Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni
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|Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum|
|Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List|
|UNESCO region||Europe and North America|
|Inscription||1980 (4th Session)|
The Hypogeum of Paola, Malta, (Ipoġew in Maltese) literally meaning "underground" in Greek, is a subterranean structure dating to the Saflieni phase (3300-3000 BC) in Maltese prehistory. Thought to have been originally a sanctuary, it became a necropolis in prehistoric times and the remains of more than 7,000 individuals have been found. It is the only known prehistoric underground temple in the world. The Hypogeum was depicted on a 2 cents 5 mils stamp issued in the Maltese Islands in 1980 to commemorate the acceptance by UNESCO of this unique structure in the World Heritage Site list. It was closed to visitors between 1992 and 1996 for restoration works; since it reopened only 60 people per day are allowed entry.
It was discovered by accident in 1902 when workers cutting cisterns for a new housing development broke through its roof. The workers tried to hide the temple at first, but eventually it was found. The study of the structure was first entrusted to Father Manuel Magri of the Society of Jesus, who directed the excavations on behalf of the Museums Committee. Magri died in 1907, before the publication of the report. Following Magri's sudden death, excavation resumed under Sir Themistocles Zammit.
The first level is very similar to tombs found in Xemxija in Malta. Some rooms are natural caves which were later artificially extended. The second level was only opened when the original builders found that this level was no longer adequate. This level is only ten metres below the surface.
This level features several apparently important rooms, such as the Main Room, the Holy of Holies, and the Oracle Room.
The Main Chamber
This chamber is roughly circular and carved out from rock. A number of trilithon entrances are represented, some blind, and others leading to another chamber. Most of the wall surface has received a red wash of ochre. It was from this room that the statuettes of the sleeping lady were recovered. These figurines are currently held in the Museum of Archaeology, in Valletta, Malta.
The Oracle Room
The Oracle Room is roughly rectangular and one of the smallest side chambers. It has the peculiarity of producing a powerful acoustic resonance from any vocalization made inside it. This room has an elaborately painted ceiling, consisting of spirals in red ochre with circular blobs.
The Decorated Room
Out of the Oracle's Room, through the hammer dressed chamber, on the right is another spacious hall, circular, with inward slanting smooth walls, richly decorated in a geometrical pattern of spirals. On the right side wall the entrance is a petrosomatoglyph of a human hand carved into the rock (Agius).
The Snake Pit
The second level contains a 2 metres deep pit which could have been used for either keeping snakes or collecting alms.
Holy of Holies
The focal point of this room is a porthole within a trilithon, or structure consisting of two large vertical stones, which is in turn framed within a larger trilithon and yet another large trilithon. The corbelled ceiling has been taken as a hint that Malta's surface temples, now uncovered, could be roofed similarly.
The lower storey contained no bones or offerings, only water. It strongly suggests storage, maybe of grain.
The Hypogeum of Ħal Saflieni is a very popular tourist attraction. However, because of its age, Heritage Malta (the government body that looks after historical sites) only allows 60 persons per day to visit the Hypogeum. Heritage Malta recommends tourists to book well ahead of time if they wish to visit. Some last minute tickets are occasionally available from the Museum of Archaeology in Valletta. (Now moved to the Museum of Fine Arts - available on first-come, first-served basis. The museum opens at 9am, queuing for tickets starts around 7am).
- List of World Heritage Sites in Europe
- World Heritage Sites
- Xagħra Stone Circle
- Ann Mette Heindorff. "Hal-Saflieni Hypogeum (1982) Malta". Retrieved October 22, 2005.
- Jim Diamond. "Malta Temples". Retrieved October 22, 2006.
- Agius, A.J. The Hypogeum at Hal-Saflieni. Freedom Press. Malta. P. 19.
- "Project RedBook".
- Pace, Anthony, The Hal Saflieni Hypogeum Paola (Valletta, Heritage Malta, 2004).