10 Oldest Temples in the World and Their Interesting Facts
Temples are places of worship, devotion, and reverence for many religions and cultures around the world. They are also monuments of human history, art, and architecture, reflecting the beliefs, values, and achievements of different civilizations. Some of the oldest temples in the world date back thousands of years ago, long before the advent of writing, metalworking, or even pottery. These ancient temples are not only impressive for their age, but also for their size, design, and function. In this article, we will explore 10 of the oldest temples in the world, from Turkey to Egypt to Malta, and learn about their origins, features, and mysteries.
1. Gobekli Tepe – Türkiye
Date of construction: 10th millennium BCE.
Gobekli Tepe Reserve is an ancient site on a hilltop in southeastern Türkiye. It was built by hunter-gatherers in the 10th millennium BC, making it the oldest known place of worship in the world. Gobekli Tepe is remarkable because it predates not only pottery but also agriculture and animal domestication.
Interesting Facts about Gobekli Tepe
- It consists of circular and rectangular structures supported by massive stone pillars carved with animal motifs.
- It is 6,000 years older than Stonehenge and Sumer, two of the most famous prehistoric monuments and civilizations.
- The site was deliberately buried by its builders around 8,000 BC for unknown reasons.
- It was rediscovered by a Kurdish shepherd in 1994 and excavated by a German archaeologist, Klaus Schmidt, who died in 2014.
- It was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2018.
2. Hagar Qim and Mnajdra – Malta
Date of construction: 3600 BCE.
The Hagar Qim and Mnajdra megalithic temples are ancient monuments on the southern coast of Malta. They are situated on a cliff overlooking the sea, about 600 meters apart. The temples date back to between 3600 and 3200 BC. Therefore, they are among the oldest freestanding structures in the world. The temples contain various artifacts that suggest they were used for ritual purposes.
Interesting Facts about Hagar Qim and Mnajdra
- Hagar Qim is a single temple that may have been part of a larger complex. It has a trilithon entrance and a large central chamber with several altars and niches.
- Mnajdra is a complex of three temples that are connected by a common forecourt. Particularly, the lower temple is in alignment with the equinoxes and solstices and may have served as an astronomical observatory.
- Both temples are built with coralline limestone for the outer walls and globigerina limestone for the inner structures. The stones were cut and transported using stone balls and wooden sleds.
- Over the centuries, natural disasters such as earthquakes and storms damaged the temples. They have also been vandalized by humans who carved graffiti and stole artifacts.
- The two temples are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Megalithic Temples of Malta, which includes five other sites on the islands. They are also protected by tent-like shelters that were installed in 2009 to prevent further deterioration.
3. Temple of Ggantija – Malta
Date of construction: 3600 BCE.
The Temple of Ggantija is a megalithic temple complex on the island of Gozo in Malta. It consists of two temples that were built side by side and enclosed within a boundary wall. The temples were constructed between 3600 and 3000 BC during the Neolithic era. Thus, it’s older than the pyramids of Egypt and Stonehenge of England by over 1,000 years. The Temple of Ggantija is one of the oldest and most impressive prehistoric monuments in the world.
Interesting Facts about the Temple of Ggantija
- The name Ggantija means Giantess in Maltese because the locals believed that the temples were built by a race of giants.
- The temples are made of coralline limestone blocks that weigh up to 50 tons each. They were transported from a nearby quarry without the use of wheels or metal tools.
- The temples have a trefoil plan with three apses and a central corridor leading to an altar. The walls’ decoration has spiral carvings and reliefs of animals.
- Temple of Ggantija was used for religious ceremonies involving animal sacrifices, fertility rites, and astronomical observations. Therefore, people found many artifacts inside the temples, such as statuettes of goddesses, stone balls, flint knives, and animal bones.
- The temples are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Megalithic Temples of Malta, which includes six other sites on the islands. They are also protected by a tent-like canopy that was installed in 2016 to prevent further erosion.
4. Hal Saflieni Hypogeum – Malta
Date of construction: 3600 BCE.
The Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni is a unique underground temple and burial site in Paola, Malta. It was carved out of limestone rock between 3600 and 3000 BCE during the Neolithic era. Especially, it is the only prehistoric hypogeum in the world and one of the oldest and most impressive monuments of human civilization. The Hypogeum covers an area of 500 square meters and consists of three levels of halls, chambers, and passages.
Interesting Facts about the Hypogeum
- The Hypogeum was used as a sanctuary and necropolis for over a thousand years. It contains the remains of more than 7,000 people, along with various artifacts such as pottery, beads, amulets, and figurines.
- The Hypogeum has a sophisticated acoustic system that amplifies sound throughout the complex. Some chambers have a resonant frequency of 110 Hz, which may have been used for ritual chanting or inducing altered states of consciousness.
- The temple has a remarkable artistic and architectural design that mimics the above-ground temples of Malta. It features trilithon entrances, spiral motifs, red ochre paintings, and carved animals.
- The Hypogeum was rediscovered by accident in 1902 by a stonecutter. He broke through the roof while working on a nearby building. Then, Sir Temi Zammit, a Maltese archaeologist, excavated the temple and found many treasures and mysteries.
- The Hypogeum is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Megalithic Temples of Malta, which includes six other sites on the islands. It is also protected by a climate control system and a limited visitor quota to preserve its fragile environment.
5. Stonehenge – England
Date of construction: 3000 BCE.
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England. It consists of an outer ring of vertical sarsen stones, each around 13 feet (4 m) high, seven feet (2.1 m) wide, and weighing around 25 tons, topped by connecting horizontal lintel stones. It was built in several stages from around 3000 to 2000 BCE.
The exact purpose of Stonehenge is still unknown. However, some scholars suggest it was a ceremonial or religious center, an astronomical observatory, or a burial site. Today, Stonehenge is one of the most famous and visited archaeological sites in England particularly and in the world generally. Furthermore, Stonehenge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Interesting Facts about Stonehenge
- Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument that consists of an outer ring of large stones called sarsens and an inner ring of smaller stones called bluestones.
- Stonehenge is aligned with the movements of the sun and may have been used as a calendar or a place of worship.
- The site was vandalized by various groups throughout history, including Romans, Saxons, Normans, and treasure hunters.
- Stonehenge is part of a larger World Heritage Site that includes other ancient monuments such as Avebury and Durrington Walls.
- Stonehenge attracts millions of visitors every year and is especially popular during the summer and winter solstices.
6. Palace of Knossos – Greece
Date of construction: 1900 BCE.
The Palace of Knossos is a magnificent ancient complex on the island of Crete, Greece. It was the capital of the Minoan civilization, the oldest and most advanced in Europe. The palace was built and expanded between 1900 and 1375 BCE, covering an area of 22,000 square meters. It consisted of more than 1,300 rooms that served various functions, such as living quarters, workshops, storerooms, and temples. The rooms were connected by a labyrinth of corridors that led to a central courtyard.
Interesting Facts about the Palace of Knossos
- The palace was decorated with colorful frescoes that depicted scenes from Minoan life, such as bull leaping, dancing, hunting, and fishing.
- The palace was named after King Minos, the legendary ruler of Crete who was said to be the son of Zeus and Europa. Furthermore, Minos associates with the myth of the Minotaur, a half-man half-bull creature that lived in a maze beneath the palace.
- Knossos Palace was a technological marvel that had features such as running water, drainage systems, ventilation shafts, and light wells. It also had a sophisticated administration system that used clay tablets with Linear A and Linear B scripts to record economic and religious activities.
- A series of natural disasters and human invasions destroyed the palace by around 1400 BC. It was then abandoned and forgotten for centuries until it was rediscovered by a Cretan merchant named Minos Kalokairinos in 1878. Later, Sir Arthur Evans, a British archaeologist excavated and restored the palace from 1900 to 1935.
- The palace is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Greece and attracts millions of visitors every year. It is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Minoan Palatial Centres, which includes three other sites on Crete.
7. Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut – Egypt
Date of construction: 1479 BCE.
Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple is a remarkable architectural masterpiece on the west bank of the Nile, at the foot of the cliffs of Deir el Bahari. In fact, Hatshepsut was a female pharaoh who ruled Egypt from 1479 to 1458 BC. She commissioned the temple to commemorate her achievements and to serve as a place of worship after her death. The temple consists of three colossal terraces, rising to a height of 30 meters, and adorned with statues, reliefs, and chapels.
Interesting Facts about the Temple of Hatshepsut
- Hatshepsut was the second female pharaoh in Egyptian history, after Sobekneferu who ruled in the 12th Dynasty.
- The temple was modeled after the mortuary temple of Mentuhotep II. The pharaoh founded the Middle Kingdom. He was considered the second founder of Egypt.
- Hatshepsut’s temple features a granite obelisk that was the tallest in Egypt at the time. It’s measuring 29.5 meters high and weighs 343 tons.
- The temple depicts Hatshepsut’s expedition to Punt, a mysterious land that was a source of exotic goods such as incense, ebony, and ivory.
- The temple was vandalized by Hatshepsut’s successor, Thutmose III, who tried to erase her memory by destroying her statues and chiseling off her name
8. Amada Temple – Egypt
Date of construction: 1450 BCE.
The Amada Temple is a small but ancient temple on the shores of Lake Nasser in Nubia, Egypt. Pharaoh Thutmose III built and dedicated the temple to the gods Amun and Re-Horakhty in the 15th century BC. Later, Amenhotep II and Thutmose IV enlarged and decorated Amada Temple. It is notable for its well-preserved reliefs that depict scenes of military campaigns, religious ceremonies, and royal family life. Additionally, the temple contains some historically important inscriptions. There is a stela that records an Egyptian victory in Asia under Amenhotep II.
Interesting Facts about the Amada Temple
- The temple was moved from its original location in 1964 to save it from the rising waters of Lake Nasser caused by the construction of the Aswan High Dam.
- The structure of Amada Temple is simple. It consists of a hypostyle hall with 12 pillars, a vestibule, and two sanctuaries. Thutmose IV added a roof to the hall to convert it into a pillared hall.
- The temple has colorful paintings that cover almost every inch of its walls and ceilings. The paintings show Thutmose III and Amenhotep II offering to the gods, Thutmose IV celebrating the Opet festival, and Ramesses II worshipping his ancestors.
- In particular, the temple has a unique feature that no other Egyptian temple has, a false door carved on the back wall of the sanctuary of Amun. The door may have been intended to symbolize the passage to the afterlife.
- The temple is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae. The site includes other temples such as Abu Simbel, Kalabsha, and Wadi al-Sebua.
9. Luxor Temple – Egypt
Date of construction: 1390 BCE.
Luxor Temple is a magnificent ancient monument on the east bank of the Nile River in Thebes, the former capital of Egypt. It was built around 1390 BCE to honor three Egyptian deities: Amun, the king of the gods; Mut, his consort; and Chons, their son. The temple was the focal point of the Opet festival, the most important celebration in Thebes, where the statues of the gods were carried in procession from Karnak to Luxor. Today, Luxor Temple is no longer a site of worship. It’s now a stunning attraction for visitors from around the world.
Interesting Facts about Luxor Temple
- It was built with Nubian sandstone, which gives it a reddish hue.
- One of the two obelisks at the entrance was given to France in 1833. It now stands in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.
- The building of Abu al-Haggag Mosque was on top of the temple in the 13th century. The active mosque still remains today.
- The temple has a granite shrine dedicated to Alexander the Great, who claimed to be the son of Amun.
- Luxor Temple was connected to Karnak Temple by a three-kilometer avenue of sphinxes, which is currently being restored.
10. Temple of Seti I – Egypt
Date of construction: 1294 BCE.
