This winter, descend into the underground neolithic and journey into mystery. Discover an ochre dappled world of light and shadow and explore the unique subterranean rock-cut chambers and wall paintings of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
With the earliest remains dating back to 4000 BC and located in close proximity to the contemporary Tarxien megalithic complex, the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum first came to light in 1902 during construction works being carried out above.
The neolithic cemetery hollowed out from the earth, using stone hammers, antler picks, chisels, chert and flint blades, consists of three separate interconnected levels. Natural caves and fissures may have prompted the original location of the site itself, but most of the necropolis was dug out from rock masses broken by drilling and leverage techniques.
A doorway from the upper central depression with its radiating burial chambers leads to the middle level, which is the star of the show.
Featuring carved portals and lintels and intricate red ochre motifs of spirals, spots, and honeycombs on the walls and ceiling, this tier includes the popularly known ‘Oracle’ room, so named because of a niche that has acoustic properties. A reclining statuette, known as ‘The Sleeping Lady’ was also unearthed in one of the main rooms on this strata. It is a beautifully carved statue showing a woman lying on her side on a bed – a rare depiction of furniture from the Maltese Neolithic. In the innermost chamber, colloquially referred to as the ‘holy of holies’, seven steps lead to the third and deepest level, 11 meters below the street level.
Unlike the other Neolithic temples of Ħaġar Qim, Mnajdra and Ġgantija, whose free-standing megaliths have survived the ravages of time, though sadly not their roofs, the Hypogeum, pictured as a reverse image of these structures, can provide an unparalleled idea of what the temples might have originally looked like embellished and covered.
Since opening to the public in 1908, thousands of visitors have flocked to see this internationally renowned pre-historic feat of engineering. However, over the years, high demand had taken its toll on the Hypogeum’s delicate micro-climate, resulting in tight monitoring of light, temperature, and humidity levels and
conservation measures that limit hourly tours to 10 persons along a pre-determined path.
Often pre-booked for months in advance, this season provides the opportunity, due to reduced tourist traffic resulting from the pandemic fallout, to take advantage of increased availability and secure a ticket to see one of the world’s remaining marvels for yourself.
Rediscover the magic of the Hypogeum this December and receive complimentary gift vouchers which can be redeemed all Heritage Malta gift shops. To book click HERE
By Warren Joseph Bugeja, Executive Communications, Heritage Malta
As featured in Oh My Malta Autumn/Winter 2020 edition