The oldest temples in the world

Etymologically, the word temple comes from the Latin “templum”, which means sacred place, and they were considered in ancient times as the home of the gods. For thousands of years humans have built many sacred places, and fortunately some have remained in time; but of others only a few vestiges remain. 

The different civilizations erected constructions with the purpose of pleasing the supreme beings, besides that they could give them the answers to all the things they did not understand. For example, in Egypt, the figure of God was worshiped by a priest who offered him perfumes, food and clothes, in exchange for prosperity and protection.

For the Greeks, the temple was where the gods lived, therefore, treasures were to be deposited there. In Judaism it was there where the different sacrifices were made. The Mayas elevated the temples above the pyramids to be closer to God. For Christianity, the temple is the church, a place where the faithful gather to pray and talk to God. Be that as it may, there has always been something in common: a construction or sacred place for worship.

Ancient temples between 11,500 and 4,000 years BC:

  • In Turkey, the Temple of Göbekli Tepe: towards the southeast of Turkey and very close to the Syrian border, in what was ancient Mesopotamia, this building is located at the level of a hill. This temple was hidden and buried; it was only discovered in the last decade of the 20th century by the German archeologist Klaus Schmidt, and experts say that it dates back 11,500 years.

It is a stone building that has several circles, and in the stones were carved figures of priests and animals, which suggests that it may have been erected by hunters. The date indicates that it is previous to the invention of the wheel as well as to writing, perhaps when cattle raising and agriculture began. Because of the size of the sanctuary, it is said that excavations will take about 50 years.

  • To the south of the United Kingdom, the Stonehenge Stones: just outside Salisbury in the south of the United Kingdom and on a hill is located this famous construction of the Stonehenge stone circle, which is said to date back 5000 years, and today is still full of many questions. It has been attributed to interpretations such as a healing center or a coronation field.

It has also been said that it could have been used for ancestor worship, or it could have been a Druid temple. There really is no clear answer, but it is known that these stones are aligned with the Sun and the Stars; as a kind of temple for ceremonies. In the winter and summer solstices visitors can see them up close, otherwise they can only observe them from a distance.

  • In Iraq, the construction of the Ziggurat of Ur: the word ziggurat means to build on top, and these were the religious type constructions of Mesopotamia; the king Ur Nammu was the one who built the first of them. Its origin dates from 4000 years ago, formed by pyramid-shaped structures, with steps that represented its ruler as his God and the great power of the city.

According to the Greek Herodotus, who knew the site, he mentioned that a sanctuary for the gods existed at the top. It is believed that this structure was part of several religious buildings; today it is in the Dhi Qar province of present-day Iraq. In addition, the sanctuary has received several reconstructions to maintain its structure.

Ancient temples between 3700 and 1900 BC:

  • On the main island of Malta, the complex of Hagar Qim: this megalithic temple is located south of the island of Malta and southwest of the town of Qrendi, about 2 km, on top of a cliff, and dates back to 3700 BC. It consists of the main temple and 3 other nearby structures; the wall of the external part was built by blocks in vertical form. 

Its external entrance is like a corridor that then connects with 6 chambers. It is famous for the wall that contains the megalith that weighs about 57 tons and measures a little more than 5 meters. It is said that this temple praises the sun and the changing of the seasons, because at the equinox the light passes through the hole found in one of the stones.

  • On the island of Gozo in Malta, the Ggantija Temple: this is another of the temples of the archipelago of Malta dating from about 3600 B.C. Its name in Maltese means “giant” and the stones have the same dimensions of the previous temple. The locals say that giants used to live here.

It is a religious construction that has not been buried or looted, and the main feature is that the temples have the shape of a female figure, so it is thought that this place was used to worship the fertility of women with animal sacrifices, as many bones of them were found during the excavation. 

  • On the Greek island of Crete, the Palace of Knossos: it is said to have been built between 2000 and 1900 B.C. It is not so much considered a temple but a palace-like residence that has many rooms, but also several sanctuaries; and it has been put on this list because of the antiquity and religious tasks that were practiced in this place. This palace shows us some vestiges of the oldest culture in Europe: the Minoan civilization. 

Ancient temples between 1,479 and 1,000 years B.C.

  • In ancient Egypt, the Temple of Hatshepsut: in the valley of Deir el Bahari, on a high cliff, is located the funerary temple of Hatshepsut, which dates back to 1479 BC. We are talking about the 2nd pharaoh of ancient Egypt, who gave the order to build this temple in order to honor her in that place after her death. 

But it was his son Thutmosis III who built it, a very impressive structure. In 1960 A.D. archeologists excavated to a greater depth, and were able to observe original paintings and wide colonnades in classical Greco-Roman style. The temple also honors the Sun.

  • In Egypt, the Temple of Luxor: this temple was built between 1400 and 1000 BC by the pharaohs Ramses II and Amenhotep III, with the idea of honoring the God Amun. Both this temple and that of Karnak were in communication by what they call the corridor of the Sphinxes, with more or less 600 of them. It is said that in this temple several pharaohs left their mark through chapels, such as Alexander the Great, Tutankhamun, of course Ramses II and Amenhotep III.
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