Predating the Pyramids at Giza in Egypt by about 1000 years and Britain’s Stonehenge by a similar period, the temple at Hagar Qim, along with its sister temples on the tiny island of Malta, is widely considered the oldest stone structure standing anywhere in the world. And like the Gizan Pyramids and Stonehenge, Hagar Qim is a place of almost unimaginable and incomprehensible early human craftsmanship and engineering prowess.
Deliberately positioned on a hilltop vantage point overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the main 5,500 year old megalithic temple dates back to between 3600 and 3200 BCE, although an earlier ruined temple to the north of the site is significantly older. Translating from the Maltese as ‘standing stones’ or ‘worshiping stones’, the structure also contains artistic treasures that have changed the way archaeologists look at this period of our shared history within its C-shaped rooms.A retaining wall of huge slabs of local limestone more than 10 feet high encloses the rooms, accessed through a paved entrance way of equally massive stones. So large are they, in fact, that a seventeenth-century investigation of the structure determined that it must have been built and inhabited by a population of giants. The facade contains the largest stone used in any of Malta’s megalithic temples, with an estimated weight of 57 tons, while a slender ‘menhir’ standing stone soars over the complex with a height of 17 feet.Large and beautifully carved spheres of stone, perhaps used as rollers, dot the site. Structural stones around altar spaces are decorated with crisp spiral designs and marked with regular drilled dots that give the impression of a leopard’s markings. The altars themselves suggest animal sacrifices due to their concave shape.Several finely-carved statues of the female figure (now housed in the National Museum of Archaeology in the capital just a few miles away) including one called the ‘Venus of Malta’ or the ‘Fat Lady’ also suggest a link to the cult of Venus that spread across Europe during the period.