another megalithic temple of about the end of the third
milennium B.C. which stands at about 800m to the west
of Hagar Qim. Whereas the latter is on the top of
the rocky plateau, Mnajdra is built close to the edge
the promontory facing the blue sea and the islet of
Filfla. Unlike Mnajdra, Hagar Qim is built of soft
stone. It stands on a soft rock known as “globigerina
limestone”, that flakes in huge slabs, and makes
the quarrying of the stone a competatively easy task.
Walking down towards Mnajdra, the laminated zones of
the soft stones are very conspicuous. These slabs had
only to be cut to the required size and levered up
in order to have them ready for use as building material.
Further down the path, towards the W., the nature
of the rock changes abrubtly from a soft flaking white
to a compact, rough bluish coralline limestone. This
semi-crystalline rock forms the rest of the hill down
to the seashore.
Mnajdra is mostly built of this heavy, hard stone;
hence its rugged appearance. On the other hand, the
slabs and blocks that are rubbed smooth and decorated,
are of globigerina limestone brought down from the
neighbourhood of Hagar Qim; the coralline limestone
Before reaching Mnajdra, a simple polished stone
slab may be sen raised in memory of General Sir Walter
Governor of Malta who died in l927 during his tenure
of office. The gallant soldier who fought many a battle,
directed that his body be burind at sea, his spare
hours at Malta having been happily spent cruising on
waters. The following simple inscription is cut on
the reddish slab:
SACRED TO THE MEMORY
OF HIS EXCELLENCY
SIR WALTER NORRIS CONGREVE
V.C., K.C.B., M.V.O.
GOVERNOR OF MALTA
BURIED AT SEA ON THE 4TH MARCH 1927
BETWEEN THIS SPOT AND FILFLA ISLAND
Mnajdra consists of two buildings at different levels;
the one at a hight level looking South-east, the other
one looking due East.
The two monuments were cleared by Vance during the
year 1840 but no detailed account of the excavation
is known to exist. The first accurate plan was made
by Dr. Albert Mayer in 1902. In 1910, members of
the British School at Rome, helped to make further
which resulted in the collection of the important
archaeological material, now exhibited in the Valletta
Coming down from Hagar Qim, just before reaching the
Mnajdra Temples, there is a small subsidiary building
on the right hand. Little remains of this neat and
pretty building. A narrow doorway looking South is
lined by slabs on end, originally decorated with
pitmarks. This leads to an area of which the walls
have practically disappeared. At the back, an apsidal
space, lined with small stones, has, in front, three
slabs and a pillar on each side.
The pillar-stones are decorated with pitmarks drilled
in horizontal rows on the inner surface. This quaint
decoration must have been either unfinished or the
work of a novice who had no proper pattern in mind
but simply exercised his hands in this peculiar sort
The First Sanctuary
The first building to be reached is the one at a higher
level. Its façade betrays some disorder, and
is considerably disarranged. In its present state
it has two entrances, the first one to the right
being, in all probability, the original one. The
second doorway, which is dilapidated, must have been
constructed at a later date.
The first entrance is solidly paved, and two large
slabs standing outside, one on each side, form a
kind of ante room. The gateway, now broken, consists
an enoumous slab pierced in the middle by a rectangular
opening 1.2m wide and 1.6m high. This is a feature
of several of the Maltese Megalighic buildings in
which doorways, instead of being built, are cut through
thickness of a slab placed on end.
The entrance leads directly into an ellipsoidal area,
16.5m in length and 7.3m in breadth; the walls are
made of slabs on end about 0.9m high. These are surmounted,
at present, by two courses of long blocks but, originally,
the courses were more numerous and arranged so as
to form a vault. The floor of these two apses is made
of stone chippings and beaten earth which, in time,
became as hard and compact as if regularly paved
Beyond the entrance, th passage to the next set of
apses is solidly and magnificently erected, with
large well-smoothed slabs on end and by a low rectangular
block of stone. Two recesses are thus formed; in
recess to the left, a model of a megalithic building,
apparently the work of a contemperaneous artist,
The second area has two side apses, reached between
magnificent stone slabs, with sides neatly notched
so as to receive a horizontal slab covering the passage.
