The Heads of Tarxien Women and Shipwrecked Apostles
Posted: Oct 2, 2003 10:24:13 AM
Owing to the snafu regarding Tunisia, I had more time in Malta than I knew what to do with, so I decided to go on a Neolithic tour of the islands. This meant hunting down a series of significant archaeological sites that are so old that the fonts of this website can't handle them. I shall improvise.
First were the famous Hagar Qim and Mnajdra, both of which are around five or six thousand years old (not that it's a competition or anything) and, although small, were very cool. One of the temples seems to be aligned so that every exit points towards a nearby island, and I got a great photo of the lines of doorways stretching out towards the ocean.
The next day I went to the Tarxien Temples, five thousand years if they're a day, and formerly home to some really strange figurines of women with detachable and interchangeable heads: a Neolithic version of 'Guess Who?', I suppose. Or perhaps they were statues of the reigning monarch and they didn't want to have to carve a whole new figure each time someone died. See some examples here.
The day after I explored the last significant set of temples in the country, on the smaller island of Gozo. I was there on a Sunday, however, and unfortunately the public transportation system shuts down on Sunday in Gozo, leaving me to walk from the port to the megalithic Ggantija (about six kilometres each way). It was nice to see the countryside again, and the temple was also very impressive and interesting.
There were plenty of other things to see and do in Malta, and I saw and did plenty of other things (visited Fort St. Elmo, the Inquisitor's Palace in Vittoriosa, the site where St Paul preached from a grotto, and saw Carravagio's The Beheading of St John in St John's Co-Cathedral), but the temples were definitely a highlight. They are the oldest free-standing structures in the world, apparently, and that made them all the more impressive (not that it's a competition or anything).
Malta in general is a very curious mix. If pressed to describe it and its people I would say that they are a combination of British, Italian, and Arabic influences. British in that ever-so-delightful politeness and that suspiciously tacky tourism, along with the charming names that everyone gives their homes on little ceramic plates. My favourite said 'Shalom'. Why my favourite? It's the Jew of Malta! Marlowe would be so pleased. Italian in that everything shuts down in the heat of the afternoon and everyone retreats back to their homes, leaving the streets desolate aside from the occasional oblivious tourist. Arabic in that the people are exceptionally pleasant, but at the same time there's a sense of reserve, as if you are something of an outsider not only in their country but in their world. On the whole, I found the people of Malta really nice.
From there it was the ferry back to Pozzallo, the train from Pozzallo back to Siracusa, and the night train from Siracusa to Rome. I won't bore you with the details, but it took a very long time and involved a large amount of standing around and waiting. And then ... Rome!
I'm looking forward to returning to Rome in December, because there's no way that I could do everything I wanted in a day and a half. Okay, so I went to the Palazzo Altemps wing of the Museo Nazionale Romano, saw the (absolutely awe-inspiring, even if it was draped with tourists) Trevi Fountain, explored the (jaw-dropping) Pantheon, and met the Pope, but there's still so much to see.
Sorry? Met the Pope? Well, I exaggerate, perhaps; I went to the weekly Wednesday Papal Audience, and saw the Pope drive by in his roofless Popemobile. I was in the row right behind the path, so I was approximately two metres (six feet) away from His Holiness. Enough to get a really good photo, which I really hope will turn out; I have yet to develop much film at all on this trip, although I have shot exactly two hundred photos so far.
Again, I won't bore you with the dreadful details of the flights out of Rome and Frankfurt, which had me on tenterhooks for quite a large part of yesterday (when the guy at the ticket office tells you that he doesn't think you'll make it, and the woman at the check-in counter tells you to "run, run now!", you'd be a nervous wreck too), but I made it to Edinburgh, and found a hostel very easily.
I'm here! The Old Country. The Motherland. Today I am going to the castle (compulsory), and I'm making a pilgrimage up Arthur's Seat (perhaps I shall write some private memoirs and confessions to justify my sins up there, although I wouldn't want to Hogg the spotlight). The 'net cafe here is very nice and very cheap, so if I'm not careful I could spend all day in here rather than out exploring like I should be. So I shall sign off now and say good day to you.
Good day to you!
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