Mnajdra one of the megalithic temples of Malta

Megalithic Temples of Malta

This post covers the six UNESCO listed, prehistoric, mysterious, megalithic temples of Malta and the underground necropolis of Hal Saflieni, providing an overview, what to expect, and how to get there.

Prehistoric Malta

Based on pottery remains, archeologists think the first Maltese inhabitants were farmers from Sicily about 5,000 BC. They arrived via a land bridge, that geologists think existed between Sicily and Malta (and possibly Tunisia), during the last ice age, when sea levels were much lower.

Originally living in caves, they later built huts and villages. Around 3,600 BC, the first known megalithic temple was constructed (Ggantija).

From 3,600 to 2,500 BC, as many as 50 temples were built. And as sea levels were much lower 5,000 years ago, even more may be buried in the Mediterranean.

Six of these megalithic temples are UNESCO Heritage sites. They’re considered masterpieces due to complexity and limited resources available. Especially considering that metal tools were not available and the wheel had not been developed yet!

Tarxien Temple

The exact nature of the temples is unknown, but many believe they were used for rituals as fertility figures and animal bones were found nearby.

Equally mysterious was the abandonment of the megalithic temples of Malta in 2,500 BC.

Megalithic Temples of Malta

The six UNESCO megalithic temples of Malta are Ggantija, Hagar Qim, Mnajdra, Tarxien, Ta’ Hagrat, and Ta’ Skorba. Ggantija is on the island of Gozo, while the rest are on the main island of Malta.


This is the oldest temple complex on the archipelago, with two temples dating from 3,600 – 3,200 BC. It’s the second oldest freestanding building in the world. Recently discovered Gobekli, in Turkey, is the oldest.

Its name, ‘Ggantija’, stems from the Maltese word ‘ggant’, which means giant, as locals once thought it was built by a race of giants. Some of the stones of this temple are longer than 16’ (5 m) and weigh over 100,000 pounds (50 tons)!

Ggantija One of the top things to do on Gozo

Each temple has several apses, or curved rooms, symmetrically placed off the main corridor.

The walls were once finished in plaster and painted with red ochre, as traces were found between the stones.

Doorway to Ggantija, one of the megalithic temples of Malta.
South Temple Doorway
One of the apses of Ggantija, one of the megalithic temples of Malta.
South Temple Apse

Ggantija was probably used for animal rituals, as bones were found in the area.

On the far right in the top photo, you can start to see the curve of a gradual dome, leading researchers to believe it may have also once had a roof.

How To Get To Ggantija

Located at John Otto Bayer Street, in Xaghra, on Gozo Island.

If starting from Malta, take the ferry to Mgarr Harbor. Near the port you can rent a car, or catch a bus to Ggantija. The drive is about 15-minutes northwest of the port. You can also catch a bus from Victoria, Ramla, and other areas in Gozo. Visit Heritage Malta for opening times and details.

Hagar Qim

Hagar Qim, like Mnajdra (below), was built to align with the summer solstice. On the first day of summer, light passes through a hole carved in the rock, illuminating a slab.

Hagar Qim is another of the megalithic temples of Malta.
Hagar Qim Apse

It also has one of the longest stones of all the temples on Malta, measuring over 17’ (5.2 m), and weighing around 40,000 pounds (20 tons)!

How To Get To Hagar Qim

Located in southern Malta near the town of Qrendi, at Triq Hagar Qim. It’s a 30-minute ride by car or bus. See these directions from Valletta to Hagar Qim.

Also check the various Hop On Hop Off bus tours, as some do stop here. Make sure, however, they allow enough time as Mnajdra (below) is also at this location. Expect to spend 2 hours between the two.

The ticket includes both Hagar Qim, Mnajdra, and the visitor center (where there are also bathrooms and a small cafe). See the Heritage Malta site for opening hours and details.


Mnajdra’s location, 1,600’ (500 m) away, is beautiful, overlooking the Mediterranean with Filfla in the distance, an uninhabited islet of the archipelago.

Mnajdra one of the megalithic temples of Malta
Mnajdra and Filfla

Also positioned to determine the equinoxes (first day of fall and spring) it also determines the solstices (first day of summer and winter), when light passes through the doorway and onto decorated blocks.

