Attractions - Temples
Tel: +356 21 805 018/9 | Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, Burial Street, Paola (Rahal Gdid), Malta. PLA 1116Website: www.heritagemalta.org/sites/halsaflieni/halsaflieniinfo.html
The Hypogeum, or underground cavity, is a unique monument and a splendid example of architecture in the negative. It was discovered accidentally in 1902 by a stone mason who was laying the foundations of some houses.
A Jesuit priest, Father Magri S.J., was appointed to report on the underground remains. However in 1907, he was sent on mission work to Sfax, Tunisia, and while there he passed away. Unfortunately, his reports of this early, critical work in the unearthing the Hypogeum have never been found.
The next person to assume responsibility for the excavation was Temi Zammit, the first Director of Malta's Museum's Department and a distinguished professor of medicine. Sir Temi was later knighted for his contribution to medical science. His excavation yielded a wealth of archaeological material including much pottery and human bones, personal ornaments such as beads and amulets, little carved animals and larger figurines.
The Hypogeum consists of halls, chambers and passages hewn out of the living rock and covering some 500m². The rock-cut chambers are of diverse shapes and sizes and finished to different standards of workmanship. The complex is grouped in three levels – the upper level (3600-3300 BC), the middle level (3300-3000 BC), and the lower level (3150-2500 BC). The deepest room in the lower level is 10.6 metres under road surface.
The upper level consists of a large hollow with a central passage and burial chambers cut on each side. One of the chambers still contains original burial deposits. The middle level consists of various chambers very smoothly finished, which give the impression of built masonry. The workmanship is all the more impressive when one considers that the chambers were meticulously carved using only stone tools. Curvilinear and spiral paintings in red ochre are still visible in some areas.
This unique monument is inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list. To ensure its conservation, the site's microclimate is strictly regulated: temperature, relative humidity and carbon dioxide levels are constantly monitored to ensure the Hypogeum's survival for future generations.