The largest, most recent and best-preserved pre-historic cuIt site in MaIta is at Tarxien just over 0.75mi/l km southwest of Paola.The site, originally covering an area of 6,500 sq. yd/5,400 sq. m, was excavated and restored in 1914. The stone reliefs and sculpture found here are now in the National Museum of Archeology in Valletta, and are represented on the site by excellent reproductions.The stone walls of the four adjoining temples are decorated with spiral patterns and animal figures, of types found on other Maltese cult sites. In the southernmost temple are the remains of a statue, originally 9ft/2.75 m high, of a fertility goddess with grotesquely swollen legs, disproportionately small feet and a pleated skirt.There have been agricultural settlements in Tarxien since the time of the early temple-builders (3000 B.C.). The street pattern follows the infuriatingly delightful plan of the old casals or villages and wind aimlessly around the 17th century church of Our Lady of the Annunciation.The temples are the most important megalithic structures on Malta and powerfully impressive, although held in 20th century buildings. Historians agree that what remains in Tarxien today was part of a much greater settlement, but modern developments seem to have precluded the possibility of further exciting discoveries.Three main temple structures and the remains of a small fourth were unearthed. All except the last structure to be built, the Central Temple, are sited in a southeast quadrant. With the exception of the Early Temple, which dates back to the older Ggantija phase, the three principal temples date back to the eponymous Tarxien phase (3000 B.C.-2500 B.C.). These were the last of the temple structures to be constructed by prehistoric man in Malta.Very little is left of the East Temple and even less of the oldest Early Temple. The large stones outside were part of the enclosing wall.
The Central Temple, more than 23 meters high, is unique in Malta for having three pairs of apses rather than two and was built after the South and East Temples. The predominant feature is the reddening of the stone, possibly caused by an inferno that marked the end of the temple-building period 4,500 years ago. The central court is striking, built by huge slabs of limestone. There are two bowls in the left apse, the larger of which was hewn from one piece of rock. Entry to the third pair of apses, and what may have been the priests' inner sanctum, is barred by the finest and most powerful carving here, the oculus motif stone.
In the four-apsed South Temple is the huge headless statues of an elephantine female, possibly the "fat" goddess of fertility. She must have stood more than two-and-a-half meters tall. To her right is an altar niche above delicately carved spiral stonework. The space behind the niche revealed a collection of animal bones and a flint knife presumably used for sacrifices. There is no indication of human sacrifice having taken place. To the left or in the west apse are more animal friezes, although less recognizable, and in the center is a pitted bowl. Through what was the temple's inner door is the decorated central niche.