A fine solid threshold gives a well-finished appearance
to the whole building.
The northern area is 13.7m long and 6.1m broad in
the middle portion. Here too, the walls are made of
slabs on end with ashlar masonry laid upon them.
A deep recess at the back is filled up by a well-cut
horizontal slab, 3.3m long, 1.8, wide and 0.4m thick
supported, originally, by a pillar at each end at
height of 1.5m from the ground. More supports were
inserted in 1910 when the slab, cracked in the middle,
was repaired. A raised threshold made of two blocks
of stone is laid along the hexagonal recess.
The wall of the eastern apse is plain and continuous.
A curious rectangular cavity, 0.3m by 0.2m, is carefully
cut in one of the wall slabs.
In the western apse, the wall is decorated with an
elaborate façade which bears no relation to
the construction with an elaborate faced finished window-like
doorway, with beautifully curved and smoothed edges,
1m high and 0.6m wide, opens in front of a deep niche.
In this niche flanked by high vertical slabs and
backed by a large slab set against the wall, a stone
stands on a cylindrical pedestal. The back of this
niche corresponds to the wall of the outer area;
one of the slabs having been broken, the niche was
Leaving the first temple, one steps down over a heap
of boulders to the level of the second temple 3m
The outer wall of this building has a striking appearance,
being made of large reddish masses of semi-crystalline
rocks piled up to a considerable height. These blocks
of stone, quarried from the local rocks, are roughly
hewn, but the rugged surface gives them a remarkable
The whole façade has a semicircular court in
front, emphasised by large quadrangular foot blocks
which probably afforded sitting accommodation. The
forecourt is paved with rough boulders making an uneven
hummocky floor. Not far from the entrance, and in front
of it, one of the paving stones shows a rope-hole to
which, probably, sacrifical animals used to be tied.
Before crossing the threshold of the wonderful edifice,
a detail which easily escapes the superficial observer
should be noted. Ensconced in the corner of the first
foot stone, on the left of the entrance, a slender
hardstone cone is fixed in the thickness of the wall.
Another smaller one is planted to the left of the
threshold, while a third one, not far from it has,
now, its apex
broken off. This recalls the famous sacrd cones and
cylinders that in Chaldea used to be placed in the
foundation walls of important buildings.
To the right of the threshold a double-holed stone
is firmly fixed in the ground.
The gateway and the passage are carefully and solidly
paved, and lined at the sides with slabs 1.8m high.
This passage was originally covered by slabs laid
horizontally over the uprights; one of these slabs,
3m long, is
still in place.
The stately entrance leads to an elliptical area,
13.7m long and 7m wide in its middle portion. The floor
formed by the outrcrop of the natural rock.
In front, a magnificent trilithon frames the entrance
of the courtyard beyond. On each side of this doorway
is a low, will-squared rectangular block with bevelled
edges decorated with deep pitmarks.
The right apse has a wall of standing slabs on which
courses of masonry are laid and which, originally,
were more numerous and formed a cupola covering the
Cut in slabs, at a short distance from the floor,
two rectangular windows open into rooms at the back
were probably used as oracular chambers.
A couple of steps to the right of the entrance lead
to a doorway made of a standing slab pierced by an
opening 1.01m high and 0.6m wide. Behind this doorway,
a triangular chamber with walls made of great blocks
of roughly-hewn coralline limestone, makes a striking
contrast with the dainty niche in the right corner.
This niche, lined in front by a well-cut vertical
slab, is flanked by two pillars which support a horizontal
slab in front; the rest of the roofing of the niche
consists of smaller slabs and blocks. The vertical
slab in front is pierced by a neatly-cut window-like
aperture, 0.7m high and 0.4m wide.
