An impressive number of archaeological locations can be found among the many ancient sites in Malta, with no less than three sites qualifying for the much-coveted UNESCO World Heritage list. From the macabre burial sites of Ghar Dalam and Xaghra Stone Circle and the magnificent Mnajdra and Tarxien Temples, to the spooky St Pauls Catacombs and prehistoric observatory at Ħaġar Qim, history fanatics, Indiana Jones fans and amateur archaeologists alike will find a wealth of intriguing curiosities buried deep in the soil of many ancient sites in Malta.
If you only have time to visit one of the ancient sites in Malta, the Ħal Saflieni should probably be it. An intriguing labyrinth of underground chambers, this prehistoric burial site dates to 3600 BC- 2500 BC and is one of the best-preserved subterranean monuments in Europe. Be sure to book ahead, the delicate microclimate of the Hypogeum allows a very limited number of visitors per day.
Budding paleontologists shouldn’t miss the Ghar Dalam cave and museum. Malta’s oldest prehistoric site, it’s home to a variety of ancient animal bones, fascinating fossil finds and human remains. The deepest layers of the cave (over 500,000 years old) have revealed remnants of a captivating selection of Ice Age animals including dwarf elephants and mini hippos.
Surrounded by striking white cliffs and with mind-blowing views of the Mediterranean Sea and the tiny islet of Fifla, the ancient site of Ħaġar Qim is a megalithic temple complex with a selection of prehistoric chambers – the largest megalith weighs in at close to 20 tons. Spiritualists and stargazers will appreciate the mystic qualities of the temple – it’s believed to have been constructed as a prehistoric observatory.
According to local folklore, the majestic Ġgantija Temples were built by a giantess who ate nothing but broad beans and honey – a seriously impressive accomplishment bearing in mind these two temples are made of massive coralline limestone blocks (some weighing over 50 tons). Older than the Egyptian Pyramids and Stonehenge, Gozo’s Ġgantija Temples are among the best-preserved prehistoric sites in Malta.
Situated only a short walk from Ħaġar Qim, the magnificent temple of Mnajdra is rumoured to heal illnesses and promote fertility. Built in coralline limestone and partly decorated with spiral carvings, archaeologists have found an abundance of flint knives and animal bones here, suggesting that the temple was once used for religious ceremonies and sacrificial rites.
The remains of a wealthy Roman household, the ruins of Domvs Romana were accidentally discovered in 1881. Although very little still stands of the original house, some of its incredible mosaic floors are still intact. Beauty buffs will enjoy the selection of archaeological artefacts, including a collection of Roman-era glass perfume bottles and ornate hairpins, which can be viewed in the adjoining museum.
Not for the faint of heart (or those scared of the dark), a visit to the catacombs of St Pauls takes visitors down into a complex system of interconnected passageways and ancient burial chambers. This huge underground cemetery comprises over a thousand graves and 24 catacombs, with two open to the public.
Situated on the island of Gozo, the Xaghra Stone Circle is a subterranean burial ground dating to 4000-2500 BC. Among the many engrossing facts and macabre findings here, archaeologists have uncovered over 200,000 human body parts since excavations started in the 1820s.
You can only imagine the surprise of the local farmers who discovered the Tarxien Temples, completely by chance in 1913. One of the most photogenic archaeological sites in Malta, the sprawling grounds provide ample opportunity to discover the ancient temples by foot – perfect for amateur archaeologists and history fanatics alike.
A web of ancient trackways, the age and purpose of these deep ridges are still steeped in mystery as no one actually knows how and why they were constructed. Londoners may find comfort in their informal nickname, ‘Clapham Junction’ –apparently named by an English gentleman who was reminded of the busy London railway when exploring this ancient site.