This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.
As one does, I hopped off the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus in Tarxian, just outside of Malta’s capital city of Valetta. I knew that the whole reason I was here—my desire to see the 3000 B.C. underground burial site called the Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni—was closed for renovation. How do you “renovate” a 5000-year-old burial site? But the driver had said there were other ruins off to the right somewhere, so I decided to have a look.
Here’s something about Malta. While Italy offers a full palette of colors—ochre, Pompeian red, peacock blue, cerulean, warm beiges, every iteration of green—Malta is monochrome. Everything is built out of limestone, and limestone doesn’t have a lot of variation to it. Also, the buildings on Malta are all built to about the same height—two or three stories. A coworker who had been to Malta told me before I left, “It all looks the same.” So before I left the bus stop, which had no sign, I took a mental snap shot of the area. There was something called GymStars which I figured I could remember and which would be unusual enough that people might know it if I had to ask for directions.
Two other women had also hopped off the bus with me, or I should say, I hopped and they stepped down. They were much too sensible to hop, with their sturdy shoes and serious rain coats and hats. They were from England, so they were much better prepared for rain than I was.
They were in Malta for the annual convention of Soroptimist. Had I heard of it? Umm … it sounded vaguely familiar but a lot of things do to me. If it was a missionary thing I didn’t want to know. Was it like the Women’s Institutes—where women in rural England compete on pie baking and floral arrangements? I asked.
No, and here I quote from their website: “Soroptimist is an international volunteer organization working to improve the lives of women and girls, in local communities and throughout the world.” The italics are theirs; why they emphasize international I don’t know. Maybe so you don’t confuse it with that local Soroptimist group that keeps knocking on your door and trying to give you pamphlets.
I kicked myself for not knowing there was an international women’s conference in town during my visit. How great would that have been to attend? I wondered what kind of freebies they handed out.
We chatted a bit about my job working for a refugee organization and about their convention, but within a few minutes we were lost.
“The bus driver waved in this direction,” one of my companions said, “so we at least know we’re on the right track.” We asked for directions, walked a few blocks, asked again, and so on for about 20 minutes until we stumbled upon the temples.
There was a tiny office and gift shop where I paid my €4 or whatever it was, then we stepped outside to see the site, which was covered by sailcloth to protect visitors against sun and rain.
The Tarxien temples are megalithic structures built between 3600 and 2500 B.C. “Megalithic” means “relating to or denoting prehistoric monuments made of or containing megaliths,” or “massive or monolithic.” You get the idea.
This was a floor section, about a foot and a half thick.
It is believed that these stone balls were used to roll the mega sized slabs into place. No doubt with slave labor.
The holes in these slabs were thought to be used to lash doors to the walls.
There wasn’t much left of the decoration except for this lovely half a fat person.
I glanced around to find my two Soroptimist friends. They were still at the first signpost and were consulting a book, so they were clearly taking a deep dive and would be there for hours. It was 11:00 a.m. I had 32 more bus stops to go and had to leave the next day, so off I went in search of the bus stop.