BLUE GROTTO & MEGALITHIC TEMPLES
In today’s post we will be travelling to the coast of Malta – the southern coast to be more precise.
There will be a visit to the fishing hamlet of Wied-iz-Zurrieq, where one can find the Blue Grotto caves (but we were not actually inside the caves) and two prehistoric sites, Hagar Qim and Mnajdra.
On our way to these places, we’ve however noticed something else in the sea … a very small island (or a very big rock) – depending how you’re looking at it. So, let’s first have a look at what this is.
The island of Filfla:
Just 5km (3 miles) offshore, is Malta’s smallest island, Filfla. This tiny island measuring just 280m (910ft) by 50m (160ft) across its plateau. An interesting story is that it might have been bigger, but British ships and aircraft used Filfla as target practice during and after WW II – it was apparently so bombarded that its dimensions were measurably reduced!
There was only a small chapel on this island between the 14th and 16th centuries, but that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1856. Since 1988 Filfla has been a Nature Reserve, with breeding colonies such as the storm petrel and herring gull. Endemic species of green lizards with red markings are also found here.
Filfla is not really accessible for boats or divers, for fear they might set off unexploded bombs – I guess it’s better to just take photo’s from a distance.
Plenty of caves can be found at Malta’s rugged coast and those at Blue Grotto is probably the most spectacular. On both occasions we’ve visited the Blue Grotto, the sea conditions (too windy) did not allow the boats to go out to the caves – one boat did try, but as soon as they’ve reached the open sea, they’ve turned around.
We will therefore have to turn to stock photo’s on the internet to show the beauty of this place …
Our trips to Blue Grotto at Wied-iz-Zurrieq was not initially to go and see the beautiful caves, but for Berto to dive the famous Um El-Faroud wreck. (We will have a special dive post towards the end of our Malta series and will therefor come back to Blue Grotto then again.)
Wied-iz-Zurrieq is a small fishing hamlet and there are only a handful of cafés and souvenir shops at the bottom of a scenic road from the village.
Very close to Blue Grotto and high on the southern clifftop are some of Malta’s prehistoric sites. Our knowledge of ancient ruins and temples are very limited, but we found our visits to two of these Megalithic temple sites very interesting.
Hagar Qim (meaning in simple terms ‘standing stones’) was first excavated in 1839 … but originally built about 2700 BC.
The stone that was used to build this temple (Globigerina Limestone), is rather soft and that might be a reason why there are several ‘porthole’ openings.
There is a long central court inside the temple with five chambers leading off this long passage.
Some of the biggest single blocks of stones can be found in Hagar Qim. One such stone, is 6.4m long and has an estimate weight of close to 20 tons. Archaeologists are of the meaning that these blocks were transported on stone balls unearthed in some temples, but how they’ve managed to get these in their upright position, remains unknown.
After our visit to Hagar Qim, we took a walk of a few hundred meters down the hill towards the sea, that brought us to the Mnajdra temple complex.
It is noticeable that Mnajdra are in a better condition than Hagar Qim. This temple, dating from 2500 BC, feature decorative work and are constructed out of the harder Coralline Limestone.
Whereas most temples face roughly south, this one is built on the same east-west axis as the rays of the sun at the time of an equinox. A healing cult may well have been practiced at this temple as a number of baked-clay models of parts of the human body, showing symptoms of disease, have been found here.
This was a fascinating experience – we’ve heard of ancient temples before and saw photo’s, but never actually had the opportunity to visit one. And now, on the small island of Malta we’ve experienced the oldest standing stone structures which remain to us from ancient times – older than Stonehenge and older than the Pyramids.
There are more prehistoric sites in Malta (and Gozo) and we definitely recommend that you visit a couple of these while exploring Malta. We will soon show you one more ancient temple site on our weekend visit to Gozo.
We’ve left the southern coast of Malta and took a quiet road back to Valletta. It was such a beautiful backroad and still reminded us of our visits to the ancient world we’ve just seen.
In the next part of our Malta series, we will take you to the beautiful fishing villages of Marsascala and Marsaxlokk – make sure not to miss this post as there are many pictures of these two colourful towns.
We have done these trips in 2011 & 2013