The Temple of Seti I is a magnificent ancient temple dedicated to Pharaoh Seti I and the gods of Egypt on the west bank of the Nile in Abydos, Egypt. The temple was built towards the end of Seti’s reign and may have been completed by his son, Ramesses II, after his death in 1279 BC. Seti I temple is famous for its exquisite reliefs that depict scenes from Seti’s military campaigns, religious rituals, and family life. In addition, the temple contains a list of Abydos kings that records the names of 76 pharaohs from the first to the nineteenth dynasty.
Interesting Facts about the Temple of Seti I
- The temple was built on the site of an earlier temple that was destroyed by a flood. After that, later pharaohs such as Merneptah, Shoshenq I, and Nectanebo II restored the temple several times.
- The temple has a unique layout that consists of seven sanctuaries dedicated to Seti I and six gods: Osiris, Isis, Horus, Amun, Ra-Horakhty, and Ptah. It also has two hypostyle halls, two courtyards, and two pylons.
- Temple of Seti I is famous for its high-quality reliefs that show Seti I offering to the gods, performing rituals, and celebrating festivals. The reliefs’ carves have fine details and vivid colors that contrast with the rougher style of Ramesses II.
- The temple contains a famous inscription known as the Abydos King List. It lists the names of 76 pharaohs from Menes to Seti I. The list omits some controversial rulers such as Akhenaten, Tutankhamun, and Hatshepsut.
- The temple is also a pilgrimage site for ancient Egyptians who believed that Abydos was the burial place of Osiris, the god of the underworld. The temple has a subterranean crypt that contains a cenotaph of Osiris and a replica of his tomb.
A Quick Summary of 10 Oldest Temples in the World
|1||Göbekli Tepe||Türkiye||10th–8th millennium BCE||A hilltop sanctuary with round buildings and T-shaped pillars.|
|2||Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra||Malta||3600-3200 BCE||Two hilltop temples with altars, niches, and oracle holes.|
|3||Temple of Ggantija||Malta||3600-2500 BCE||A megalithic temple complex with a five-apse plan and a central corridor.|
|4||Hypogeum||Malta||3300-3000 BCE||The only underground temple in the world with halls, chambers, and passages.|
|5||Stonehenge||England||3000-2000 BCE||A structure of earthworks and standing stones with an unknown purpose.|
|6||Palace of Knossos||Greece||1900-1375 BCE||The largest site on Crete and the center of Minoan civilization.|
|7||Temple of Hatshepsut||Egypt||1479-1458 BCE||A mortuary temple for a female ruler with three terraces.|
|8||Amada Temple||Egypt||1450 BCE||The oldest surviving temple in Nubia for Amun and Re-Horakhty.|
|9||Luxor Temple||Egypt||1390 BCE||A temple for three Egyptian gods and the center of the Opet festival.|
|10||Temple of Seti I||Egypt||1294 BCE||The memorial temple for a pharaoh with beautiful and detailed reliefs.|
The World’s Oldest Temples, Here’s Your Insights
- The oldest temples in the world are mostly located in the Mediterranean region, especially in Türkiye, Egypt, and Malta.
- The oldest temples in the world are mostly megalithic structures. In other words, they are made of large stones that are not shaped or joined by mortar.
- They all have different purposes and functions, such as the sanctuary, necropolis, festival center, mortuary temple, palace, and altar.
- The oldest temples in the world have different architectural styles and features. To illustrate, round buildings, T-shaped pillars, standing stones, terraces, frescoes, corridors, altars, niches, and oracle holes.
- The world’s oldest temples have different states of preservation and restoration. Some of them are well-preserved and accessible to visitors. Whereas, others are partially destroyed or buried underground. Besides that, some of them have been restored or modified by later rulers or cultures.
The Legacy of the Oldest Temples in the World
The 10 temples we have discussed in this article are among the oldest temples in the world. Yet, they are not the only ones. Archaeologists and explorers have discovered many other ancient temples or are still uncovering them. These temples are valuable sources of information and inspiration for us today. Indeed, they reveal the diversity and similarity of human cultures and religions across time and space. They also challenge us to wonder about the motivations and meanings behind these monumental structures, and how they relate to our own spiritual quests and expressions. The oldest temples in the world are not just relics of the past, but living testimonies of the human spirit.
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