One of Malta’s most popular UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni is an underground prehistoric burial site that was first discovered during construction work in 1902. Consisting of three distinct levels that each feature rock-cut burial chambers, this is a piece of history that is truly worth exploring.
The Discovery of the Hypogeum
Like many historic underground sanctuaries, the Hypogeum was discovered by accident in 1902, when water cisterns were being dug for a new housing development. British authorities sent over a scholar to inspect the site, so that they could gauge its significance, and this led to an official excavation in 1903.
Exploring the Hypogeum
The Hypogeum consists of three levels, with multiple halls and chambers connected via a labyrinth of steps, passageways and doorways. The lower level consists of nothing but water, and is believed to have been a storage area. The middle layer is where you will find the most important rooms within the Hypogeum, with everything from the Decorated Room, which features geometrical patterns, to the Snake Pit, which is believed to have been used for keeping snakes. Also on the middle level is the Oracle Room, which is one of the smallest side chambers and boasts an intricately painted ceiling, and the Main Chamber, which is from where the Sleeping Lady was recovered. The upper level of the Hypogeum is only ten meters underground, and features a number of different chambers, some of which were used for burial purposes. The rooms that you will see here are all natural caves, although some of them were artificially expanded in later years.
The Acoustics of the Hypogeum
The acoustics of the Hypogeum have been studied extensively, which you will understand when you are standing within the structure, as it feels as though you are in the middle of a giant bell. When sounds are played at certain pitches, you not only hear it with your ears, but also feel it vibrating within your body, which has led many to believe that the Hypogeum was designed this way on purpose, in order to enhance some sort of amplification.
The Hypogeum of Santa Lucia
For many years, people considered the Hypogeum to be a one-of-a-kind structure, but, in the 1970’s, a smaller hypogeum was discovered less than a kilometre away in Santa Lucia, although this is now covered by a modern cemetery. In the 1980’s, another hypogeum was found on the island of Gozo, known today as the Xaghra Stone Circle, and this is now open for the public to tour.
Due to the overwhelming number of visitors that the Hypogeum has received in the past, only ten people per hour, meaning 80 per day, are allowed access into the underground labyrinth. For those who are hoping to visit the Hypogeum at some point this year, keep this restricted admission in mind, as it means that you will need to book your tickets at least a month in advance. While the Hypogeum is an important part of the heritage of Malta, there are also many conspiracy theories surrounding it, some of which are well worth reading up on before making your visit.