Hal Saflieni Hypogeum
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There’s nothing original in the notion of travelling to Malta but that doesn’t mean it’s not it’s not worth coming. Millions of people can’t be wrong and neither can scores of generations! People have been attracted to these sun-drenched shores for thousands of years – and in case you needed any proof, head for the the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum.
Every pre-historic site on Malta and Gozo is special in its own way and there are several of them – the Ggantija Temples on Gozo, Hagar Qim and Ghar Dalam – to name but a few. Many, however, argue that the most special of them all is the Hypogeum.
The name translates literally as underground cavity, which is technically correct but falls some considerable distance short of doing any real justice to the magnitude of what was unearthed within. ‘Underground cavity’ doesn’t hint at the prehistoric temple and other finds that were discovered at Hal Saflieni.
Once you do get down there, prepare to be amazed because you will discover 500 sq metres of halls, chambers and passages dating back to around 3600 BC.
Now at this point you can either be flabbergasted by the size of the hypogeum or be staggered by its immense age. That date means it was in use long before the ancient Brits started to think about throwing up Stonehenge, or before any Egyptian architect convinced a pharaoh his memorial should be pyramid shaped – if you get my drift.
And if all that’s not enough to leave your collective flabbers well and truly gasted, then this gem will definitely tip the balance. The hypogeum was discovered accidentally by a stonemason who chipped his way through the walls in 1902.
He soon realised he stumbled across something rather special - a hidden gem of a bygone age dubbed as ‘one of the greatest remaining structures from pre-history!’ His suspicions were confirmed when discovered within it were the remains of more then 7,000 pre-historic Maltese people!
And still this place gets more amazing because the fact it was underground, sealed off and untouched for so long has kept it exceptionally well preserved. There was also a treasure trove of pottery, personal ornaments, small, carved animals and larger figurines. Pooled all together the findings were enough to convince UNESCO to declare it a World Heritage site.
Once the mason had walloped his way through the wall and said sorry, responsibility for the excavations was passed, inexplicably, to a Jesuit priest called Father SJ Magri and later, more plausibly, to archaeologist, Professor Themi Zammit. He must have felt like a kid let loose in a toyshop, as he and his charges trawled through a three-tier subterranean complex of carved chambers in diverse shapes and sizes.
Among these is the Oracle Room - one of the smallest side chambers that produces a powerful echo … if you’re a man. The effect does not work with higher female voices!
A visit to this subterranean attraction provides an intriguing view into a lost age and, should you fancy playing at Indiana Jones for the day, you’d be best advised to book in because daily numbers are restricted to 80 people.
Daily guided tours of the Hypogeum run from 9am to 4pm and admission is €20 for adults, €15 for students and OAPs and €12 for children aged six to 11. Children under the age of six are not allowed in. If any spare spaces are available, they are sold at €25 each from the National Museum of Fine Arts.
The Hal Saflieni Hypogeum is just outside Paola, the town you’ll find at the southernmost edge of Valletta’s Grand Harbour. If you follow the road signs to Paola you’ll eventually see Hypogeum signposts. There is car parking available very close to the site as well as bus routes that call at the site.
Address: Burial Street, Paolo PLA 1116
Phone: +356 2180 5018
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