The ‘cart ruts’ have long fascinated and puzzled Maltese and foreign historians and scientists, yet these unique grooves sewn into the rock appear all over the Maltese Islands.
These prehistoric groves are deeply carved into the face of often solid and almost impermeable rock and are generally found in parallel pairs about a metre apart. Some of these ruts are up to two feet deep, and across throughout the Maltese Islands there are enough cart ruts to stretch from the northern tip of Malta to the south. These cart ruts have been long debated and studied, with many scientists speculating the use of primitive carts or wagons to transport goods, heavy stones and possibly animals. Another theory is the use of these deep channels for irrigation.
Certain scepticism has been given to these cart ruts and the theories surrounding them for a number of reasons. There are no cart ruts leading towards any of the Neolithic temple sites, some cart ruts stretch for kilometres, and others run on steep slopes and inclines that would have made hauling a load almost impossible.
No exact dating can be given to these cart ruts, and there is no written record to explain the origins or purpose of these. Granite tools have often been found in close proximity to the cart ruts, and date to approximately the same age, suggesting that these were the tools that the cart ruts may have been crafted with. In some areas the remains of Punic Tombs have been found on top of these grooves.
In certain areas the cart ruts seem to run into a landscape that today no longer exists, concluding that these grooves were created thousands of years ago as Malta was still taking shape. At Birzebbugia the cart ruts disappear offshore and into the sea, and at Dingli Cliffs the cart ruts stop abruptly at the edge of the 250 metre high cliffs.
The cart ruts at Misrah Ghar il-Kbir near Dingli Cliffs have been given the informal name of Clapham Junction, due to the complexity of the criss-crossing ruts that overlap each other like the infamous Claptham Junction railway station in London.
Here, the cart ruts are estimated to have been created at about 2000BC, after settlers crossed over from Sicily to begin the Bronze Age. New research has today suggested that the cart ruts were in fact made by wooden-wheeled carts eroding the soft surface layers of limestone. Whilst the rock was solid and impenetrable in dry conditions, after a period of heavy rain the rock softened dramatically, thus the single passage of a heavily-laden cart could indeed have created these deep channels. Other carts would then have easily been able to follow these tracks, and the steady stream of traffic as well as the hardening of the rock ensured that these cart ruts are still visible today.
Proximity to Blue Creek Restaurant: 7km
The Limestone Heritage Park and Gardens is a unique celebration of Malta’s distinct Globigerina Limestone and its importance throughout the island’s intricate 22,000,000 year history.
Located on the outskirts of Siggiewi and founded by Manuel Baldacchino and family, today the Limestone Heritage is an award-winning agro-tourism attraction that provides a spectacular insight into local history and culture through multilingual audio visual presentations and a walkthrough of the park, where the limestone glistens white in the sun and provides a true visual representation of various aspects of our history, from the building of the Neolithic temples in 3,500BC to the limestone quarrying of more recent years.
The Globigerina Limestone characteristic of the Maltese Islands is a sedimentary rock comprised of the remains of millions of skeletal fragments of marine organisms, as well as coral and sea shells, hence the whitish colouration and powdery surface of this stone. This Globigerina Limestone was for a long time the only available material for building, and even today with importation and trade limestone is still Malta’s primary resource and building material, as well as the material of choice for Malta’s sculptors. Globigerina is long-lasting, durable, but soft enough to be easily quarried, cut into blocks and even carved, so is ideal for the building of houses.
For families, the Limestone Heritage Park and Gardens provides an unforgettable experience where children can see swans, goats, exotic birds and more. There are also live demonstrations of stone sculpting. Working with local sculptors and limestone experts, guests are guided through the entire process of crafting an original limestone sculpture, whilst being provided with the raw materials and tools needed. Guests can create any sculpture they want, and can take home their own personalised piece of Maltese culture and history.
Malta has been called an ‘open-air museum to the Mediterranean’ and has indeed had its fair share of visits from numerous civilisations throughout the centuries, from the Carthaginians and Phoenicians to the Knights of the Order of St John, the French and the British. These settlers have all left indelible marks on the Maltese islands, and have left their evidence in the form of Neolithic temples, Baroque churches and palaces, bastions, watchtowers and forts, all constructed with Globigerina Limestone.
Malta’s heritage in stone is almost legendary, and a living testimony to the islands which have never ceased to express their own culture and personality even amongst so much adversity.