Built within the niche, a rectangular cell made of
smooth slabs, is evedently a holy shrine in which
some precious object was kept.
In the north-west corner of this chamber two horizontal
slabs are laid one above the other with a space of
0.8m between them. The lower slab is supported by
side pillars and forms a kind of altar.
The outer walls consist of enormous blocks of coralline
limestone slanting so sharply inwards that one does
not approach them without some apprehension. Leaving
the chamber and walking past the entrance of the main
courtyard, one comes in front of a trilithon, over
1.5m in height, with a table slab, 3m long, built in
a recess of the main wall.
Further on, a rectangular block is laid against the
wall to the south – probably the pedestal of
some big object which has now disappeared. This block
is 2m long and 0.3m high. Turning sharply to the west,
one faces the most striking part of the whole building:
the entrance to a deep chamber at the back. Two large
slabs on end flank this entrance, one on each side
at right angles to it. Two other slabs with their face
parallel to it, limit the width of the doorway. In
a low step, built beyond the outer slabs, a deep rope-hole
is very neatly drilled.
Beyond this is the main façade consisting of
a vertical slab, pierced by a rectangular opening 1m
high and 0.6m wide, and encased in a magnificent trilithon.
All the stones of this beautiful façade are
decorated with accurately drilled pitmarks of various
sizes. There can be no doubt that these old builders
had a talent for decoration, an eye for line and a
Not without a sense of reverence and awe, one enters
the Sanctuary, a rectangular room with double altars
in deep recesses, one in front and one to the left.
The recess in front – bounded all round with
large slabs – contains two horizontal stones,
one upon the other. The lower one, 1m fron the ground,
is supported by pillars at both ends and rests in the
middle on a solid biconical pillar. The other slab
is laid at a height of 0.8m from the lower one, and
is supported by a cylindrical pillar at the centre.
The recess in the left corner of the room contains
also a double altar. The lower slab, supported at
both ends, is 0.8m from the ground, and the upper slab
0.6m higher. The lower slab is decorated with chipped
pitmarks on both surfaces.
Turning to the north, flanked by high slabs and kept
apart by a horizontal stone, a short narrow passage
leads to a square area in front of the main entrance
and at the furthest end.
At the back of it, this chamber has a deep recess
in which an altar is built, consisting of a solid slab
3m long and 1.1m wide, supported, horizontally, at
a height of 1.1m from the floor, by two slabs, one
at each end.
Looking out from this recess towards the main entrance,
one gets a veiw of the magnificent passage running
across the whole building. This passage is lined
throughout by huge uprights, of which, some have suffered
from exposure. Most of the horizontal slabs supported
by the vertical pillars have also disappeared in
the course of ages. One of these slabs, which now lies
broken in the outer apse but which was found in the
passage, once formed the lintel of a doorway. In
middle part it has a circular hole which, originally,
corresponded vertically with a similar one drilled
in the threshold of the room. These two holes appear
to have been the sockets of a door, the leaves of
which turned on pivots.
A high-walled quadrangular apse to the north of the
chamber has its floor about 0.3m higher than that of
the adjoining area. When the floor – which is
of beaten earth – was excavated in 1910, many
interesting objects were discovered, including some
clay figurines having the appearance of votive offerings.
They seem to reprsent diseased parts of the human body
offered, probably “exvoto”, in the sanctuary
of a healing deity. All these interesting objects,
together with very early pottery, stone implements
and animal bones, are now exhibited in the Valletta
On leaving this second building of Mnajdra, one can
see, to the south-west of the monument, the remains
of walls and foundation stones testifying to the
former existance of one or more subsidiary buildings
A roughly-built massive wall, starting from the south-west,
surrounds part of the lower temple of Mnajdra but
it does not embrace the temple on the higher level.
is a sure indication that the two buildings were
not erected simultaneously.
