Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum

Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni


Location: Paolo, Malta Map


Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is located in Paolo on the island of Malta is the only known prehistoric underground temple. Underground complex date back to the third millennium BC. The temple is located at a depth of 11 meters under the surface carved from a solid rock using some preexisting natural cave structures. In total religious pagan complex consists of 33 rooms located on three levels on the total are of 500 square meters. Multiple stairs, ladders and passages unite the whole system into one huge man- made cave. Later the temple was transferred into a necropolis for the dead. Archaeologists found remains of over 7,000 people, several altars, vases, ornaments and many figurines including two sleeping women. The last two figurines are kept in the Museum of Archaeology in Valletta, Malta. Some historians suggested that the temple had importance in cult of fertility. Located underground it was probably the closest ancient people could approach the goddess of the Earth. Additionally some suggested as in other later cultures of the Ancient World this temple had priestesses perform all the sacraments. Unfortunately scarcity of description leaves us little clues either support or deny this theory. Another theory exist that an oracle once lived here. Due to his proximity to the kingdom of the dead he could predict the future. This drew many pilgrims to the island that allowed extensive digs that expanded the Hypogeum. But this is also just a theory that has very little credible evidence.

Hypogeum was originally re- discovered accidentally in 1902 by construction crew who were putting sewer system here. Even though the builders realized the structure was unique they kept it secret and used it as a dumping ground for their construction material. It was not until Catholic Jesuit priest father Emmanuel heard about the find, then the workers stopped destroying the site. Subsequent archaeological digs discovered thousands of bones from humans and animals alike. After death of father Emmanuel in 1907 another archaeologist, Sir Themistocles Zammit, took over digs inside Hypogeum.

The first level is probably the oldest part of the underground system. It appears that several natural caves were united into one by passages. The second level of the cave is probably one of the most fascinating in the structure. Its main chamber was probably the center chamber for the whole temple. Figurines of laying women were recovered from here. Additionally color pigments covered the walls of the room suggesting key importance in a pagan cult. Other rooms include the Oracle's Room, Snake Pit, and Decorated Room. The third level of Hypogeum contained only water upon its discovery. It might have been used as a cistern for storage of water.

Then traveling to Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni, don't forget that this an UNESCO Heritage Site so it is kept under strict safety measures for future preservation. Only 80 people are allowed to enter per day so book your trip. Additionally don't litter or leave any graffiti on the walls. Don't make us look bad before the descendants.

Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni  Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni



As early as 1899, when a house was being built in the Maltese city of Paola, the subterranean temple complex (hypogeum) was struck by chance. The construction workers broke through the roof of the middle level while building a cistern. However, the find was not reported to the authorities until 1902, as the builders feared that construction work would be interrupted. They were proved right: the construction work was stopped immediately after the sensational discovery became known. In the meantime four houses have been demolished in order to have full access to the underground temple. Skeletons of around 7,000 people have been found in the caves.

The hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni consists of many underground passages, halls and niches and extends over three levels. The top level used to be above ground, has been overlaid by rock over the millennia and is well below today's street level. The middle and lower levels were originally underground. The passages were driven up to 10.6 meters deep into the soft limestone with stone and bone tools and gradually widened over about 1300 years. The total area of ​​the hypogeum is around 500 m². The walls and ceilings are partially decorated with ocher-colored paintings, consisting of decorative, winding tendril patterns and discs. In the room known as the oracle chamber, there are spirals made of red ocher that look like a plant pattern. In addition, a black and white checkerboard pattern was found. Furthermore, in the neighboring rooms one encounters a combination of discs, hexagons and semi-spirals. A room called All Saints' Day is particularly impressive: a complete facade with a threshold and orthostats was carved into the rock. A cantilever vault completes the ceiling of the room. In the bottom there is a V-shaped recess with a stopper, which was probably used for libations. The space behind the facade of the Holy of Holies was started but not finished. This may be related to the mysterious halt to all construction activities from 2500 to 2000 BC. The following construction activities are no longer attributed to the Stone Age, but to the Bronze Age.

In addition to altars, skeletal remains were found in the niches. Probably the most famous find from the complex is a 12.2 cm long statuette, which depicts a reclining female figure and is called the "sleeping lady". Today it is exhibited in the Archaeological Museum in Valetta.

The hypogeum is most likely a burial site in which ritual acts were also carried out. The similarity of the triliths carved into the rock with the aboveground structures suggest this. The fact that the here, like most of the Neolithic sculptures found elsewhere in Malta, are presumably female, led to the assumption that it was a matriarchal society and that priestesses, fortune tellers, etc. were buried in the hypogeum. But this view was put into perspective again, because meanwhile the sculpture of a “holy family” (man, woman, child) has also been found. A reference to the nearby temple of Tarxien was also established. According to this, Tarxien could have been a kind of temple for the living and the hypogeum a temple for the dead with a burial place.

The temple complex can be visited to a limited extent - currently eight guided tours are carried out daily with a maximum of ten people each.

A second hypogeum was constucted on the archipelago of Gozo. The underground areas under Brochtorff Circle are in the excavation phase and are still inaccessible.