Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni

Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni

Photograph of the Hypogeum by Richard Ellis before 1910
Location Paola, Malta
Coordinates 35°52′12″N 14°30′23″E / 35.87000°N 14.50639°E / 35.87000; 14.50639
Area 500m2
Material Limestone
Founded c.4000 BC (earliest remains)
Abandoned c.2500 BC
Periods Saflieni phase
Site notes
Excavation dates 19031908, 19901993
Archaeologists Manuel Magri
Themistocles Zammit
Anthony Pace
Nathaniel Cutajar
Reuben Grima
Condition Well preserved
Ownership Government of Malta
Management Heritage Malta
Public access Yes
Website Heritage Malta
Official name Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum
Type Cultural
Criteria iii
Designated 1980 (4th session)
Reference no. 130
Region Europe and North America

The Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni is a subterranean structure dating to the Saflieni phase (3300-3000 BC) in Maltese prehistory, located in Paola, Malta. It is often simply referred to as the Hypogeum (Maltese: Ipoġew), literally meaning "underground" in Greek. The Hypogeum is thought to have been originally a sanctuary, but it became a necropolis in prehistoric times, and in fact, the remains of more than 7,000 individuals have been found. It is the only known prehistoric underground temple in the world.[1]


First Level

The first level is only ten metres below the surface, and it is very similar to tombs found in Xemxija, near St. Paul's Bay. Some rooms are natural caves which were later artificially extended.

Second Level

The second level was opened when the original builders found that the first level was no longer adequate. This level features several apparently important rooms:

The Sleeping Lady of Ħal-Saflieni, National Museum of Archaeology, Valletta
The Holy of Holies

Third Level

The lower story contained no bones or offerings, only water. It strongly suggests storage, maybe of grain.

Discovery and recent history

Site map of the Hypogeum made in October 1907
Facade of the museum leading to the hypogeum

The Hypogeum was discovered by accident in 1902 when workers cutting cisterns for a new housing development broke through its roof. The workers tried to hide the temple at first, but eventually it was found. The study of the structure was first entrusted to Father Manuel Magri of the Society of Jesus, who directed the excavations on behalf of the Museums Committee, starting from November 1903. Magri died in 1907, before the publication of the report. Following Magri's sudden death, excavation resumed under Sir Themistocles Zammit. It was opened to visitors in 1908.[2]

Queen Mary (though not King George V) visited the Hypogeum in January 1912, on their return journey from the Delhi Durbar.[3]

The hypogeum was included on the Antiquities List of 1925.[4]

The Hypogeum was depicted on a 2 cents 5 mils stamp issued in Malta in 1980 to commemorate the acceptance by UNESCO of this unique structure in the World Heritage Site list. Excavations took place between 1990 and 1993 by Anthony Pace, Nathaniel Cutajar and Reuben Grima. It was then closed to visitors between 1991 and 2000 for restoration works; and since its reopening, Heritage Malta (the government body that looks after historical sites) only allows entry to 80 people per day, while the site's microclimate is strictly regulated.[5][6]

In 2014, an international team of scientists visited the Hypogeum to study acoustics.[7]


The Hypogeum is a very popular tourist attraction. However, since only 80 people are allowed per day, Heritage Malta recommends tourists to book well ahead of time if they wish to visit. Some last minute tickets are occasionally available from the National Museum of Archaeology or the National Museum of Fine Arts, both of which are located in Valletta. These are available on first-come, first-served basis. The museums open at 9am, but queuing for tickets starts around 7am. As of September 2016, the site is closed for the installation of a new micro-climate-controller.

See also


  1. "Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum". UNESCO. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  2. "Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum". Heritage Malta. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  3. Fortescue, John (1912). The Royal Visit to India 1911-1912. London: MacMillan.
  4. "Protection of Antiquities Regulations 21st November, 1932 Government Notice 402 of 1932, as Amended by Government Notices 127 of 1935 and 338 of 1939.". Malta Environment and Planning Authority. Archived from the original on 20 April 2016.
  5. "The Hal Saflieni Hypogeum". maltassist.com. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  6. Pace, Anthony (2004). The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum Paola. Santa Venera: Midsea Books Ltd. ISBN 9993239933.
  7. "International team of scientists to study hypogeum acoustics". Times of Malta. 21 January 2014. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
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Coordinates: 35°52′12″N 14°30′23″E / 35.87000°N 14.50639°E / 35.87000; 14.50639

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