origins of Malta’s megalithic architecture are unclear.
The inspiration behind their design and appearance appears
to be a local phenomenon as no parallels have so far been
The Ghar Dalam phase wall and hut remains from Skorba
show that experiments in building techniques and rudimentary
forms of architecture had already started by c. 5200 BC.
By the Red Skorba phase c. 4400 - 4000 BC, architecture
had reached a more complex level with buildings being
designed with courtyards, foundation and mud-brick walls,
cobbled floors and other features. By that time, a clear
distinction was already being made between domestic and
ritual buildings. Structural remains dating to the later
Zebbug, Ggantija and Tarxien Phases (c. 4000 - 2500 BC)
suggest that a building tradition had been sustained over
a number of centuries.
Below ground another form of structure, rock-cut tombs
and burial facilities, were developing by the Zebbug phase
(c. 4000). This form of structure culminated in multilevel
underground cemeteries that mimicked surface architecture.
Foremost in this tradition is the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum
were surface architecture and underground structures converged.
Temple roofing is one of the most enigmatic problems of
Maltese megalithic architecture. When first discovered
and excavated, these monuments were found without any
form of roofing. Studies of these buildings make no mention
of possible collapsed roof materials such as slabs. Such
debris was not recorded.
However, a number of structural features, particularly
the ‘horizontal arch’ or corbelling, hint at possible
methods of roofing. The ‘horizontal arch’ feature was
designed to reduce the span that required roofing. The
remaining space could have been roofed over by means of
long stone slabs or lighter mud-covered grass and wood
Some chambers at the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum offer intimations
of this method. A small prehistoric model discovered at
Ta’ Hagrat suggests roofing by means of stone slabs. This
method and the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum inspired architect
Carlo Ceschi to produce drawings suggesting the manner
in which the megalithic temples were originally roofed.
Engineering and Craftsmanship
The building of the Maltese temples was a well organized
feat of engineering and coordination of manpower. Several
tons of stone blocks had to be cut, moved to chosen building
sites, erected and assembled into structural arrangements.
Some tasks, such as transportation, may have required
dozens of people. Others, such as delicate stone carving,
would have required one or two specialized craftsmen.
The temple builders used different types of stones of
varying sizes for construction. Rough unworked stones
strewn about in the vicinity of construction sites provided
building material that required little preparation. At
a number of sites however, megaliths were cut from quarries
and finely crafted.
It is thought that megaliths may have been dragged to
building sites on spherical stones. Megaliths may have
been levered into place by simple engineering techniques
using wooden levers, props, earth ramps, stone supports
and, possibly, ropes.
For finer craftsmanship such as that required in the creation
of spiral decorations, stone implements, blades made from
obsidian, flint and chert and bone tools would have been
sufficient to enable refined results in the field of stone