Older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids

Ggantija Temples, Malta, ancient megalithic temples, world heritage site

Older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids


Ggantija Temples, Malta

When you think of old monuments – and I mean really old – the ones that first come to mind are places like Stonehenge or the Egyptian Pyramids. These are places where you marvel at not just the design but the engineering skills that enabled humans to build such difficult monuments all those thousands of years ago.

And then there are the not so famous. It wasn’t until I was in Malta that I first heard about the Ggantija Temples – they’re not really on the bucket list of most travellers, right?

Ggantija Temples, Malta, ancient megalithic temples, world heritage site

But these structures were, in fact, built before both Stonehenge and the Pyramids. It’s estimated they were constructed in about 3600BC, which makes them the second oldest manmade religious structure in the world (after Gobekli Tepe in Turkey). More than 5,500 years ago there were humans on this small Mediterranean island with big dreams.

Ggantija Temples, Malta, ancient megalithic temples, world heritage site

Ggantija Temples, Malta, ancient megalithic temples, world heritage site

The Ggantija Temples were built during a time when metal tools were not being used in this part of the world and the wheel had not yet been invented. There are marks on some of the stones that suggest how the huge slabs were moved and arranged – perhaps with ball bearings or pulleys.

Ggantija Temples, Malta, ancient megalithic temples, world heritage site

Visiting Ggantija

It’s hot when I visit the temples on the small Maltese island of Gozo. It takes about 45 minutes to walk from the city of Victoria and it’s a shadeless trek along roads that reflect the heat back up into my face. There apparently is an occasional bus but I decide the walk would be a good way to see some more of the countryside. Although it’s dry on Gozo in summer, much of the landscape is taken up with green crops.

Ggantija Temples, Malta, ancient megalithic temples, world heritage site

Ggantija Temples, Malta, ancient megalithic temples, world heritage site

Not so up at the temples, though, where it’s all rocks and sand (save for a few lonely palms). The structures themselves are relatively small. There are two, side by side, which are quite similar. If you could see them from above, each would look like two ovals with a corridor cutting through them both. Walking in through one of the corridors, I look around.

Ggantija Temples, Malta, ancient megalithic temples, world heritage site

Ggantija Temples, Malta, ancient megalithic temples, world heritage site

Ggantija Temples, Malta, ancient megalithic temples, world heritage site

You can see the ingenuity which went into the construction, and there are some small details like a platform and a hearth. But this is not how it would have looked all those thousands of years ago. Small figurines were found during the excavation which suggest it was once decorated. There’s also evidence that makes researchers think the temples would have had roofs and possibly the walls were plastered and painted. Archaeologists believe this site was probably used for rituals or worship by a fertility cult.

Ggantija Temples, Malta, ancient megalithic temples, world heritage site

Ggantija Temples, Malta, ancient megalithic temples, world heritage site

So, is Ggantija worth the effort of visiting – especially when compared to the Pyramids or Stonehenge? Well, obviously it is not as impressive a site as those other two examples either in size or visual appeal. But as far as megalithic temples go, it is one of the best preserved ancient ones in the world – and I’ve already covered how old it is. Just to stand inside something that was built by man 5,500 years ago is pretty extraordinary when you think about it. For that reason alone, I think it should be on the list for a trip to Gozo. It’s not like it takes particularly long to see anyway!

UNESCO world heritage siteThis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For more info click here.
You can see all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites I’ve visited here.

  • Lauren Meshkin | Sep 5, 2013 at 8:24 am

    5,500 years ago… that number just blows my mind. I had never heard of Ggantija Temples before and definitely think it’s worth a visit after reading this post. Stonehenge is cool and all but you can only really stand there for so long and stare. I like how you can walk through the site here. It’s amazing that parts of it are still standing!

    Happy travels 🙂
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    • Michael Turtle | Sep 13, 2013 at 4:19 am

      Yeah, you can really get up close at Ggantija. There’s no much separating you from the rocks which is nice, compared to the other big tourist places like Stonehenge and the Pyramids.

    • Arthur Bond | Oct 1, 2015 at 6:23 pm

      We have just returned from Malta. whilst there we first went to the Archaeological museum in Valetta. Twice a day there are guided tours and most of the exhibits we saw were from Ggantija Temples. It is well worth visiting the archaeological museum first before going on to Ggantija ,because this gives you some advance knowledge and perhaps understanding of the temples. A couple of days later we went on a guided tour of Gozo that included the temples. Our guide told us that one of the stones there weighed 20 tones. It was certainly well worth the visit. Ggantija is, we were told,
      the oldest free standing ancient temple in the world and thought to be at least 3,500 years BC.

      • Michael Turtle | Nov 7, 2015 at 11:45 am

        I didn’t make it to the museum in Valetta and it sounds like I missed out. Thanks for letting everyone know about it – if I make it back sometimes, I’ll be sure to check it out!