The Limestone Heritage is the ideal educational day out for couples, families, and anyone with an interest in Malta’s rich history. The park is fully wheelchair accessible and air conditioned, and amongst the facilities there is a café for refreshments and a gift shop, where genuine Maltese souvenirs and limestone gifts can be purchased.
The Limestone Heritage is also a popular location for numerous events and cultural activities, including Mediterranean weddings, conferences and meetings, and Maltese Folklore Nights.
Proximity to Blue Creek Restaurant: 6km
From Siggiewi: Go to Mons. Mikel Azzopardi Road and follow signs for the Limestone Heritage.
From Ghar Lapsi: Go to the main road and follow signs to Siggiewi and the Limestone Heritage.
The Laferla Cross is a prestigious landmark located on a steep hill outside the village of Siggiewi, and was constructed in 1903 to commemorate the Holy Year. The work of Ġanni Mercieca from Naxxar and named after Reverend Paul Laferla, on whose initiative the cross was erected, this towering Cross sits nearby to the Annunciation Chapel, which was built in 1857 with donations. The Archbishop of Malta in 1904 blessed the Laferla Cross, and a painting of Our Lady of Sorrows was added.
Siggiewi’s local council embarks on a yearly initiative to illuminate the Laferla Cross and Annunciation Chapel as part of its Easter commemorations. The steep path leading up to the Cross is illuminated with traditional Maltese fairy lights or ‘fjakkoli on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and from this particular point, stunning panoramic views of the surrounding Siggiewi countryside can be enjoyed. These lights illuminate the pathway beginning from the statue of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene and other statues representing the passion of Christ, transforming the surroundings into a Way of the Cross.
The 16 metre high cross has been re-erected numerous times, having collapsed in 1936 following a very intense storm. The Annunciation Chapel too had its misfortunes, after falling into ruin in 1494, then collapsing during an earthquake both in 1693 and 1856. In 1857, the present chapel was constructed.
First lit in 1994, the Laferla Cross has been recently restored to its former glory, reinforced in bronze and iron, now attracting thousands of visitors every year during Holy Week, with numerous tourists amongst the devoted Maltese locals. The pilgrimage is taken in a spirit of worship and silence, and great care is taken to respect the surrounding natural environment.
Proximity to Blue Creek Restaurant: 4km
Hagar Qim and Mnajdra
The Megalithic Temples of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra are located on the southern coast of Malta about two kilometres from the village of Qrendi and a short distance inland from Ghar Lapsi. These two temples complexes are examples of the most ancient religious sites in the world, dating back to approximately 3,600BC, and are UNESCO World Heritage Sites along with four other similar megalithic structures in Malta. These structures represent a major development in the cultural, technical and artistic evolution of humanity at the time, and are the oldest free standing structures in the world, even older than the pyramids. Diversity of form and skill of architecture has secured these temples a place in Malta’s prehistory forever.
Perched atop a limestone ridge, Hagar Qim is comprised of six chambers of varying age laid out in a clover leaf formation, each one adopting the characteristic oval layout of the Megalithic temples. This, the forecourt and façade and ‘trefoil’ configuration is shared with Mnajdra, only 500 metres away. These temples were constructed out of huge and incredibly heavy upper and lower coralline limestone boulders called megaliths, and the largest stone found at Hagar Qim’s entrance weight approximately 57 tons.
Hagar Qim varies greatly in age, so much so that the northwest apse is a considerably different design to the older apses. Several stones including the lintel at the entrance have had to be reinforced or replaced. Internally Hagar Qim temple’s structure is no less intricate, with heavy slabs forming a niche and several altars suggesting that these temples were in fact sacred structures constructed for religious purposes. There are a number of remains that suggest sacrificing, such as hollows which could have held libation jars, and a chamber whose remains could have included the bones of sacrificed animals and pottery.
Hagar Qim contained several statues of the ‘Fat Lady’ goddess or the ‘Venus of Malta’, a delicately carved statue of a female figure with an exaggerated round shape, often depicted sitting or sleeping and without a head. This statue seems to represent fertility and was perhaps a symbol of worship for the people in Hagar Qim and indeed Mnajdra.
