The Ġgantija Temples in Xagħra, Gozo, are one of the most important archaeological sites in the Maltese Islands. Their listing on the UNESCO World Heritage List makes them a site of universal significance. The site consists of a megalithic complex of two temples surrounded by a massive common boundary wall, and raised on a high terrace wall. The origins of Ġgantija date back to between 3600 and 3200 B.C., with the larger temple being the first to be built. Extensive restoration work was carried out in the early 20th century to ensure the monument’s preservation.
The megalithic site of Ġgantija must always have raised some curiosity in the local population, and even before it was first excavated by Colonel John Otto Bayer in 1827, the gigantic ruins were for a long time associated with a mysterious race of giants, eventually giving rise to the name of the site, “ġgant” being Maltese for giant. From as early as the 16th century down to the present day, Ġgantija has always attracted visitors to the island, and thanks to notable artists and distinguished visitors, we are in possession of priceless drawings and paintings of the site even before its excavation in the early 19th century.
One of the most striking features of the entire complex is the enormity of the megaliths in which it is constructed, and the considerably good state of preservation, notwithstanding the age of the monument. This is perhaps most significant in the boundary wall which encloses the two temples, and which is built in rough coralline limestone blocks standing at right angles so as to provide enough support for the smaller courses of stone in the upper levels. Some of the megaliths exceed five metres in length and weigh over fifty tons. The hard-wearing locally-quarried coralline limestone is used extensively at Ġgantija, and is one of the reasons behind the preservation of the monument. The softer Globigerina limestone is reserved for inner furnishings such as doorways, altars, and decorative slabs. Each temple consists of a number of apses flanking a central corridor. This architectural style is reflected in all the megalithic temples of Malta, with the number of apses varying according to the period in which the temple was constructed. The inwardly inclined walls suggest that the temples were roofed over, possibly making use of timber beams, reeds and clay for waterproofing. There is evidence for the internal walls to have been plastered and painted over, as proven by two plaster fragments with red ochre originating from Ġgantija and preserved at the Gozo Museum of Archaeology.
Excavations have brought to light the remains of animal bone, thus suggesting some sort of ritual involving animal sacrifice. The use of fire is evidenced by the presence of stone hearths. A number of libation holes in the floor may have been used for the pouring of liquid offerings. The innermost sections of the temples were possibly screened off from the outer parts. It is probable that during ceremonial activities, the congregation would have assembled outside the temple complex, since the large forecourt in front of the two temples was purposely raised by the same temple builders, and is a common feature in Maltese temple architecture.
Of particular interest are a small number of prehistoric objects found at Ġgantija, and today preserved at the Gozo Museum of Archaeology. These include two stone heads, in typical artistic style of the Temple Period, a large stone block with a snake relief, and a phallic symbol. Ġgantija was in use for about a thousand years, after which time it was abandoned and later used as a cremation site by Bronze Age inhabitants.
Source: Heritage Malta