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The Sacrifice at Ġgantija Temples

Kylie Aquilina

A series of watercolour paintings by Charles Frederick de Brocktorff show a romantic representation of the Ġgantija Temples in Xagħra, Gozo. The aerial view is painted in light colours and soft brushstrokes with distant figures measuring the remains of the excavated Neolithic temple.

This visual depiction drastically contrasts with the narration of the poem Il-Ġgantija t’Għawdex (1963) by the poet and folklorist Ġorġ Pisani. The poet transports the reader to one summer night wherein Ġgantija is brought to life, observing people suffering of hunger approaching the temple. A booming voice states that the gods requested a sacrifice of a teenage girl in exchange for the fertility of their land.  The people broke down crying in fear while a teenage girl sacrifices herself for Gozo: “La darba xejn għal dan ma jiswa driegħi/ nagħtihom jien ‘l-allat ħajti u xbubiti,/ immut għal Għawdex tiegħi” (“Since now my arms are worthless/ I will give the gods my life and my youth,/ I will die for my Gozo”).

This fear of god is common to many religions as was highlighted in a previous blog discussing The Earth Gods (c. 1931) by Kahlil Gibran and the earth goddess. Pisani indirectly dialogues with Kahlil Gibran: while the former is personifying Ġgantija - “ixxarrbet l-art bid-dmija” (“the earth was covered in blood”), the latter personified the earth gods - “Gods live upon sacrifice, their thirst quenched by blood”.

The painting by Brocktorff conveys the awe of the temple’s discovery, which echoes Giovanni Piranesi’s depictions of Rome. The folkloristic context provided by Pisani revitalised these archaeological findings through the reference to Prehistoric sacrificial ritual as a means of regeneration.

Charles Frederick de Brocktorff, View of the Great Temple taken from the top of the Wall behind the Principal Altar, 1828-1829.

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