Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tas-Silġ Temple


Tas-Silġ Today

There are so many temple sites on Malta. We've covered a few of them here already and will continue to do so throughout the week and maybe coming weeks until I feel we've exhausted the Maltese Megalithic Temples motif quite thoroughly. Today we're going to focus on  Tas-Silġ.  Tas-Silġ is located near Zejtun, Malta on the southeast of the main island.  Tas-Silġ is fascinating because it has an incredible number of layers of history, the earliest of which dates from the Tarxien Phase of temple construction on the Maltese archipelago, which is the final period of temple building and the islands' most glorious.

This lady will never sing again. :(
Sometime around 3000 BC construction of a temple at Tas-Silġ began. In this earliest layer archeologists discovered pottery typical from this period, roundish structural walls (like most of the other temples of Malta from this period) and a typical "fat lady". If you remember from some of the other posts on the Maltese Megalithic Temples you'll know that these early Maltese were probably associated with some fertility cult and the earliest temples were, according to myth, built by a giantess with a suckling babe on her breast. While I haven't found any corresponding myth to Tas-Silġ per se, the discovery of one of these fat lady idols suggests that the Neolithic Maltese that worshiped at this site were part of this fertility cult that venerated a mother goddess.

Above the earliest layer are layers that date right up until the fourth century AD. Since we probably won't cover them by name anywhere else I thought it would be appropriate to touch on them now. Directly above the earliest level is a bronze age refashioning of the temple. Much of the evidence at this level is pottery sherds and stone tools that are more regularly associated with Bronze Age settlements rather than Neolithic ones. But, after the Bronze Age settlement seemed to basically use the site with a bit of sprucing up, the Phoenicians and Carthaginians came to the island and built a temple to Astarte. This temple used some of the remains of the earlier Neolithic Temple to create a horseshoe shaped temple rather than a circular one. The temple at Tas-Silġ dating from the Carthaginians was referenced by Cicero around 70 BC as he was going on about the moral bankruptcy of Gaius Verres. Cicero's speeches about Malta and Verres' mismanagement of the islands thrust Cicero into the Roman political spotlight. At the dawn of the Christianization of the Roman Empire, the site was converted into a early monastery in the 4th century.
Blueprint of the Byzantine Monastery

Unfortunately, the Tas-Silġ area has been eroded by the passage of time. Unlike many of these sites on Malta this one is not open to the public so as to prevent further degradation of the site. That doesn't make it any less fascinating though. 

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