|Location:||Triq Hal-Saflieni (Burials Street), Paola. From Valletta follow the signs to Marsa, then Paola.|
All year daily 9-17.
Closed 01-JAN, Good Friday, 24-DEC, 25-DEC, 31-DEC.
Adults EUR 35, Children (12-17) 20, Children (6-11) EUR 15, Children (0-5) free, Students EUR 20, Seniors (60+) 20.
|Classification:||Hypogeum, Cave Church.|
|Light:||Incandescent Electric Light System|
Malta Before History,
Miranda, Malta, March 2004. ISBN: 9990985081, 440p, 3,840gr, 27.6x32.5x4.6 cm, HB.
Miranda Bookstore Malta - Malta Before History
Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, Burial Street, Paola PLA 1116, Tel: +356-2180-5019 or +356-2182-5579 (Reception), Fax: +356-2180-5021.
Museum Officer: Joseph Farrugia, Tel: +356-2180-5018, E-mail:
|As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.
|1902||discovered by builders digging a well on a site for new houses.|
|1903-1906||excavated by Fr Emmanuel Magri.|
|1905||existence of this labyrinth became common knowledge.|
|1907-1911||excavated by Sir Themistocles Zammit.|
|1908||first opened to the public.|
|1980||inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.|
|1990||closed for major renovation and further excavations.|
|2000||reopened to the public.|
|2017||environmental management system replaced and updated.|
In 1902, when builders were digging a well on a site for new houses in Paola, they broke into the roof of the upper floor of a huge complex of underground chambers. Instead of reporting their discovery to the authorities, the builders used the cavity for the disposal of rubble. It was nearly three years before the existence of this vast and remarkable labyrinth of chambers became common knowledge.
The excavations that subsequently took place were led by the eminent Maltese archaeologist, Sir Themistocles Zammit. On the lower level, the remains of 6000 to 7000 human bodies were discovered together with personal ornaments and pottery. The precise purpose of the Hypogeum remains a mystery, partially because of the primitive methods then available to the archaeologists. It is generally thought that the temple complex was used as a burial site and as a sanctuary. Archaeologists meanwhile dream of the discovery of another similar structure so that modern methods might throw light on the function of its individual features.
Covering nearly 800 m², the chambers are built on three levels and descend to a depth of 12 m. Tools made of flint, bone and hard rock were used to hack away at the limestone and create the chambers.
The highest level is the oldest, dating to around 3000 BC. From here a modern spiral stairway leads down into to a dimly lit and somewhat spooky centre of the complex. Here the carved walls, corbelled ceilings, large three-stone doorways and fragments of spiral decoration all recreate the architectural features of the temples above the ground. Because the ceilings here are intact, it gives you a good idea of how the above ground temples (all now roofless) must have looked.
The chamber known as the "Holy of Holies" reveals traces of red ochre on the walls, red being the colour of blood, sacrifice and death, suggesting that this was both a burial place and a shrine. The Oracle Chamber, where a square niche is cut into the wall, has remarkable acoustics. Deep, usually male, voices reverberate and carry to the far end of the chamber while high pitched female voices seem to have no effect at all. This is believed to be the cavity where the priest-oracle interpreted dreams. It was in these mid-level chambers that the so-called "Sleeping Priestess" was discovered - small statuette of a female with tiny head and fat body lying on a couch. This and other obese female figures, which can be seen in the archaeological museum in Valletta, suggest some sort of fertility cult.
Other items found in the Hypogeum include pots with abstract decoration, and personal ornaments - such as a necklace, which has been reconstructed, made out of pierced shells and beads.
From the middle level, an ancient and uneven staircase leads down to the lowest set of chambers. It was here, among the pits and tombs, that the remains of thousands of bodies were unearthed, along with their grave goods.
The National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta has a model of the site, and a collection of the statuettes and pottery that were found there.
The Hypogeum has been closed for restoration for several years. It is now finally open and visitors are limited to a maximum of 200 per day, in groups of ten, every 30 minutes, so be prepared for queues. [2002 waiting period is one week, so book at the beginning of your holiday!]. Entry to the site is through the original entrance, and by way of walk ways to protect the site. New additions include a multi-lingual audio-visual display and a new sophisticated system of lighting.
Text by Tony Oldham (2002). With kind permission.
The Hypogeum is a mysterious construction, and we still do not understand the ideas and thoughts of their constructors or the reason why it was built. So the intentions behind this is still a topic of speculation. Authors like Erich von Däniken or Werner Betz found a really logic reason for those buildings: they were underground command centers for space ship launches. And as the Hypogeum was closed for nearly 10 years, they postulated some kind of conspiracy and the discovery of high tech artifacts which was disclaimed by the government. However, as the Hypogeum is reopened now, this theory seems to be incorrect. But the speculations were feeded by the information policy, or better the lack of something like this, and the continuous delay after reopening dates were published.
The Hypogeum is now reopened, but to ensure its conservation, the site's microclimate is strictly regulated. So unfortunately this site is open only to 80 visitors each day. There are six or seven tours every day, with 10 visitors on each tour. Reservation is essential, depending on the time of year it is good to prebook several weeks. At the moment (March 2004) it is necessary to pre-book one week ahead. This site is now run by Heritage Malta, who manage about a dozen locations on Malta.
The oldest remains discovered during the excavation were dated to about 4000 BC, so this is the minimum age of the structure. More recent remains found were dated to the Early Bronze Age (ca 1500 BC), which is much younger. It is unclear if and how it was used inbetween, but at least we know that it was accessible during the Bronze Age. The uppermost level has a large chamber with smaller burial chambers on its sides. This part was probably once exposed to the sky and there was probably a monumental structure marking the entrance.