No, I didn’t just smash my fingers on the keyboard! Those are actual places we visited in Malta!
See, here’s the sign:
This might be a good time to talk about the Maltese language, since it’s really different. Of course, I am not a linguist, so take this all with a grain of salt!
Malta has a similar history to Sicily; lots of invasions, with wide varieties of cultures having dominance, and the language reflects that. Maltese is a Semitic language (but they use the Latin alphabet), and we were told that the bulk of the pronunciation comes from an old dialect of Arabic (think 9th century old), whereas the vocabulary comes from Sicilian, French, English, Spanish, and a little Italian.
A good example of this is the word “Thank You”. In Italian the word is “Grazie“, which is pronounced like “graht-see-A“. The Sicilians use the same spelling as the Italians (you didn’t know they were separate languages, did you?), but they pronounce it “GRaht-zee“. In Maltese the word is “Grazzi” and it’s pronounced just like the Sicilian!
ANYWAY, back to Hagar-Qim (which, since we’re talking about pronunciation is “Hah-gar-rreem“, with the rr rolled like in Spanish) and Mnajdra (which is actually pronounced just how you would think – none of the letters are silent, and they make the same sounds as they do in English).
Hagar-Qim and Mnajdra are two temples that date back to between 3600 and 3200 BC.
Now, that’s a pretty specific claim, but these sites are OLD! 1000 years older than Stonehenge, or the Pyramids of Egypt.
The visitors center was actually really informative, with a lot of hands-on activities where you could practice chipping away at blocks of limestone, or try different ways of moving bricks. Nick, of course, wasted no time in demonstrating how much weight a properly-constructed arch could support:
The park itself is pretty expansive, as it includes the surrounding landscape, not just the temples. The views were amazing!
The white dome in that picture is a tent-like structure covering Mnajdra. There is a similar structure over Hagar-Qim, and they were apparently installed as a temporary measure to protect the temples from wind and rain. Since the structures are made of limestone they were disintegrating pretty rapidly, and no one has come up with a permanent way to preserve them, so the tents are a stop-gap.
The temples themselves are amazing:
The detail work within the temples was also interesting to see – in the museum they had a video showing how these different patterns might have been carved into the rock – I just think it’s neat that they’re decorated at all!
As an American, what I found most surprising was that we were allowed to wander wherever we wanted! There were pathways, but walking on the grass was allowed, there were a few rope barriers, but those were more to keep things organized than to prevent access. We could take pictures, touch things, climb up steps (with no railings). The entire time we were there we kept asking each other “Can you believe we are here? And that this is allowed?” The entire visit was just an incredible experience!