A few general considerations may not be amiss after
a review of the Hagar Qim and the Mnajdra groups
A cursory inspection of the buildings will convince
the visitor that they were not intended for dwelling
houses or for palaces. In any house, large or small,
used as a dwelling, personal comfort and the ordinary
conveniences of life are essential. None of these
important features are to be found in these megalithic
nothing was done to ensure privacy or the general
comfort of the inmates. On the other hand, everything
to have been done to provide accommodation for animal
sacrifices, burnt offerings, and ritual oracles.
Recesses were constructed to be used as depositories
for sacrificial remains; statuettes of deities are
met with in the form of corpulent figures, with all
the features of reposing supernatural beings who
expect devotion and oblation at the hands of their
The highly decorated pottery is also more suited
to a place of worship than from common household use.
It is often said that these buildings were tombs
if important personages, or places destined for here-worship.
It is well to remember that no burials were ever
anywhere close to Hagar Qim or Mnajdra. One single
skull reporte dto have been found during the first
excavation of Hagar Qim must be attributed to a casual
burial in the mound that once covered the monument.
The two groups of temples were partly domed over
and partly open to the sky. The apses were undoubtedly
vaulted by the process known as corbelling. That
by making each course of masonry project inwards
a little beyond the one below it. The corbelled vault
is the most primitive kind of vault known. The passages
were made of vertical slabs over which large blocks
were laid horizontally. The courts and the yards
uncovered, the burning of sacrificial offerings taking
jplace in these open spaces.
It is possible that, originally, after enclosing
the building within a thick wall and roofing over the
the latter were covered with stones and earth and
thus turned into a mould or a series of mounds. This
protected the building from adverse agencies and
making it more solid and attractive. A people who lived
the glare of sunny climate were more likely in the
habit of conducting their religious rites, as far
as possible, in the subdued light or in the dark.
The Mnajdra plateau was – in the middle of the
last century – rendered famous to students of
paleontology by the discovery of a cave excavated by
Dr.Leith Adams, a military surgeon, in 1863. This cave
was found to the west of the Mnajdra temples on the
way to the Maghlaq ravine. The cave, in fact, was called
Maghlaq cave. The blasting of the rock for quarrying
the hard stone has completely destroyed the cave from
which Dr. Leith Adams extracted fossilized bones of
hippopotami, elephants and other extinct animals. The
famous Mnajdra elephant was one of the fossils discovered
and was so named after the neighbouring temple. Students
of paleontology should walk a few hundred metres beyond
Mnajdra to form an idea of the land on which pleistocene
fauna roamed and died and was, through the course of
time, buried and mineralized, thus rendering possible
its further study.
8.15 am to
All days of the week including Sunday, except any
Lm 1 for both Temples - Mnajdra and Hagar Qim
Lm 4 for all temples in Malta valid for a whole week (to be bought from the Museum
of Argeology in Valletta)
Following are prices for
tickets issued by Heritage Malta:
Admission charges for all Heritage Malta museums & sites,
the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum and the Inquisitor's Palace
Adults (19 - 59 years): Lm 1
Students (13 - 18 years), Senior Citizens (60 years
and over), ISIC Card
Holders, EURO<26 Card Holders and ICOM Card Holders:
Children (1 -12 years): Free
Citadel Day Ticket - Visit the four Museums in the
Citadel Gozo in the
same day (Museum of Archaeology, Natural Science Museum,
and Old Prisons)
Over 12 years
Under 12 years - Free
Xaghra Day Ticket - Visit the two sites in Xaghra
Gozo in the same day
(Ggantija Temples and Ta' Kola Windmill)
Over 12 years - Lm1.50c
Under 12 years - Free
Special Exhibitions: there may be a separate charge
for temporary or
All museums and archaeological sites, with the exception
of the Hal
Saflieni Hypogeum, are open free of charge to Maltese
Citizens on the last
Sunday of the month.