Easter 2010. I caught the no. 11 bus from Valletta to Tarxien. It cost 6 euros to get in. A large trilithion leads to 3 seperate chambers with altars, oracle holes and carved spirals and animals in the stone.
At first sight I felt a liitle disappointed at the condition of the temple but when taking into account the site is 1,500 years older than Stonehenge its survival is impressive.
Many off the finds from here are on display at the National Museum of Archeology in Valletta including statues of Goddesses and evidence of animal sacrifices.
The temples are open 9:00 – 17:00 and entry is €2.33 for adults; there's a small exhibition of items that have been removed from the site to preserve them and placed in the entranceway, and a selection of books and souvenirs to purchase. There are also public toilets. A new visitors' centre is expected on the plot to the east of the temples, and excavations have been carried out, but planning difficulties have held up the actual building work.
There are usually guided tours available in English several times a day – unfortunately the guide had called in sick the day I visited, so I was reliant on my notes and the offer by the staff to answer any questions I might have. Much of the carved stone from Tarxien was been moved to the National Museum of Archaeology in 1956, when restoration and reconstruction were also carried out, and the items on display are replicas – but this by no means detracts from the site.
There are actually 4 temple structures on this site.
To the east, furthest away from the entrance, is the oldest, smallest, and least well preserved temple, from the Ggantija phase (3600 – 3000BCE). The stones are low lying, and only the western section of what is believed to have been a 5 apse temple survives. Area 10 on the model.
There are 3 main components - the south, central and east temples. Of these, south and east are older, from the early Tarxien phase 3000 - 2500 BCE, with the central temple having been built at a later date between these two.
Taking a walk round from the main entrance to the site, there are numerous small boulders, possibly used to roll megaliths into place, scattered over the ground to the left, and then a well, before you face the trilithon entrance to the south temple. To the right here you can see the remains of a possible niche (ref 1), with libation holes and a stone bowl in front of it.
The path around the whole site has been improved and the tethering holes just outside the entrance to the south temple (ref 2) now have a perspex covering so you can view them through the path.
The main doorway has been heavily restored with rubble covered concrete; the first apse to the right (ref 3) has the huge statue of a skirted women and the altar with plug stone which contained animal bones and horns, and flint knives. To the left (ref 4) are many spiral carved stones and those decorated with animal friezes; the Mariners' Stones which stood here have now been moved into the entrance building for protection - they show ship graffiti but the debate is still out on whether this is late Neolithic (believed by Diane Wooler who studied them in 1957 and supported by T Zammit's notes) or from the Bronze Age (Evans, Trump and various others). A model found in 4 pieces in the northern most room of this temple lead Carlo Ceschi to draw a possible facade for the temple in 1936 (see links).
Moving through to the central temple, there's a huge stone bowl in area 5 and the walls here show fire damage. The oculus stone was originally in area 6, guarding the entrance to the 2nd pair of apses; there's a hearth in the centre of this area, and turning to the right, area 7, there's the bulls and sow chamber, now with a roof to protect the relief carvings.
Just before you leave the central temple, to the right, you can see a round boulder, used possibly for transportation or positioning, under one of the megaliths. Then there's a set of stairs, which may have led to an upper floor (area 8).
The east, and least decorated, temple, is thought to have been significantly altered for the building of the central temple, and was also reconstructed extensively by Zammit in 1919 - and suffered collapses as recently as 1999.
I had the site almost to myself for the best part of an hour, but then some more tourists appeared, and we started chatting. With only few info boards and no official guide that day, I found myself taking a small tour group round to point out the main features!
A link to Architect magazine with page 21 of the journal showing Carlo Ceschi's interpretation of how the facade of the south temple looked, from the model found and the remains in situ. NB this is an 8.5MB pdf!