"Cart ruts and caves........." Ghar il-Kbir by leics

Ghar il-Kbir Travel Guide: 0 reviews and 8 photos

Malta is stuffed full of prehistory, much of it (I suspect) still unknown and some of it not very obvious.

The 'cart-ruts' of Malta are famous though, because they are so odd and so extensive. They can be found all over the island, sometimes disappearing into the sea and re-appearing on the other side of the bay (the result of later earthquakes etc).

So: what's a cart-rut? Basically, parallel channels worn into the rock. There may be just one parallel pair, but in many cases there are more: intersecting and diverging. Opinion is divided as to whether they were deliberately cut, or simply wore away with the passage of .......what? Well, carts with wheels, perhaps. Or sledges. Or some sort of vehicle with stone runners. I do not think that they were created by aliens (although Erich Von Daniken would no doubt disagree).

There are cart-ruts in other places (Greece, Sicily, Italy etc) but Malta has so very many. The fact that some Punic tombs cut them suggests that their date should be late Bronze Age (about 3-4000 years ago) but, of course, it is very difficult to be accurate in such matters.

One of the most complex areas of cart-ruts is now (sadly) called 'Clapham Junction', and lies near the village of Ghar Il-Kbir. It was the English archaeologist who called this area 'Clapham Junction', after the complex railway network in London, and the name has stuck.

There is an excellent paper online detailing the researches of Joseph Conti and Paul Saliba, which provides compelling evidence fot his area of cart-ruts (at least) being linked with quarrying.

Malta cart-ruts

Well worth reading, before you visit if possible.

Very near to this cart-rut complex lies the 'big cave' (I believe this is what Ghar Il-Kibr means).

Malta has little wood, and plenty of stone. In such circumstances (and in the Maltese climate), living in caves seems like a sensible idea to me.

The 'Big Cave' was probably inhabited from at least late Medieval times. Arthanasius Kircher, a German mathematician, produced a report on the caves and their inhabitants during the seventeenth century. At that time, there were 27 families living there (117 people in all), each family's living area delineated by stone walls. People continued to live there until the early nineteenth century. I believe the cave was eventually blown up (probably by the British), as its residents were thought to be a source of disease and would keep returning to their homes even when they had been told not to do so.

Visiting the cave is an extraordinary experience. Even though its roof is largely destroyed, smaller caves which ran off the main natural cavern still exist, as do the stone walls built to mark out separate living spaces, and the shelves and sleeping places cut from the rock. It's not difficult to get an idea of what living there might have been like: rather pleasant in the Maltese summer heat, in my opinion, though possibly a little smelly and smoky at times.

You'll need a car to find these places, I think. But it's worth the effort.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Fascinating and unique
  • Cons:None that I came across
  • In a nutshell:Cart ruts and caves...
  • Last visit to Ghar il-Kbir: Aug 2008
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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