Ħaġar Qim is a megalithic temple complex found on the Mediterranean island of Malta
, dating from the Ġgantija phase (3600-3200 BC). The Megalithic Temples of Malta
are amongst the most ancient religious sites on Earth, described by the World
Heritage Sites committee as "unique architectural masterpieces." In 1992 UNESCO recognized Ħaġar Qim and four other Maltese megalithic structures as World Heritage Sites. Vere Gordon Childe, Professor of Prehistoric European Archeology and director of the Institute of Archaeology in the University of London from 1946-1957 visited Ħaġar Qim. Ħaġar Qim's builders used globigerina limestone in the temple's construction. As a result of this, the temple has suffered from severe weathering and surface flaking over the millennia. In 2009 work was completed on a protective tent.
The megalithic complex of Ħaġar Qim is located atop a hill on the southern edge of the island of Malta, on a ridge capped in soft globigerina limestone. All exposed rock on the island was deposited during the Oligocene and Miocene periods of geological time. Globigerina limestone is the second oldest rock on Malta, outcropping over approximately 70% of the area of the islands. The builders used this stone throughout the temple architecture. The temple’s façade is characterized by a trilithon entrance, outer bench and orthostats.
It has a wide forecourt with a retaining wall and a passage runs through the middle of the building, following a modified Maltese megalithic design. A separate entrance gives access to four independent enclosures which replace the north-westerly apse. Features of temple architecture reveal a preoccupation with providing accommodation for animal sacrifices, burnt offerings and ritual oracles. Recesses were used as depositories for sacrificial remains. Excavation has uncovered numerous statuettes of deities and highly decorated pottery.
The Temple Complex
The Ħaġar Qim complex consists of a main temple and three additional megalithic structures beside it. The main temple was built between 3600 and 3200 BC; however, the northern ruins are considerably older. The outside entrance serves as an interior passage and connects six large chambers. The right apse is constructed as an arch to prevent the upright slabs falling inward. The outside wall, built of huge upright blocks, projects inwards, thus creating an extremely solid building. This entrance passage and first court follow the Maltese megalithic pattern but as building progressed, this design was considerably modified. The northwesterly apse was replaced by four independent enclosures.
An extensive forecourt paved with large, irregular slabs occupies the area before the outer wall. It is a solid floor, encumbered with large blocks that once formed part of the walls or a series of chambers. One of the paving stones is pierced through and is theorized to have once served the purpose of a fireplace. The Ħaġar Qim forecourt shares many characteristics with Mnajdra
's southern temple forecourt.
Dwelling-Houses and Bastion
A group of middle-sized stones form small, semi-circular areas commonly referred to as "dwelling-houses". Alongside these, four rectangular monoliths approximately two-feet thick enclose a rectangular area, leaving an entrance in one corner. The bastion flanks the temple and is built from large stone blocks. Its western wall is about 20 metres long, curving in on itself towards the main temple and an outdoor shrine. It has been theorized that this was done to protect the complex from wild animals, which are known to have been plentiful at that time on the islands. It also distinguished the temples as sacred spaces.
The northern temple is the oldest part of Ħaġar Qim, containing an oval chamber with a semi-circular apse on each side. Following the second doorway is another chamber with similar apses. The northern temple uniquely has three insulated layers of flooring. The pavement on the topmost level is not marked by sacrificial fires, unlike the lower floors. Due to the different methods used in polishing the stone, scholars have theorized that the three layers of pavement illustrate three major shifts in construction at Ħaġar Qim.
The Northern Temple's first recess contains a round stone pillar and a rectangular slab held vertically ahead of the pillar. Resting on the slab are spherical hollows which may have served as holders in which to stand small libation jars. Jars excavated from the site are characterized by a specifically oval base, designed to stand upright when placed in the slab.
Remnants of the vertical blocks which once flanked the recess are still observable today. To the right of this chamber is another recess, containing an acoustic opening called the "oracle hole". Sound passed from the main chamber into the recess, and vice-versa. The hole has also been linked to alignments of the Summer solstice. On the right side of the chamber is a horizontal block that may have served as seating.
Beyond the temple entrance is an oval area 14.3 m (47 ft) long and 5.5 m (18 ft) wide with large slab walls, originally topped by courses of masonry. The two apsidal ends are separated from the central court by two vertical slabs pierced by rectangular openings. These openings are thought to have been adorned with curtains to limit access to the side apses. Visual access from the apses seems to have been limited to porthole slabs.
The Watering Place
Il-Misqa, is a flat area of bare rock atop a hill nearby the temple complex. It contains seven bell-shaped reservoirs that still retain rain-water during any winter with an average rainfall. Of the seven, five wells hold water; the three wells which no longer hold water are the deepest and are joined as a single tank through subterranean channels. A monolith surmounts one of the dry holes and is theorized to have been used in drawing water from the well. An eighth well exists but is blocked up by a mature fig tree.