One of the most interesting archeological sites to visit in Malta is the Hypogeum. The Hypogeum is an underground structure that dates back to between 3300-3000 BC. Archeologists believe that it was originally a sanctuary of worship and that it later became a massive burial chamber housing thousands of different people’s remains. It is the only known prehistoric underground temple in the world. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and something that should definitely be on your list of things to tour while on Malta.
The tickets for this site are extremely limited, allowing only 60 visitors per day. The tours are about 45 minutes and cost 30€ per person. You are also not allowed to take any photographs while inside, and you must check your personal belongings into a locker prior to beginning the tour. At the start of the tour, we were given audio guides that took us through the various stops along with our visit.
The Hypogeum was discovered in 1902 when workers cutting cisterns for a new housing development broke through its roof. The site was then turned over to the head of Malta’s Museum’s department. The excavation of this structure produced a wealth of prehistoric items such as pottery, carved animal figurines, human bones, and person ornaments such as beads and amulets. Some of these can be seen on site but the majority of them are housed in the National Archeological Museum in Valetta.
As we entered the underground portion of our tour it was very dark and damp. It felt as if we were entering a different world. The hypogeum is made up of three varying levels. The upper level consists of a large hollow with a central passage and burial chambers cut on each side. One of these chambers still contains the human remains that were buried there. It was interesting to think that the prehistoric people that used this chamber were willing to lay others to rest in such a strange manner.
The middle level consists of various chambers, very smoothly finished, which give the impression of built masonry. It felt as though we were inside a temple that had been built of stones and carved limestone. The workmanship is even more impressive when you consider that the chambers were meticulously carved using only flint and stone tools. As we looked around, I couldn’t help but think about the amount of time that carving something this grand would have taken during ancient times.
As we moved through this level, we were able to examine spiral paintings made using red ochre. These areas were illuminated with special lighting that only came on while we were in the area. This helps preserve the site and eliminates light damage. Inside the ‘Oracle Chamber’ one of the small niches has an interesting acoustic effect of deep echoing. As you listen to the audio guide, you can hear examples of this.
At the conclusion of the tour, I was happy that we had spent the money to experience this incredible site. The people who created this place were truly gifted and tremendous stone workers. It is places like this that continue to remind me just how talented humans have always been.