Hal Safleni Hypogeum (Malta)

The only thing I knew about Malta was the beaches, because it is a tiny little island! I booked a ticket in random, when I found some cheap tickets. It was only after booking the tickets did I try to find the places to see in Malta and guess what, there are 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Malta, an island, that's half the size of Singapore!!!!! So, here's the first one of the 3 - Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum.



To begin with, there are 2 points. One, this is perhaps one of the most difficult places to get to visit, in lines with Santa Maria Della Grazie or Anne Frank's House, with regards to getting a ticket. I'll tell you more about it at the end of the post. Two, photography isn't allowed. You have to leave literally everything in lockers before going into the Hypogeum. So most photos here, are the official pictures of the site.
Pic Credit: viewingmalta.com

This is perhaps the most mind-blowing pre-historic site I've ever been to! Usually pre-historic sites that were over the ground and not really protected from nature. So over time, any building is now is ruins (like Stonehenge), and some are reconstructed. Some are burials (like Thiruporur) which didn't have a building. Naturally occurring sites, esp. caves, just exist (like Spiennes Flint Mines) or still bear the rock-art (like Hampi, Alambadi, Kilvalai, Settavarai etc) or engravings. But never have I seen a pre-historic site that was excavated underground and looks like a building, without being reconstructed! This is basically getting into an all-intact, pre-historic building!!!!! Mind = Blown....
The Hypogeum is dated as New Stone age structure built in 3300-3000 BCE, that's basically a 5000yr old place! The tiny little island has been in human occupation since 5200BCE that's 7000yr old! Malta is 316 sqkm, 10th smallest country in the world, half the size of Singapore. I can't seem to wrap my mind around the fact that our ancestors, braved the seas and settled in this island which is about a 100km away from the mainland of Italy and 300km away from the mainland of Africa! Its just too crazy... 
The tour starts with a 20 minute Audio Visual 4D experience that gives an overview about the site. The whole thing is via headphones which are sensor activated. So, as you move, the narration begins in your chosen language. After the 4D experience, the actual descent into the Hypogeum happens.
Hypogea is Greek means underground temple/chamber. It was discovered by chance in 1902 CE when, as a part of city's infrastructure, the housings here dug for a well! A small portion of the housing is still visible in the upper chamber as you enter. It was then opened to visitors and was even used as a shelter during the World Wars. Over time, the bones, artifacts and rock-art took the toll and it was closed in 1991 CE. From 2000 CE onwards it was re-opened but with strict regulations, which precisely is the reason why getting a ticket is complicated!!!
Pic Courtesy: Hal Saflieni Hypogeum/Heritage Malta via Flickr

The whole Hypogeum is in 3 levels. The upper chamber would have been the ground level in its time and then there are 2 more underground levels. The upper level is very small and reminds of Megalithic Temples, but is more ruined state. The magic begins with the first descent. There is a modern wooden walkway to help visitors.
There are several pits and chambers which would have been filled with burials. These were not individual, but were collective burials and when it was discovered, remains of about 7000 humans were found here!!! There were not just human remains but also some artifacts that were buried along in here. The most precious of them all is the Sleeping Lady, which might represent Mother Goddess! Its a small sculpture that's just about 10cm long. Currently this is at Archaeological Museum in Valletta.  
Pic Courtesy: Hal Saflieni Hypogeum/Heritage Malta

The middle level is the complex area with several chambers and in one of it is where the magic of spirals happens. The entire ceiling is filled with spirals painted of red ochre. When this was built, the lighting wouldn't have been as what it is now. It would have been of lit torches which with its flickers, the spiral would have seemed to have some movement! These spirals are in another room too, edged with hexagons. 
Pic Courtesy: viewingmalta.com

Pic Courtesy: viewingmalta.com

Beyond this is the most important room called the 'Holy of Holies'. This was the point where my mind was blown. This looks like a 2 storey temple, complete with pillars & a ceiling. Don't miss the little dent between the top of the pillar and ceiling, to make it look like, as if its been 'built' by stacking rocks! But, remember? This was not 'built', the whole thing was 'excavated' underground using stone tools like flints!!!!! Again, I couldn't wrap my head around it. This place is a surviving example of how the megalithic temples like Mnajdra or Tarxian would have looked above the ground!!!
Pic Courtesy: Photo from official guide book by Heritage Malta. Original photo ©Daniel Cilia

The 3rd level goes as deep as 7m from the original ground level. This lowest chamber is a single chamber that's led by 7 steps from the 'Holy of Holies' room. No, these steps are not modern, its rock-cut by pre-historic humans! The steps are uneven and the last step is pretty far from the floor. Perhaps the entire floor was filled with burials upto a height that the last step was more accessible.
Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is not a site to see, its an experience to be felt!
Again - to imagine, that 5000yrs ago, man actually made chambers cutting rock using flint, into the ground, and came up with a complex building with, even pillars in them, and even managed to paint & decorate it!!!!!

