Thursday, March 4, 2010

Time in Ruins

There is nothing like visiting ancient ruins that seem to have no bearing whatsoever in your life, and then finding something there that is so mundane, so universally normal, that in one instant the past is connected to the present. A carving, a word, a coin, a fragment, becomes a moment of shared experience. It is a form of communication that is eternal and it is what brings ancient sites alive.

Malta is practically littered with ruins. In fact, there are so many, and surprisingly, they are so rarely visited, that in the same day, we saw the same custodian three different times at three different sites. I asked him if he knew where we’d be later that evening because he seemed to psychically predict our every move.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, some of these ancient sites predate Stonehenge by millennia, and have a range of appeal from the oldest, to the ones that overlook the sea, to the ones with the most artifacts. Many of them are so wonderfully preserved, they still have standing arches, shrines that still await the faithful, and pathways that are worn with the footsteps of countless unknown people. But what stopped me in my tracks were those small touches, those moments when I came to an understanding of the people who inhabited these mystical places: beautiful and intricate decorative carvings and statues that like most ancient artwork, depict figures in positions and behaviors that are quintessentially human.

Everyone who knows me well, knows that I appreciate a good rest. The Beatles “I’m only sleeping” is a personal mantra and I think, a strong statement to live by. So imagine my surprise and overwhelming satisfaction when I found that the most famous statue from the ancient people of Malta was the figure of a sleeping woman. So touching in her simplicity, she is immortalized in that state that I love best. She’s just a small statuette, dating from 3600 – 2500 BC, almost post-modern in her stylized, curvaceous form, and she is surrounded by mystery. What exactly does she depict? Was she an actual person of note or just a simple representation? She lies on her side, a smile on her face, in restful slumber forever. But whether she was a noblewoman or just a regular person; whether depicting sleep or a metaphor of deeper meaning; for me, she acts as a connection with the distant past, bringing with her the age old knowledge that no matter who you are or what your hopes, dreams, or trials; a good sleep will always rank among the world’s greatest and most restorative pleasures. If I were to be immortalized, that is probably the state that would best represent me.

How would you be remembered?


For a glimpse of the Sleeping Lady, log onto: and select the National Museum of Archaeology. Just above the title, you’ll see an icon of a vase. When you click on it, it will bring you to the museum’s collections, and the first one of all, is my “Sleeping Lady”.

For more information on Malta's ancient sites, you can log onto:

My absolute favorites were:

The Hypogeum, an underground temple and burial site that is beautifully preserved and maintained;

Mnajdra, which overlooks the sea;

The Tarxien Temples, which have the best preserved carvings and artwork.

If you’d like more information on Malta, just post a question or comment. And stay tuned for more blogs on new destinations …