Sunday, 2 March 2014

Mnajdra

 Mnajdra (pronounced Mmnaidra) is the most spectacularly sited of Malta's Neolithic temples with views over the sea to the uninhabited island of Filfla. The temple complex occupies a shallow hollow above the cliff tops of Dingli, out of sight of any modern buildings. This isolation and solitude marked it out from all the other Neolithic sites in this  small crowded island. This sacrilized landscape was as remarkable for its great antiquity, among the oldest religious sites in the world, as it was for its unspoiled tranquility.


The Neolithic temples of Malta have been claimed as the oldest free standing monuments known in the world. These are the world's oldest buildings and its oldest architecture. These monuments are older than the Pyramids of Egypt and older than Stonehenge. They are the work of people who are believed to have migrated from Sicily and who developed these remarkable cultural innovations in subsequent isolation. This led to the building of the temples of the Ggantija phase (3600-3000 BC), culminating in the Tarxien temple which remained in use until 2500 BC. Mnajdra is a complex site, the oldest part is the small upper temple which dates from the Ggantija phase (3600 -3000 BC) This is a three apsed building which like the others was once covered by a vaulted roof.

The lowest temple dates from the Tarxien phase (3150-2500 BC). This is the most impressive of the temples at Mnajdra, and it is to me the most exciting places in Malta .It has a large forecourt with stone benches set against a concave facade and an entrance passage covered with horizontal slabs.


In the first apse is a magnificent porthole slab framed in a trilithon, the whole decorated by a close-spaced pitted surface. Underneath is a threshold slab, cut to fit around the orthostats. On either side are free-standing pitted slabs.


Through this doorway is the inner apse of the temple, separated by a double altar with pillar (phallic) supports. Another pillared altar is opposite the doorway and a third pitted altar though with no pillar is to the left.


The apse on the right of the temple has walls over 4 metres high giving a visitor the impression of standing inside a building.rather than visiting a ruin. In the eastern wall is a small doorway with a stepped approach and another porthole slab. It leads to a small chamber within the thickness of the walls.


To the right is an altar niche, a porthole slab within a trilithon leading to an altar slab supported on an elaborate pillar (phallus).


This temple is astronomically aligned and on the vernal and autumn equinox the sunlight passes through the entrance and up the main axis to penetrate the interior of the temple. On the solstices the sun lights up the edges of the megaliths on either side of the entrance.


The middle temple is the latest of the three at Mnajdra and was built in the Tarxien phase (3150- 2500 BC), inserted between the other two. On the largest upright to the left of the inner passage is a small engraving of a temple facade. The world's oldest surviving architectural representation.


Since these photographs were taken Mnajdra ,after 5000 years, has been covered with what is described as a protective tent (2009). Entry is restricted and a fee is now charged. To those who were able to visit Mnajdra and never see another soul, these developments are to be profoundly regretted. I am glad Vera Greer, who loved this place did not live to see it.