The temple of Ħaġar Qim stands on a hilltop overlooking the sea and the islet of Fifla, not more than 2km south-west of the village of Qrendi. At the bottom of the hill, only 500m away, lies another remarkable temple site, Mnajdra found above the Southern cliffs. The surrounding landscape is typical Mediterranean garigue and spectacular in its starkness and isolation.
First excavated in 1839, the remains suggest a date between 3600 – 3200 BC, a period known as the Ġgantija phase in Maltese prehistory. Ħaġar Qim was in fact never completely buried as the tallest stones, remained exposed and featured in 18th and 19th century paintings. The site consists of a central building and the remains of at least two more structures. The large forecourt and the monumental facade of the central structure follow the pattern typical of Maltese Prehistoric Temples. Along the external wall one may find some of the largest megaliths used in the building of these structures, such as a 5.2m high stone and a huge megalith estimated to weigh close to 20 tonnes.
The building itself is made up of a series of C-shaped rooms, known as apses. Walking through the main entrance, one finds a central paved space with an apse on each side. These apses are more firmly screened off than is usual at other temple sites using walls and slabs with square shaped portholes cut through as doorways. During excavations a slab bearing a pair of opposing spirals in relief and a free-standing pillar decorated on all four sides were found in the area. These have been replaced with replicas on site and the originals can be found at the National Museum of Archaeology.
Through the inner passage one finds an apse on the right and a large space on the left. The apse on the right has a curious setting of low stone slabs forming an inner enclosure. At the rear of this apse is a small elliptical hole. The rays of the rising sun on the first day of summer, the Summer Solstice, pass through this hole and illuminate one of the low slabs.
The large space on the left holds three high so-called ‘table altars’ and a doorway to an additional chamber reached by three steps. Three more chambers form part of this building but these can only be reached through doorways along the outer wall. Much of interest has been unearthed at Ħaġar Qim, notably stone and clay statuettes of obese figures which are also found at the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta.
Reasons to Visit
- 1. Ħaġar Qim is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, inscribed as part of ‘The Megalithic Temples of Malta’ in the World Heritage List.
- 2. A dedicated visitor centre offers information about the site in a fun and interactive manner.
- 3. One of the prehistoric chambers at Ħaġar Qim holds an elliptical hole which is hewn out in alignment with the Summer Solstice sunrise. At sunrise, on the first day of summer, the sun’s rays pass through this hole and illuminate a stone slab inside the chamber.