The spectacular Neolithic and Bronze Age sites at the Hypogeum, Tarxien, Mnajdra and Ħaġar Qim on Malta, plus Ġgantija on Gozo, have a somewhat obscure inception. Experts believe they were built between 5,000 AD and 2,500 BC to honor a goddess of fertility and despite historical importance, the sites themselves are not well interpreted. Before embarking on exploring them, call in at the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta for an introduction to the prehistory of the Maltese archipelago.
The museum displays an astounding selection of well-documented and labeled artifacts removed from the ancient sites for preservation, including Phoenician sarcophagi, Bronze Age daggers and squat statues from the Hypogeum and Ħaġar Qim that are thought to represent a fertility goddess. Embracing figures, pendants, altar stones and prehistoric tools are all housed in a building of almost equal historic importance; the Baroque Auberge du Provence was once home to French members of the legendary Knights of St John, who defended Malta against Ottoman invasion in 1565. The overly ornate ceiling of the first-floor Grand Salon, currently housing the museum’s Phoenician collection, depicts the luxury in which the Knights lived.
The National Museum of Archaeology is just off Republic Street, a 5-minute walk from Valletta’s main bus terminus in the pedestrianized section of the city. For drivers, there is designated parking outside the City Gate.
The museum is open seven days a week and is currently being expanded to include more Roman displays. The Heritage Malta Multisite Pass can be used here and at several of the archaeological complexes as well. Arrive early in the morning as display rooms can get crowded.