Easter 2010. I caught the no. 68 bus from Valletta to Hagar Qim. After paying 9 euros that also included the Mnajdra Temple nearby. I was not impressed by the large white dome that covered the temple but understand that it needs to be protected from the elements. Most of the site was unaccessible to visitors but it was still awesome once you got used to the covering dome.
The last time I drove to Hagar Qim was three years ago and I found myself driving through a labyrinth of narrow, dusty, potholed lanes that ran between a series of small firework factories, this time I was determined stay focused and not get lost. Guess what? I managed to get myself to Qrendi, the nearest town to the temples, and then ended up in the self same maze of farm tracks and firework factories. What the hell, I knew I was only a couple of miles from the temples and traveling in the right direction.
The Temples open at nine o'clock, I arrived at the Heritage parks car park at about ten to nine which was just enough time to grab my kit and give the ancient tatty capped car park custodian a 'voluntary contribution' to look after my car. My plan was simple and selfish. I wanted to be the first person of the morning at either Hagar Qim or Mnajdra or both. I was having a Verruca Salt moment 'I want a temple to myself and I want it now!' As it turned out I ended up having both sites to myself, the first guided tour did not turn up at Hagar Qim until I was out of the gates.
You approach the temple from roughly the south east and the façade is stunning, its asymmetry is puzzling but very appealing. The beautifully quarried orthostats that surround the entrance seem to degenerate into large irregular rotting monoliths looking for all the world like a gobful of rotten teeth. It makes you wonder what was going through the architects mind here. These large blocks draw the eye away from the temple entrance and towards the sea where your gaze finally settles on the beautiful rocky isle of Filfla in the distance. The huge irregular orthostats appear almost like temple guardians looking out to sea and protecting the faithful from what? The primitive folk who lived beyond the horizon? As the temple is located on the top of a hill it would be interesting to see it from the sea. Would these megaliths appear like giants looking out over the sea? Their wild weathered nature also contrasts with the regular smooth blocks of the entrance. Perhaps the architects and stone masons knew that the blocks that faced seaward would eventually become gnarly and weathered and erected them as a gesture to whatever deity controlled the elements. All the winds still have names in Malta.
There are a corresponding set of huge irregular monoliths on the opposite corner of the temple and it is the largest of these that you can see looming over the temple as you approach it, another guardian perhaps. One of the unusual things about Hagar Qim is its' hilltop location, the large orthostats are visible from all around the monument including the nearby Mnajdra temples. I have read so much about these temples that walking into Hagar Qim is a very comfortable feeling for me. I feel warm and happy and I have the place to myself.
The temples can be quite confusing in their layout, there is some debate as to whether this temple is a four or five apsed structure, it's nice to know that there are some things that we still cannot define or label. I'm not here to study the floor plans, I've done plenty of that at home, I'm here to be happy and spend some time amongst these big old stones and I'm getting that in spades.
A few of the carved stones are replicas but don't let this spoil your appreciation of their beauty. I have seen the originals in the Museum in Valletta are there is no difference.
A few yards north of the temple is a second five apsed temple which if anywhere else would get a great deal of attention, unfortunately here it is totally eclipsed by it's beautiful exotic neighbour. I wandered over to this substantial but forgotten neighbour and sat a while within its walls and tried to soak up a little of it's flavour. It almost felt like an act of condolence. Between this temple and the large temple is another structure which again is quite substantial but formless. No one is quite sure as to what the purpose of this building was. It is sometimes called 'the priests quarters'. A prehistoric parochial house, that notion really appeals to me.
It was now time to move on. I walked the few yards to the perimeter fence and the path that leads down the hillside and look out upon one of my favourite views in the world, the Mnajdra temples nestled in a hollow in the cliff below.