For the first time we heard the sea, it roared through the night with a crashing of waves as the wind picked up. No swimming in the morning, even if we had been up early enough to beat the crowds. This sea that I could not imagine other than placid and still suddenly alive and reaching hungrily far beyond where I had thought it’s boundaries lay. We walked down into town, found the narrow path and the stairs in the rock, had no idea there was a cave to be found. What luck that it should be the day when the sea should pound and sing here.
Lizards scurried over the rocks. There is one here if you can find it.
We climbed back out. We sat for a while staring out to the knight’s tower, to the salt pans, watching the crashing of waves and mocking the German tourists.
Then suddenly, pirates.
I wanted to be an archaeologist when I was little, so much. I used to check out books on the Hittites and the Phoenicians, Ancient Egypt and the Sumerians, lug around these hard cover ancient library books probably already out of date when I read them, not understanding the half of it but they were so full of magic in the names I could not pronounce and places I longed to go and puzzles I longed to solve about ancient peoples. Many of them came from Tucson’s beautiful old Central Library before it moved to the new building. They came from the lower level where enormous electric fans kept the air moving and sent a great humming through the metal book shelves. One of my favourite places in the whole world. This is also where I found books on the Amazon rain forest, ornithologies of macaws and botanies of orchids and mythologies of exploration. This was while all of it still filled with innocence, before I knew how colonialism had twisted eager curiosity to understand the world into a way to better control and exploit it. ‘Phoenician’ still remains a word of wonder, lessened slightly by being reduced to the mere ‘Punic’ to signify the loss of Lebanon and the new centre in Carthage. Still, a word of wonder.
To be in a Phoenician Temple. In Ras Il-Wardija, Mark and I, on a high cliff looking out into the Mediterranean where they had built their fortune, the sun just beginning to sink and surrounded by the smell of smoke from farmers burning off the dead remains of old crops. The farmers shared the hilltop with us, staring out over the sea. But not the temple, we were alone there. It sits carved out of the golden globigerina limestone, niches still remaining there in the back of the cliffside. In front of it a deep square cistern, the limestone here strangely twisted and knotted like veins across skin, so sharply cut I felt it through my shoes.
Inside of it the ceiling has been carved into fantastic patterns, I imagine strange winds, the creep of water from above.
Everywhere shells — mussels half emerged from the smooth walls, remains of barnacles clustered in hollows, sand dollars and scallops adding to the strange layerings of limestone here.
Another cistern to the right as you stand staring at it.
This place — a high point. In every sense of the term.
We had started the walk in San Lawrenz.
We passed quarries that show the courses of stone removed.
Climbed out onto the cliffs above Dwejra Bay to find a bronze age dwelling and cart ruts — these have no mystique of childhood attached, but their mysterious nature makes them almost as wondrous as the temple.
Leading up to the dwelling (though likely older? It is only a small pile of rocks now, megaliths having fallen over the edge, fallen apart)
But once the people living here enjoyed such a view — Dwejra Bay, Fungus Rock
We climbed down, looked over the inland sea
Had a drink, well deserved. Began the climb back up to the Knight’s tower, a clearer view of it here from above (pre-drink, forgive the temporal slip):
It guarded the bay and fungus rock both, source of a rare parasitic plant — Cynomorium coccineum which flowers occasionally in the form of what looks like a phallic mushroom they believed to be an aphrodisiac and which they carefully controlled. They built a cable car (ie, a basket on a rope) to run from the rock to the promontory. I found an incredibly, brilliantly detailed article by Guido G. Lanfranco on all of its occurrences in written records, and this drawing which I liked better than that of the article:
I hadn’t realised you could still see the stairs both on the promontory and the rock itself, we did not go out there. Instead we made the steep climb back up the cliffs.
Reaching the top, to our left, the caves of Għajn Abdul, had it been less hot, earlier in the day, we would have climbed up to see these places whose deposits show them to have been occupied 7000 years ago, one of the earliest places settled here.
Looking back towards Dwejra Bay:
We went a bit wrong along teh cliffs, ended on the path closest to the edge. I had a moment of panic, being afraid of heights to some degree, but it was conquered.
And then we reached the temple.
The sun setting, we walked back, again along the path closest to the edge, not knowing we needed to head back up right away to get on the higher one. Poor me.
Finally we came to Ta’Sarraflu Pool, believed to have been built by the Romans, still full of ducks. We saw no frogs or turtles, but it was lovely all the same.
We walked back along the roads in the fading sunlight, racing to Santa Lucija in time to catch the bus.
We made it with three minutes to spare, no time to think about how to adequately capture the beauty of the citadel lit up and rather glorious in the night or the similar glowing of the great church at Xewkija.
I write this as Mark once more sits diligently at the kitchen table working on proof edits.
The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum — an incredible underground temple built to receive the dead, an estimated seven thousand of them here filling its curved chambers. Entered through the megaliths of a stone circle, probably once monumental in itself, a descent is made through darkness with red ochre spirals writhing in the torchlight, it is thought in places one had to set out across carpets of human remains. Caves made into the images of the great corbelled temples, megaliths cut out of the limestone, one on each side of the entrance, a lintel above. In the depths there is a hole that when spoken into at the right depth of frequency sends the sound reverberating throughout the cave in a great overpowering drone. Its reverberations probably muted in the past, due to the bones piled up to fill the stone wells now empty and resounding.
It transforms how you see the temples that stand massive and worn above ground.
The earliest remains found here were from 4000 BC, it was used until about 2500 BC, all of this carved over that period delving ever deeper into the stone. All this carved with antelope horn, used to bore holes to weaken the rock so it could be sheared away. The holes can still be seen in places, but it is hard to believe.
We were in a tour of ten, only two of the eight understood they were sharing a wonder of the world and should allow others the ability to see things too. We held small handsets that spoke to us in our own language (unless we spoke Czech or Polish) about where we were with an astonishing number of adjectives and suppositions. We were not allowed to take pictures. Our feet never touched the earth, I wonder why that matters to me but it does. There is something about standing with your feet on the earth, not some raised walkway.
Still incredible this place.
We left, had lunch so as not to follow the other members of our group straight to the temples of Tarxien. They lingered in the ruins when we got there in spite of all of our efforts.
A plan of the three temples to be found here.
These stones mark the earliest temple, the east temple built between 3600 and 3000 BC on the highest point of the site, they suffered must under the constant ploughing of this field.
The south Temple came next with its four apses, later modified to provide an entrance to the Central temple.
The middle temple, the only one known with six apses, we could not enter most of these, could only wonder at the presence of what looks like a bookshelf, at the smooth megaliths
But it is full of wonders, formed of enormous megaliths that fit so perfectly together, the central walkway paved with enormous slabs of stone.
The spaces between the apses held pottery.
But it is near the entrance that the most beautiful things sit — though here, concrete reconstructions have raised their ugly heads, alongside modern reproductions–in golden limestone–of pieces now sitting in the museum for their protection. These I don’t mind so much, they show what it must have once been like. In the beginning. Here we stare down over a fireplace still showing the mark of ancient ritual.
It is full of niches and specked stone.
This altar from the South Temple
Back to the centre for this wondrous sculptured half of a being:
Niches reminiscent of the hypogeum, beautifully carved swirls.
We walked back through the village to catch the bus, I never tire of these streets and buildings of stone.