Mnajdra consists of three conjoined temples, and the upper temple and oldest structure dates to the Ggantija phase (3,600BC – 3,200BC), and appeared to have a vaulted ceiling, though now very little has remained of the roof. The Middle temple, dated to roughly 3,150BC, is the most recent structure on the site and the best preserved.The Lower Temple is considered one of the finest and most beautiful examples of Megalithic temples with the remains of an intricately domed roof and spiral carvings covering its walls. This temple is particularly impressive due to its astronomical alignment, too accurate to be a mere coincidence. On the winter and summer equinoxes, sunlight passes exactly through the main doorway of the structure and casts sunlight across the entire main axis. Sacrificial flint knives, rope holes, pottery and animal bones were found here as well as in most of the Megalithic temple sites in Malta and Gozo.
Both temples are today covered by protected tents that shield them from the worst of the weathering and erosion that was taking its toll on these two majestic constructions, exposed up on the top of Dingli Cliffs.
Proximity to Blue Creek Restaurant: 2km
From Ghar Lapsi: Go to the main road and follow signs to Hagar Qim and Mnajdra
From Zurrieq: Go to Wied iz-Zurrieq Road and follow signs to Hagar Qim and Mnajdra
From Qrendi: Go to Hagar Qim Road and follow signs to Hagar Qim and Mnajdra
Blue Grotto is a series of natural sea caverns located on the southern coast of Malta close to the harbour of Wied iz-Zurrieq and its village Zurrieq. Further South along the coastline of Ghar Lapsi, Blue Grotto is an extension of the structure of Dingli Cliffs, and is comprised of a series of deep natural caves and spectacular limestone arches stepping out into the sea. From Blue Grotto one can see right across to the small inhabited island of Filfa five kilometres offshore.
The cave, which is known as Il-Hnejja (the arch in Maltese) was given its English name by British soldiers who thought that its blue waters resembled the Grotta Azzurra in Capri, an island off the Gulf of Naples in Italy.
Blue Grotto is one of the most picturesque areas of Malta, and one of the most photographed by locals and tourists equally. These beautiful sea caves mirror the phosphorescent colours of the underwater flora, providing a spectacular daily sight that enthrals visitors. The huge limestone arches glitter in the early morning sunlight and offer a stunning spectacle of blues and greens in the deep sea below.
The 43 metre high cave has been hollowed out from the cliff face by the climate and the strength of the waves over the decades, and must be accessed by boat to truly experience its beauty. A spectacular reef extends from Zurrieq to Blue Grotto, and provides a stunning 30 metre dive through the intricate network of caves, surrounded by cardinal fish, octopus, shrimps and other fauna common in the shallow sea surrounding Malta. Closer to the shore is the area known as The Aquarium, thriving with colour and containing a plethora of fish and marine species.
Away from the water’s edge, Blue Grotto provides a selection of small local gift shops and eateries beside the spectacular cliffs. There are numerous large and flat limestone rocks to make exploring this area easy, and there are regular boat trips (weather permitting) during which tourists can experience the typical Maltese fishing boat, the dghajsa, and travel right through the caves into the deep blue waters.
The small town of Zurrieq has a population of approximately 12,000 inhabitants, and is one of Malta’s oldest towns that still exists today. Filfa is administratively part of this district.
The rugged and unchanged landscape of Blue Grotto was chosen for the filming of several scenes in the 2004 blockbuster film, Troy, starring Brad Pitt.
Proximity to Blue Creek Restaurant: 1 km
From Ghar Lapsi: Go to the main road and follow signs to Blue Grotto
From Zurrieq: Go to Wied iz-Zurrieq Road and follow signs to Blue Grotto
Dingli Cliffs are an expanse of steep rocky cliffs that extend almost from one end of Malta to the other on the south coast of the island, and in some areas these cliffs rise 250 metres above sea level. The area provides stunning vantage points over the tiny uninhabited island of Filfa, today a nature reserve for protected birds. Spectacular panoramic views of Malta further north make the island seem to stretch on forever, from Rabat in the west to the capital city of Valletta, 13 kilometres away.
The village of Dingli sits on a plateau on one of the island’s highest points, and was once a very remote locality before telephones and public transport, yet Dingli was favoured throughout Malta’s history thanks to its safe location far from pirate attacks and sea borne threats. Just West of Dingli village one can witness the sheer drop of the bright white limestone cliffs, a sight even more impressive from the sea.