Mnajdra one of the megalithic temples of Malta
Interior Detail
Mnajdra one of the megalithic temples of Malta

As noted above, plan to spend a couple hours between Hagar Qim and Mnajdra. Not only are the temples interesting, and the grounds lovely, you can also see the Misqa Tanks, prehistoric water tanks, and Hamrija Tower, a 17th century watch tower in the area.

How To Get To Mnajdra

Mnajdra is in the same location as Hagar Qim. See details above.

Tarxien Temples

This is the most complex temple in Malta, with 4 structures.

Tarxien, the most complex of the megalithic temples of Malta

Inside this temple is a replica of the lower part of a large female (below), probably representing a goddess of fertility and abundance. The original is in the Museum of Archeology.

fertility statue at Tarxien Temple, megalithic temples of Malta.
Statue at Tarxien Temple

In the south temple, you will also see detailed carvings.

Tarxien Detail
Tarxien Detail

The image below shows the smaller rocks believed to be used as roller bearings to move the larger stones.

Stone “Roller Bearings”?

How To Get To Tarxien

It’s located east of Hal Saflieni on Neolithic Temples Street, Hal Tarxien. It’s a 10-minute drive and 15-minute bus ride, with a further 10-15 minutes walking. Visit Heritage Malta for details on opening days, hours, and pricing.

Ta’ Hagrat & Ta’ Skorba

These two temples are smaller than those noted above and located near each other. Ta’ Hagrat, with its Fred-Flinstone-style doorway, is the more impressive of the two, but still small in comparison.

Ta Hagrat Temple one of the top things to do in Malta
Ta’ Hagrat

Although I found these temples interesting, if you’re short on time, I would focus on visiting the larger ones listed above, and Hal Saflieni.

How To Get To Ta’ Hagrat and Ta’ Skorba

Located in Mgarr and Zebbiegh respectively, the two temples are a little over 1/2 mile (1 km) from each other. Ta’ Hagrat is a 30 minutes drive from Valletta and a 40 minute bus ride from the bus station near the Valletta Gate. Ta‘ Skorba is a 20 minute from Ta’ Hagrat. Visit the Heritage Malta site for opening time sand more details.

Hal Saflieni Hypogeum 

Hal Seflieni Hypogeum, another amazing UNESCO World Heritage site, is an underground necropolis. Carved out of the limestone without metal tools, it has three levels of chambers, about 32’ (10 m) deep total.

It also contains carvings, red ochre paintings, and design elements similar to the megalithic temple of Malta.

Hal Saflieni an prehistoric UNESCO underground necropolis.
Hal Saflieni | Guettelet

The middle level is the most impressive, and where archeologists think ritual activities occurred. There is even an ‘oracle room’ with niches in the wall to amplify sound. The ‘Holy of Holies’ is also here, which appears to face the winter solstice.

In use from 4,000 BC to 1,500 BC, they estimate it contained the remains of about 7,000 people.

Interestingly, some skeletal remains had elongated skulls, which is similar to other findings in the world at this time. Elongated skulls were a sign of social class in some cultures. For example, Nefertiti, Akhenaten, and King Tut had elongated skulls. Possibly formed by binding during childhood when the skull is still malleable.

Getting Tickets for Hal Saflieni

To preserve the hypogeum, entrance is limited. Because of this, tickets sell out in advance. You can book them online at the Heritage Malta site.

There are last minute tickets available for the select tour offerings, but you must arrive early and stand in line at either Fort Saint Elmo in Valletta or the Gozo Museum of Archeology in Gozo. I did this and got tickets, but the line was quite long, even though I arrived well before they opened.

How To Get To Hal Saflieni

Located in Paola on Burial Street. You can take a taxi or a bus from the station in Valletta. Make sure to arrive 15 minutes before your scheduled time. And make sure to consider traffic delays!

Want More of Malta?

If you’re interested in ancient history and want to see the megalithic temples and the necropolis of Hal Saflieni, I highly recommend Malta.

As many, I never learned of these temples in history, so found them fascinating. They’re relatively easy to get to via bus on your own. Tours are also available on sites like Viator and TripAdvisor.

Plus, the island of Malta itself is lovely, with loads of beaches, sunshine and other historical sites, as is Gozo and Comino.

To plan a trip to Malta, see my Malta Travel Guide, which covers the highlights of all three islands, how to get around, safety, scams, logistics, and more.

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

One Comment

  • Jeff DeCocker

    Wow! I want to go just for the food, but the historical sites look amazing too. Thanks for putting Malta on my radar. I’d love to visit it someday!

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