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The Mnajdra temple grouping lies on the southern coast of Malta, a small European island nation located directly south of Italy in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.

It is a complex of three Neolithic temples surrounding an oval courtyard, the oldest having been built during the ?gantija phase (3600-3200 BC), while the other two date from the early and mid Tarxien phase (3150-2500 BC). It has been stated by numerous historians that part of the Mnajdra Temples are the oldest free standing buildings in the world, much older than Stonehenge.

These temples are located approximately 500m from another temple site, that of ?a?ar Qim, but unlike ?a?ar Qim, which is built of soft globigerina limestone, Mnajdra is made of the much harder coralline limestone, these two choices representing the type of stone found directly at the two building sites. The main structural systems used in the temples are corbeling, done with smaller stones, and post-and-lintel constructions made of large slabs of the limestone.

The oldest temple is a three-apsed building, the doorway of which is formed by a hole cut into a large piece of limestone set upright, a type of construction typical of other megalithic doorways in Malta. This temple appears originally to have had a vaulted ceiling, but only the bases of the ceiling now remain on top of the walls. The most impressive of the temples is from the early Tarxien phase. Built on the lowest elevation of the three, it has a large forecourt containing stone benches, an entrance passage covered by horizontal slabs, one of which has survived, and the remains of a possibly domed roof. The temple is decorated with spiral carvings and indentations, and pierced by windows, some into smaller rooms and one onto an arrangement of stones.

The youngest of the temples was built in the space between the other two. It is set on a higher level and formed of slabs topped by horizontal courses.

Although there are no written records to indicate the purpose of these structures, their use as temples has been inferred from ceremonial objects found within them, and animal bones and rope holes possibly used to constrain animal sacrifices. The lowest temple is astronomically aligned so that on the equinoxes, sunlight passes through the main doorway and lights up the major axis, and on the solstices sunlight illuminates the edges of megaliths to the left and right of this doorway. We can conclude that these structures were not used as tombs because they contain no human remains.

The Mnajdra temples of Malta are of architectural interest for a number of reasons. Their time period and structural systems are similar to those of other European megalith constructions, but other features are distinct in interesting ways.

The temples contain “furniture” such as stone benches and tables that give clues to their use. The third temple is possibly the best example of typically Maltese megalithic architecture, with its use of cut-out doorways rather than post-and-lintel entrances, and intricate indentation carving characteristic of the island. Many artefacts were recovered from within the temples, as well as from ?a?ar Qim, suggesting that these temples were used for religious purposes, perhaps to heal illness and/or to promote fertility. The Mnajdra temples contribute to our understanding of the lives of the prehistoric inhabitants of Malta and to our general knowledge of European architectural history.

The 1, 2 and 5 cent Maltese euro coins have a representation of the Mnajdra temples on their obverse side.

Source: encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com

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