Maltese islands. These would certainly exhibit the richness of these sites, which is a unique feature in Europe. It is however, sad to realise that many people of the islands today are still not familiar with this phenomenon, which they themselves possess. Many thousands are those who left Malta and immigrated to other countries without having first visited these important historic sites on the islands. There are others, too, who return to Malta and Gozo for their holidays only to enjoy the sunny hot periods of the summer, while totally disregard the most valuable rich history which belongs to them as Maltese nationals.

To read only about the beauty of the past in history books or archaeological documents is not as good and vivid experience as being there physically. After all, many tourists visit the Maltese islands and show deep interest in the historical past of that country, apart from the sandy beaches and sunshine that the travel agents promote to them. Would you not make a resolution to spare some time and see more of Malta and Gozo the next time you plan a holiday there? You can be assured that there is more to your liking than simply staying by the seaside.