The Tarxien Temples come as a pleasant surprise to the unwary visitor. Situated at the heart of Tarxien (a village in the central part of Malta), the temples have been encroached by dense urban development and, unlike the other extensive prehistoric sites on the island, do not have a monumental bearing on their surrounding landscape.

Nonetheless, the Tarxien Temples offer a stimulating experience for visitors, holding he largest number of exceptional examples of prehistoric art and attesting an extraordinary society who produced astounding advances in art, technology and architecture some 5,000 years ago.

The Tarxien Temples consist of four principal megalithic structures. A small Temple at the eastern end of the site was the first to be built sometime between 3600 and 3200BC. The South and East Temples were then built in the Tarxien Phase (ca. 3000-2500BC), while the six-apsed Central Temple was the last to be constructed. The South Temple is renowned for its highly finished carvings, which include domestic animals carved in relief and various spiral designs. A striking feature within this building is the remains of a colossal statue. Within the thickness of the wall between the South and Central Temples are the famous reliefs of two bulls and a sow with piglets.

The site seems to have been used extensively for sacrificial rituals. Animal bones and a flint blade were found within a decorated altar in the South Temple suggesting that animal sacrifice formed part of the activities that took place within the building during the Temple Period. After the end of the Temple Culture the site was put to a different use, becoming the site of a cremation cemetery during the Bronze Age.

The Tarxien Temples have recently been the focus of extensive conservation studies and preparations for improved visitor facilities through an agreement between the Bank of Valletta (a local bank) and Heritage Malta, the national agency for museums, conservation practice and cultural heritage that manages Tarxien Temples.

With the help of the Bank of Valletta, Heritage Malta is slowly turning this archaeological site into an exciting discovery for all its visitors, whilst ensuring that this experience will be shared with future generations. Some of the latest environmental monitoring equipment has been installed within a number of chambers that will allow Heritage Malta’s conservation specialists to better understand the site’s deterioration and the measures necessary for its preservation.

Amongst conservation works carried out is the preservation of two unique megaliths which bear witness to the vessels that transported the very first people to the Maltese Islands, and may well be the oldest representations of ships or boats ever discovered.

The Tarxien Temples are open for viewing from Monday to Sunday (Closed on 1 Jan, 24, 25 and 31st December and on Good Friday) from 9.00am to 5.00pm (Last admission at 4.30pm). [mappress]