Clapham Junction Series – Għar il-Kbir (Great Cave)

Start Date & Time: 26/11/2016 - 12:00 am

End Date & Time: 26/11/2016 - 12:00 am

The second guided tour led by Gordon E. Weston took place on the Sat 26th November 2016.  A party of 20 FAA members assembled at ‘Clapham Junction’ near Buskett where Gordon took us on a 2-hour guided tour of Ghar il-Kbir (Big Cave), which is in the vicinity of the ‘Clapham Junction’ cart ruts, which FAA members visited two weeks earlier.  Ghar il-Kbir is the best known of the existing caves in Malta.  It is a large hollow or gaping hole in the Upper Coralline limestone rocky ground (see Photo 1) housing the remains of a large cave complex, which was inhabited by local cave dwellers possibly for many centuries before the British authorities forced them to move out in the 19th century.

Displaying WP_20161126_001.jpg Photo 1: Size of hollow housing the caves


Displaying WP_20161126_010.jpg Photo 2: Robert of FAA crouching down in a cave

Gordon informed us that the large cave complex consisted of eight smaller caves, on two different levels, surrounding a large natural cavern which may have had several entrances. In earlier times the cave was much larger than what can be seen today but due to partial collapse of the roof some of the original cave is now used as a field by the local farmers.  Cave dwellers inhabited the smaller caves, having built stone walls inside (as well as at the entrance) to separate their living quarters.  

The party walked down some eroded steps where there was a cut in the rock leading to a small cave (see Photo 2), which could be entered by crouching down.  Here stone loops were observed in the rock, probably for tethering of small animals (such as pigs).  

The walk then continued along the rocky path and down badly eroded steps to the bottom, where three caves flanked by a rubble wall structure in the entrance (see Photos 3 and 4) were encountered.  The group entered the main big cave which Gordon said was a ‘formal’ area.  Here Gordon pointed out a number of features in the cave such as a small hearth (see Photo 5) in which the cave dwellers probably burnt cow dung;  partitioned rubble walled living/sleeping areas (see Photo 6) for families and their animals;  and tethering loops in the roof where the inhabitants may have hung their garlic and onions or tethered their animals.  To the left of the ‘formal’ area there was an ‘exposed’ area with a collapsed ceiling (see photo 7) partitioned in the foreground by a rubble walled sleeping areas for inhabitant families and their animals.

Displaying WP_20161126_026.jpg Photo 3: Walled entrance to main cave


Displaying WP_20161126_020.jpg Photo 4: Inside wall in entrance


Displaying WP_20161126_019.jpg Photo 5: Hearth in middle of cave


Displaying WP_20161126_012.jpg Photo 6: To left and right partitioned rubble


Displaying WP_20161126_015.jpg Photo 7: ‘Exposed’ area partitioned by a rubble wall.

To the right of the formal area, there was another cave area nothing like the previous two areas and separated from them by a wall.  This second area, referred to by Gordon as the ‘pagan’ area, as he thinks it was used for ritual purposes in very early times maybe even the bronze age but no one knows the exact date as no archaeological search has been carried out.  On entering the ‘pagan’ area, there is a narrow walkway cut into the rock.  To the right of this are niches cut into the rock possibly having served as seats or bunks (see Photo 8) and one larger niche which could have been a seat with a cut out headrest (see Photo 9).  To the left of the narrow walkway there is a table or altar (see Photo 8 again) where animals such as sheep, birds, pigeons may have been slaughtered.  Adjacent to this were two boxes / tombs cut into the floor of the cave (see Photo 10), as it was the ritual that bones of the sacrificed victims must not leave the place of sacrifice.  Tethering loops were observed around the walls.

Displaying WP_20161126_035.jpg Photo 8: Niches on left for seats, altar on right used for sacrifices


Displaying WP_20161126_032.jpg Photo 9: Seat with niche for headrest


Displaying WP_20161126_034.jpg Photo 10: Tomb for sacrificial animal bones

It is thought that the cave dwelling people were too poor to have much meat in their diet, eating mainly vegetables, cheese and home-baked bread, and using dried cow dung to fuel their fires.  The men worked in the fields and tended to their animals, which were later on taken to town for sale, whereas the women took care of the children and made cheese.  Drinking water was stored in large earthen pitchers.  The caverns were ventilated by shafts, devised to exclude rain and wind.

Heading back up the steps and rocky path from the main cave, the group viewed a hole in the bedrock, which was part of a ventilation system linked to the cave.  Walking further on down the flanks of the hillside, there are four Punic tombs (see Photos 11 and 12).  In these Gordon pointed out that the access shafts are different between each one.  The last tomb was the youngest and had steps leading down into it.  Gordon ended the guided tour by stating that where there are tombs there are settlements.

Displaying WP_20161126_046.jpg Photo: Punic tombs situated close to Għar il-Kbir

This last location marked the conclusion of the ‘Clapham Junction’ Ghar il-Kbir guided tour, which all FAA members thoroughly enjoyed and found extremely informative.  Once again a well deserved thank you to Gordon Weston.  FAA members then proceeded to “The Cliffs” restaurant on Dingli Cliffs for light refreshments.


Derek Moss

FAA Member



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