Gozo: Calypso’s Isle (1)

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This is my fourth post about our holiday in Malta in early September and I’ve decided to do it in two parts. Both posts will be about the lovely island of Gozo, which we visited on the Wednesday of our week.

Here’s the map again, just to show where Gozo is in relation to Malta:

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Gozo is the second largest of the three main Maltese islands, and just a 25 minute ferry crossing away from Malta – or 15 minutes by seaplane. The island has been described as ‘Malta’s prettier little sister’ because it’s greener and more rural than Malta. Gozo also boasts an impressive number of historical sites and cultural events and has still-thriving agricultural and fishing industries.

The island has long been associated/equated with that of Ogygia, the home of the nymph Calypso in Homer’s Odyssey. The story tells of how Calypso – who possessed supernatural powers – fell in love with Odysseus, holding him captive for several years before releasing him to continue his journey home.

Our day involved a guided tour, for which we were picked up by coach from our hotel in Bugibba and taken to the ferry port at Cirkewwa on the north-west of Malta to make the short ferry journey over to Gozo with the The Gozo Channel Line.

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At the port of Mgarr on Gozo, we boaded our next coach and our first stop was the most famous site on the island: the Ggantija Temples at Xaghra.

The Ggantija Temples (commonly called The Giant’s Tower in the past) are the earliest of the megalithic temples on the Maltese islands and possibly the oldest, free standing megalithic structures in the world, dating from around 3,600 years BC – older than the pyramids of Egypt. Today the site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a view of the outer wall:

Outer temple wall

Ggantija consists of two separate systems of courtyards, not interconnected, known as the South Temple and the North Temple. The South Temple is the bigger and earlier (3,600 BC) of the two, the North Temple being a later addition (c. 3,000 BC). The North Temple has a five-apse structure, the South Temple has four.

Ggantija Temple structure

These are some of the photos of the site we took as we walked around it:

The stone spheres (top right photo above) were thought to have been used as a method of moving the great slabs of rock. The entire temple complex was built out of two types of rock: the harder Coralline limestone for the outer walls and the softer, golden Globerigina for the doorways and floor slabs -though some of the floors were just covered with beaten earth (torba).

Many of the slabs were once covered with the spiral and pitted designs common to all the Maltese temples. These are some seen in the Archeological Museum in Valletta, from the Tarxien Temples on Malta, which show how some of the stones at Ggantija there would have been decorated:

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At Ggantija, the spirals can now hardly be seen, although they were visible when the temple was discovered in 1826, suggesting there must have been a roof of some sort to preserve them.

The huge megaliths of the outer wall were positioned alternately, one vertically and one upright, and the space between the outer and inner walls is filled with earth and rubble. It is thought that it was this that has given Ggantija the stability to survive 5,000 years.

In the South Temple, the great court measures twenty three metres from apse to apse and the walls here are eight metres, the highest of all the temples. Arches weren’t used at this period, and since the span of the apses was quite large for any stone roofing to be used, it is thought that the roofing material would have been wood or animal hides.

Here is a picture of the interior I found on Wikipedia:

Engraving of the temple made in 1848, title: 'Gozo (Giants' tower)'. Photographer: Marie-Lan Nguyen (2013). Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons
Engraving of the Ggantia megalithic temple in Gozo made in 1848.  Title: ‘Gozo (Giants’ tower)’. Photographer: Marie-Lan Nguyen (2013). Public Domain.
Wikimedia Commons

The interior walls were plastered and painted with red ochre, traces of which have been found. It’s interesting to speculate just how this place must have looked 5,000 years ago, and on how all the ceremonies would have taken place at the altars and libation pools. Circular holes have been found in some of the larger floor slabs and, although their purpose isn’t clear, it has been suggested that they were used for the pouring of liquid offerings. One slab, shown below, is marked on the side with pitted decorations:

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On each side of the door leading into the temple are hollows carved opposite each other on two large megaliths (two pictures in the gallery above – second and last rows). It is thought that these held some sort of barrier – a door or a bar, perhaps both at different times – to close the entrance.

Finally, I couldn’t finish without showing yet another example of graffitti (as at the Mosta Dome). This fine artwork dates from the 1800s:

Graffiti Ggantija

 

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