America’s a funny place to be from. We don’t really prize or value history, our own being so colorful and horrific. The history we do hold onto isn’t very old. Goes, back a couple generations, maybe but not a lot.
I think it’s probably a very American concept to demolish the old to make way for the new – raze to raise up. And it’s not a bad working concept really, there’s something to be said for flaunting tradition and creating new paths and methods for society.
But I traveled to the country of Malta recently and for the first time in my life I actually stood in a place that’s been standing for several thousand years. To be as specific as possible, 3,000+ years. The Ġgantija temples have been in their spot on the island of Gozo for lifetimes upon lifetimes.
And what struck me when I first saw the ruins was that, well let’s be honest, it’s not that impressive. It’s a few walls of rock. I could say that to you, and that thought certainly crossed my mind, but briefly.
Because I’m standing in a place that people have stood in, all through history, either for religious purposes, or after it fell into disuse, for accidental purposes, or for tourist purposes.
And, a quick aside about other tourists. Back when this place was becoming a tourist destination again, in the 1800s or so, people carved their initials into the rock to commemorate their time at the oldest religious site on earth. In their defense, selfies didn’t exist, but also, let’s not defend these monsters who defaced the oldest known religious site in the world. Anyway.
There’s not a lot I can tell you about the temples that wouldn’t be true of other ancient ruins. What people know about thousand year old history is understandably pretty limited, but you can’t quite deny the truly humbling nature of being around something that had a far greater lasting impact than probably anyone could have anticipated.
Certainly, a greater lasting impact than any modern person thinks of leaving behind. I don’t know. Maybe the ancients had a different view. Clearly based on their use of stone and the size of the stone they intended things to be built to last and to matter. But standing there inside Ġgantija, which means “giant” there is a sense of proportion to be felt, a historical humbling. And you do feel small. How can you not? Next to the ambitions and passion of a people with an enduring vision.
Of course, you leave the temple and you’re back on the street and around the corner looking for an ATM next to a Chinese food restaurant. And sure, these are in old stone and rock buildings that have probably been around for a few centuries too, but it’s nothing next to the thousand year old structure you just visited. But that restaurant wasn’t always for Chinese food, that spot in the wall didn’t always hold an ATM, and people didn’t use to visit that temple to get their picture inside of it.
History is transforming all around us, and it’s people that are transforming this world we live in, shaping the places we visit, giving them meaning, giving them purpose, making them beautiful, making them useful, making them work, or tearing them down to make way for something new, something that builds on the old and makes it stronger and more lasting.
Or at least I hope that’s what we’re doing.