Heritage Malta is holding open days at the site of Ta' Hagrat temple, Mgarr, on May 10 and 11, to mark the 80th anniversary of the first excavations there.

The important and evocative temple site is normally open only to scholars and by appointment.

The open days are being held under the umbrella of ICOMOS International Monuments Day, 2003. ICOMOS is an international non-governmental organisation dedicated to the conservation of the world's historic monuments and sites.

Ta' Hagrat temple, lying in a picturesque setting on the outskirts of the village, is an important UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Dating from around 3600-3300 BC, it is the earliest temple building in Malta. Ta' Hagrat may be smaller than many of the islands' other temples, but it is better preserved. The temple, with its characteristic, imposing façade, is almost undoubtedly a partner to Skorba temple lying just a kilometre away.

The site comprises a double temple consisting of two adjacent trefoils both of which are less formally planned than is usual in temple construction.

As with many temple finds on Malta, Ta' Hagrat's discovery was haphazard. In 1923, an interesting mound was sighted in a field at Mgarr. Remains of a fine trilithon were still standing and a magnificent lintel lay on the temple floor. The owner of the field is reported to have used some of the stones to build a house, Heritage Malta said.

Two years later, in 1925, Sir Temi Zammit, Malta's first Director of Museum, excavated the site. Although the dig yielded distinctive pottery, the site was not deemed to be of much importance. Further excavations in 1953 were unable to shed much more light on the significance of the site.

It was not until the early 1960s, when further work was carried out by renowned British archaeologist D.H. Trump, that the two temples were accurately dated: the larger was placed in the Ggantija phase (3600-3000 BC); the smaller identified as from the Saflieni phase (3300 - 3000 BC).

The result of all these excavations is a host of artefacts including a unique find - a small limestone model of a temple.

The site will be open on May 10 and 11 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Ta' Hagrat is situated at the end of an alley to the left of the old public school on the approach to Mgarr centre.

Guided tours will take place on both days, in both English and Maltese, at the following times: 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m., 4 p.m. 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.

The entrance fee is Lm1 for adults and 50c for under 16s and over 60s.

For further details, email to info@heritagemalta.org or phone tel. 21239545

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