Some of the cliff edges are perilously sharp and treacherous, yet from numerous vantage points one can see the geological layers of Malta’s sedimentary rocks quite clearly from the sea, from the soft blue clay to the ancient Lower Corraline Limestone, the toughest rock in the layers. Through the vertical cliff faces there are numerous caverns, the ones easier to access once used by farmers to shelter themselves and their herds during bad weather, disguising the entrances with rubble walls, branches and foliage.
Dingli Cliffs are the island’s natural fortress, providing great protection for the island from any southern threats without the need to build any forts, bastions or protective watchtowers. The tiny, lonely 17th Century chapel of St Mary Magdalene marks the highest point of Malta, and overlooks the sloping and plummeting landscape, stretching south west towards the hamlets of Buxih, Fawwara, Ghar Lapsi, Munqar and towards Blue Grotto, approximately a two hour walk from one end to the other.
The area is increasingly popular for springtime hikes and countryside walks, and the landscape is a natural expanse of Garigue, rocky terrain dispersed with low-growing flowers and shrubs. Spectacular sunsets can be witnessed as the sun drops behind the cliffs every night.
Dingli Cliffs enjoy a strong sea breeze most of the year round, which takes the edge off the heat that envelopes the island between May and September. During the winter months, the cliffs often face the worst of the storms and winds, and so this spot is preferred for trekking well into spring, when the sun is warmer and the experience is much safer and more pleasurable. There are plenty of smooth footpaths for visitors, well away from the edge, and there is even a café and some amenities in the village of Dingli just a short walk inland. The area is also well served by public transport.
Proximity to Blue Creek Restaurant: Blue Creek is situated below Dingli Cliffs which stretch almost the entire southern coastline.
Siggiewi is an emblematic example of the traditional Maltese town located in the south of Malta and close to the stunningly rugged coastline of Dingli Cliffs just inland from Ghar Lapsi. Siggiewi is a secluded yet thriving town currently home to approximately 8,000 local residents.
Siggiewi has long existed, its origins dating as far back as the 14th Century , existing as four small Medieval hamlets: Hal Xluq, Hal Kbir, Hal Qdieri and Hal Niklusi, yet after the arrival of the Knights of the Order of St John in 1530, the hamlets gradually dissolved to become “Citta Ferdinand” named after Grand Master Ferdinand Von Hompesch.
This secluded town is the home of two of Malta’s most stunning residential palaces, the first being the Inquisitor’s summer palace, today the official residence of the Prime Minister of Malta. The second is the magnificent Verdala Palace, the current residence of the President of the Republic, and palace of past Grand Master Verdalle built in the 16th Century. Verdala Palace, with its five storey towers magnificently overlooks the spectacular woodland of Buskett, one of Malta’s only woodland areas, once the exclusive hunting ground for the Grand Masters. Nestled in the spectacular Wied il-Luq Valley, Buskett is a favourite recreational area for the Maltese and tourists alike, particularly during the spring and summer when the flowers are in bloom, exotic birds are migrating overhead and the valley itself provides a cooling breeze and shade beneath the orange, cypress, carob and Judas trees.
Buskett truly comes alive during the month of June, when the festival of the Imnarja, or the Feast of St Peter and St Paul is held. One of Malta’s oldest traditional feasts, the Imnarja draws numerous visitors to Buskett, particularly beautiful during this month, to enjoy traditional folk music and the local delicacy of a simmering Rabbit Stew.
Just outside of the town of Siggiewi one can visit the Malta Falconry Centre, where several species of birds of prey are kept to educate the Maltese about animal welfare, and to learn about the ancient tradition of Maltese Falconry. The species here include the Maltese Peregrine Falcon, Lanner Falcon, Bald Eagle, Steppe Eagle, African Vulture and Golden Eagle. These falcon species of Maltese origin were highly prized by Emperors and royal falconers across the world.
Siggiewi has retained many of its traditional features and truly encompasses the personality and relaxed lifestyle of the traditional Maltese town. Many of the old hamlet chapels still exist, and there are religious niches everywhere. Siggiewi hosts its stunning village feast on the last week of June in honour of St Nicolas, where the village explodes with brass bands, authentic processions and the magical fireworks display that truly amplifies the atmosphere of the celebrations and can far and wide across Malta.
Proximity to Blue Creek Restaurant: 4km
From Ghar Lapsi: Go to the main road and follow signs to Siggiewi.