Entry Tickets & Timings:
Only Audio-Visual Show: €5 (Timings: 9:30, 10:30, 13:30, 14:30, 15:30) - 20 mins show
Hypogeum visit: €35 online (€40 on the previous day) - 50 mins tour
Here's the link to Hal Safleni Hypogeum official tickets.
As I mentioned earlier, its extremely difficult to get tickets of Hal Safleni Hypogeum. The online tickets get sold-out atleast 2-3 months earlier! Per day only 80 people (8 tours of 10 persons each) are allowed inside. 60 tickets are sold online while the remaining 20 are sold 'only' the previous day at Fort St.Elmo (National War Museum, Valletta) i.e, you can buy only tomorrow's ticket today and not for any other day. A maximum of 4 tickets are sold per person. These 20 are only for the 12:00 Noon and 4:00PM tours. Fort St.Elmo opens at 9:00AM. The thing is, queuing for these tickets begins much earlier than the opening time!!! So you may have to set alarm, wake up and run to be ahead of that queue. There are some private tour organizers / guides who will stand in the line for you to get them at a very premium price!!! 
If at all you're unable get hold of a ticket of the Hypogeum, the Audio Visual experience is totally worth it. Atleast seeing that is necessary, when you're in Malta!

My entire Malta Travelogue: Hal Safleni Hypogeum, Hagar Qim and Mnajdra megalithic temples, Blue Grotto, Valletta, Three Cities, M'dina, Rabat

Pic Courtesy: As mentioned earlier, photography is not allowed inside and the official photos are being used in this blog and related social media with prior permission.

Bhushavali

An ardent traveler by passion. I am a wanderlust.. Read more about me here.

14 comments:

  1. I was under the impression that Malta is only about the sun and sea. I had never heard about these two UNESCO sites. The Hypogeum seems like an interesting place. Will sure need some planning before visiting it.

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  2. What a hidden gem! I haven’t heard much about Malta, but I’d like to go. I didn’t know that Malta had 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Of them, the Mother Goddess looks spectacular!

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  3. Wow! Now this is truly mindblowing. I can't seem to fathom how they carved such intricate structures underground with their basic stone tools. The Hal Safeni Hypogeum in Malta looks extraordinary. I would love to check out those spirals painted in red. Thanks for bringing to life new UNESCO Heritage sites.

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  4. I love the intricate and well designed structures. I really want to visit Santa Maria Della Grazie and explore it. I really hope I can make a visit soon as I'm very inclined to history. Also, I have a friend in Malta who can tour me around.

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  5. I have recently seen several photos from Malta on Instagram and I wanted to go to this island. Beautiful architecture, beaches and historical places like these. It sounds like the perfect destination. It is a pity that you can not take photos in places you write about. For me, as a photographer, it is really grieving.

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  6. Wow I hadn't known until I read your post that Malta has three UNESCO heritage sites. I would love to visit the Saflieni Hypogeum and thanks for the detailed information regarding how to purchase the tickets online. It's stunning to see how well preserved the site is post excavation and the middle chamber with its amazing spirals looks amazing.

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  7. This is such a hidden gem. It looks amazing!

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  8. I didn't realize there were UNESCO sites in Malta, what a fun way to spend a day. I've read a lot of posts from bloggers about Malta, but not a one ever mentioned Hypogeum, so I'm glad you chose to write about your experience there. UNESCO sites are so educational and interesting to me, I can't wait to see this myself one day.

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  9. Isn't that the best when you throw out the travel guide of the itinerary and end up pleasantly surprised by what you discover in a destination?

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  10. That underground city is so cool! But isn't it a little creepy? Hehehehe! I wonder how they would evacuate if there's an earthquake. Anyway, I love it that the local government/tourism department was able to preserve this amazing wonder.

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  11. Nice article. Thanks for sharing..




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  12. Never knew this side of Malta. 3 UNESCO heritage sites has really made me look at Malta with new eyes. I am already reading about it. Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum sounds like an experience for sure. This looks like a work of art. 7000 bodies were found. Sleeping lady sounds interesting. Thank you for the virtual tour. The booking of tickets does make the visit more worth it.

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  13. I always learn so much from reading your posts. I had no idea Malta was half the size of Singapore, nor had I ever heard of the Hypogeum. It's truly stunning how old the tomb is and how well it was preserved; the fact that it was undiscovered until 1902 is also amazing when you think about it. I also love the red ochre spirals. If I ever book a trip to Malta (multiple months in advance), I'd be sure to book a ticket online! Definitely a UNESCO World Heritage Site not to be missed.

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  14. It really looks surreal! It is always a bit annoying, when photography is not allowed.. but totally understandable. Getting a docent shot in that light isn't that easy anyway... Most photos wouldn't show the site very well.

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