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Your Guide to Malta and Gozo - Hal Saflieni

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Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum

Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, Burial Street, Paola PLA 1116 Tel: +356 21 805 018/9, www.heritagemalta.org

Monday to Sunday:    Guided tours are conducted, starting on the hour from 9.00 till 16.00 (last tour). There are two special tours at noon and 16.00 hours. When planning your visit, it is advisable to book a ticket well in advance.

 

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The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum was serendipitously discovered by a stone mason in 1902 whilst constructing a shaft for a water tank. The discovery was not immediately reported, and the workmen, not fully appreciative of the importance of the site inflicted some damage when they used it as dumping ground for waste construction material. Preliminary excavations were undertaken by Jesuit priest Manuel Magri from 1903; following Magri's death in 1907 Temi Zammit took over.

This masterpiece of prehistoric architecture consists of three sections: an upper section thought to have been constructed between 3600 and 3300BC; a middle layer, dated to 3300-3000BC and a third section hewn out of the rock between 3150 and 2500 BC. Besides having been used as an underground temple, the remains of 7000 individuals have been discovered here. Several rooms have trilithon entrances, reminiscent of temple structures above the ground. It is thought that the Hypogeum was not used as a burial place but a cave within this complex must have been used as a repository for human skeletons exhumed elsewhere. The skulls are unusually elongated, leading to speculation regarding the identity of the temple builders.

Artefacts discovered here included stone implements such as mortars, querns and spheres presumably used for the transportation of megaliths; jewellery and pendants; and various items of pottery.

It is bewildering how using crude implements, the neolithic artisans attained such a high level of workmanship and finish as in the ultra-smooth concave walls of the main hall, originally painted red. Also painted red are lavish decorations consisting of fourteen discs in a second hall.

The oracular chamber is a masterpiece of acoustic engineering. The bellowing voice of the priest must have inspired awe and fear, as it spectacularly reverberated, conveying messages from the gods and the underworld. The ceiling of this chamber is intricately decorated with spiral motifs, the significance of which is debatable. The large circular room which follows the oracular chamber is once more heavily decorated with spiral patterns and polygonal motifs – again painted red. Abundant artefacts were discovered in a pit at the base of the wall on the left hand side of this room, believed to have been a receptacle for items deposited as offerings to the temple by devotees through a window-like opening above.

The Hypogeum is a mysterious place; the people who constructed it left no written records that document the mystical rites and happenings that unfolded within; beyond the rocky structures that make up the Hypogeum is little more than sheer conjecture. The unknown, the mystical and the mysterious blend together to make the Hypogeum a spooky, eerie place to visit. So step five millennia back in time and savour the spirit of neolithic Malta as it springs back to life before your eyes.