Ħaġar Qim ([ħɐdʒɐr ˈʔiːm]; Standing/Worshipping Stones) 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.No burials exist in the temple or the area surrounding Ħaġar Qim, nor have any human bones been discovered in Maltese temples. Bones of numerous sacrificial animals have been found. It is theorized that the Ħaġar Qim complex was built in three stages, beginning with the 'Old Temple' northern apses, followed by the 'New Temple', and finally the completion of the entire structure.
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.
Ħaġar Qim shares its basic architectural design with the Mnajdra, Tarxien and Ġgantija temple complexes. The basic shape includes forecourt and façade, elongated oval chambers, semi-circular recesses and a central passage connecting the chambers. This configuration is commonly termed "trefoil". It is also suggested that the shape of the temple in some way mimics the sacred sculptures found within them.
Excavation and Restoration:
Ħaġar Qim was first explored in 1839 at public expense during the Governorship of Sir Henry Bouverie, by T.G. Vance of the Royal Engineers. Within two short months, that officer had made a plan of the buildings and sent to Valletta a stone altar, a decorated slab and seven stone statuettes which are now exhibited in the Valletta Museum. The account of his excavations was published in 1842. Further excavations were done in 1835 by Dr. A.A. Caruana.
In 1885, Dr. A. A. Caruana made further excavations and published a lengthy report with elaborate plans, sections and views, drawn by Dr. Philip Vassallo of the Public Works Department.Further excavations were carried out in 1909 by Sir Themistocles Zammit and T.E. Peet. The British School at Rome directed subsequent excavations to ensure that all ruins in the Ħaġar Qim area had been identified.Sir Zammit was part of the Research Council selected by the First International Congress of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Science.
In 1910, the surrounding fields were carefully searched and the ruins themselves accurately surveyed by members of the British School at Rome who repaired some of the damaged structures and made a rich collection of potsherds, flint implements, stone and clay objects, now deposited in the Valletta Museum.
In 17 September 1949, three statuettes and several pieces of a much larger stone statue were discovered buried beneath a rectangular stone. These statuettes, commonly known as the "fat ladies", are on display in the National Museum of Archaeology, Valletta. The "Venus of Malta", which shares similar characteristics with the Ħaġar Qim statuettes, was discovered in 31 March 1950.It is important to note that the absence of sexual characteristics on the more developed types of Maltese cult-statuettes may imply that the being represented is in fact asexual.
Little has been done to restore the temple with the exception of reinforcing or replacing several stones, including the lintel, in the 1950s. Shelters have been constructed by Ħeritage Malta in an attempt to shield the temples from further erosion. A visitors' centre has been built near the temple, over what was originally a small restaurant. The visitors’ centre includes an auditorium for an audio-visual introduction and an exhibition space, displaying related artifacts and reproductions from the Museum of Archaeology as well as interactive exhibits.
The new structures have been the focus of some controversy, after MEPA's reports that construction be limited to the Magħlaq quarry (in the vicinity of Mnajdra) and not beside the Ħaġar Qim temples, were found to be misleading.