Pronounced ‘mna-ee-dra’, you’ll find Mnajdra on Malta’s south coast. A complex of temples built in Neolithic times, a visit to this incredible site is a fascinating way to explore the island’s unique history. These huge stone constructions attract thousands of visitors each year, particularly during the summer and winter solstices. You’ll find it’s easily accessible; there’s a bus from Valletta, and if you’re driving then the coastal roads are the most direct route. You’ll find other attractions nearby, including the temples of Hagar Qim and the subterranean spectacle that is the Ghar Dalam cave.
The three temples
The temples are made up of three distinct structures: the East Temple, South Temple and Central Temple. The East Temple is the oldest and is thought to be over 5,500 years old. Built from vast chunks of limestone, the temples were used for study, religious rituals, and as an observatory. Inside the Central Temple you’ll find corridors, a courtyard, stone benches, and walls that have been decorated with the carvings of animals. The remains of the roof suggest it might have been dome-shaped. During the summer and winter equinoxes, sunlight passes through specially-designed holes in the walls.
Mnajdra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been beautifully preserved. You’ll find the ruins are sheltered under huge white tents, which makes them pleasant to wander around even on a hot, sunny day. As you explore the stone passages and chambers, the tents act as a roof, which heightens the experience. These were put into place over a decade ago as the weather was found to be damaging the temples. It also means that digs can continue, and artefacts are still being uncovered including stone figurines, tools made from flint, and basic machines which were used in the construction of the temples.
The temples were also thought to have been used for the ritual ceremonies. Flint knives, rope restraints and animal bones all point towards the idea that animals were used in certain ceremonies, possibly focusing on fertility or healing. However, as no human remains have ever been found, there’s no suggestion of human sacrifice or the temples having ever been used as tombs. Many of the stone artefacts can be seen at the Mnajdra Visitor Centre, which is just a short walk from the temples.
Tips for visiting
If you’re considering visiting Mnajdra on your Malta holidays, the attraction is open between 9am and 6pm. Because it can get quite busy and the midday sun sends the temperatures up into the high 20s°C, it’s advisable to go early in the day.
If you’re keen on seeing the sun shine through the specially-designed portals and light up the interiors, you’ll have to plan your visit for either the summer or winter equinox. Heritage Malta operates special events at these times, giving you the opportunity to enjoy the experience just as the ancient Maltese might have done. Expect big crowds, though, as the solstice events are incredibly popular.
To see some of Malta’s natural wonders, the famous Blue Grotto is less than a five-minute drive from the temples and well worth seeing on your holidays to Malta. Alternatively, head north to see more ancient ruins at Skorba.
Dip into more recent history at the Malta Classic Car Collection Museum, or treat the kids to an afternoon at the Malta National Aquarium.
Mnajdra enjoys a spectacular setting, overlooking the shimmering Mediterranean sea and beautiful coastal cliffs. Hagar Qim is only 500m away, offering further insight into the lives of the island’s earliest inhabitants. It has a state-of-the-art visitor centre where you can watch a 3D film that brings these ancient ruins to life.