  • TammyOnTheMove | Sep 5, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    I have never heard of these temples before. What an awesome sight! I loved Stonehenge and the mystery around it. I think the most incredible and old sight I have ever visited though were the terracotta warriors in China. The vastness of the sight is incredible.
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    • Michael Turtle | Sep 13, 2013 at 4:15 am

      One of the best things about these sites – including the terracotta warriors – is imagining what the people would have been like back then. How different were they to us? Why did they build these things? What things that we are building now will be looked at the same way in 5,000 years’ time?

  • zof | Sep 5, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    I’ve never heard of these! Thank you for the post!
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    • Michael Turtle | Sep 13, 2013 at 4:13 am

      My pleasure. I had a great time learning about them myself.

  • Mellisa Turner | Sep 5, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    Great photos and really something new for me. Thanks for sharing it. 🙂

    • Michael Turtle | Sep 13, 2013 at 4:13 am

      It seems like it is something new for pretty much everyone… which is odd, seeing as its older than almost everything 🙂

  • Ali | Sep 6, 2013 at 12:16 am

    I really wanted to go see this when I was in Gozo a few years ago, but my friend’s husband who’s from there said “It’s just a big pile of rocks!” and insisted on taking me to see the Azure Window instead. That was really pretty, but I’d still like to see these temples if/when I get back to Gozo.
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    • Michael Turtle | Sep 13, 2013 at 4:08 am

      Ha ha ha. “A big pile of rocks” is an accurate description in many ways. The Azure Window better fits the idea of what a Mediterranean island should look like. But there s something very unique and special about these temple ruins.

  • Mary @ Green Global Travel | Sep 6, 2013 at 1:20 am

    It’s fascinating to think that this structure was built 5500 years ago – and that despite the fact that it is not as impressive as are the pyramids, I remain surprised that it is not more well known. I would think that it’s age alone should make it a household name. Incredible. I am in awe and would love to have the opportunity to explore the site!
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    • Michael Turtle | Sep 13, 2013 at 4:07 am

      It wasn’t even that busy when I visited. I guess they must have more people there sometimes but it doesn’t even seem to be one of the main tourist spots for Malta. I felt like I had to hunt it out a little more than I may have expected.

  • Laura @Travelocafe | Sep 6, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    How cool is this?! I’ve never knew this existed. Almost made it to Malta last year, not I have a new reason to organize a trip there.
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    • Michael Turtle | Sep 13, 2013 at 4:04 am

      I’ve got to confess that I didn’t know it existed until I got there either. I guess it’s not overly big or dramatic… but it still doesn’t get a lot of coverage or promotion for something so old and important.

  • Maria | Sep 9, 2013 at 9:19 am

    It’s got to be an incredible feeling to stand there, among “ruins” that have stood the test of time. If only those stones could speak… the stories they’d tell!
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    • Michael Turtle | Sep 13, 2013 at 3:54 am

      I’m not sure I would want to hear all the stories of the rituals the cult would do there all those thousands of years ago… but you’re right, there must be so many incredible stories of mankind that happened right there between those rocks.

  • Bama | Sep 9, 2013 at 10:56 pm

    I’m always fascinated by ancient places like Ggantija. If I were there myself, I would have imagined how it would feel like when the ancient people who inhabited Gozo used the temple. As for Gobekli Tepe itself, a few weeks ago I watched a documentary program on it and it’s amazing how new discoveries are constantly unearthed which in turns enable us to better understand our past.
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    • Michael Turtle | Sep 13, 2013 at 3:51 am

      Although a lot of the detail has gone, I think you can still quite easily imagine what it would have been like. It’s much better preserved than you would expect for its age. I’m like you and am really fascinated with places that are so ancient!

  • Dan | Nov 3, 2013 at 11:39 am

    I had never heard of this place before. Super cool!
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    • Michael Turtle | Nov 10, 2013 at 9:37 pm

      I don’t think many people have heard of it – that’s one of the cool things about it. It was not crowded at all and I don’t think most visitors to Malta try to get there.

  • Christopher Grech | Dec 3, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    Have been to Malta many times and even lived there and have had the privilege of visiting Ggantija. It is impressive and has a fascinating feel to it, but its not the best Megalithic site on Malta. It’s strange that little is known to the rest of the world about Malta’s Megalithic temples and what’s more there are about 30 different Megalithic temple sites scattered across Malta & Gozo and many of them in much better condition than Ggantija. Hagar Qim & Tarxien extremely fine examples in beautiful condition. The most Impressive and best preserved (as it is underground) is the Hal-Saflieni Hypogeum which is said to be somewhere between 6 to 8 thousand years old, it is a 3 level deep subterranean structure and an estimated 200 thousand tonne of limestone perfectly carved out under ground in a negative image of the above ground temples. The Hypogeum also has extraordinary acoustic properties where sound resonates and amplifies around the whole complex when a male speaks into a niche in the wall of the oracle room. If ever in Malta, a visit to the Hal-Saflieni Hypogeum is a must, it really is quite spectacular and very mysterious. A good idea to book a visit at least a month or two in advance as well.

    • Michael Turtle | Dec 4, 2013 at 4:35 am

      Thanks for all that extra info – very useful for people!
      I really wanted to go to the Hypogeum but couldn’t get a ticket at short notice. It’s a really good tip to go online as soon as possible and reserve a space!

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