Malte: Hal Saflieni Hypogeum

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Adresse :  Triq Ic-Cimiterju, Paola, , Malte
Téléphone :  + 356 21 825 579
Télecopie :  + 356 21 805 021
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The Hal Saflieni Hypogeum was discovered in 1902 during the course of an extensive housing project in Casal Paola. It was excavated between 1903 and 1906 by Fr Manwel Magri and the site was opened to the public in 1908. Subsequent excavations were conducted by Sir Temi Zammit, and more recently, between 1990 and 1993, by the Museums Department.

The Hypogeum is a unique prehistoric underground burial site dating to 4000 BC. It is found on the promontory of a gentle hill and consists of underground rock-cut burial chambers set on three different levels (Upper, Middle and Lower Levels).

The entrance to the site consists of a curved hollow quarried into the promontory which contains a passage-way leading to the Upper Level of the Hypogeum. A trilithon that has survived at the Upper Level indicates that a monumental structure also marked the entrance to this level, whilst on either side of the main axis of this area are roughly-hewn burial chambers. It is likely that this Upper Level functioned as a transitory space or lobby for the rest of the site.

Upon entry to the Middle Level a large circular opening leads to the Main Chamber. This is highly-finished and is carved in a manner that replicates architectural elements found in the contemporary above-ground prehistoric monuments of the Maltese Islands.

The Main Chamber subsequently leads to a small intermediate space which in turn leads to the Holy of Holies. The ceiling of this intermediate area is fashioned in a manner to replicate the idea of corbelled roofing – the type of roofing found in the above-ground prehistoric monuments. The entrance to the Holy of Holies again reflects the architecture of the Maltese free-standing prehistoric monuments; in contrast its interior is roughly finished.

Adjacent to the Main Chamber is a circular room whose ceiling is painted in a series of polygons rendered in red ochre. Along the edge of this pattern, where the ceiling meets the chamber walls, is a system of red ochre painted spirals.

Opposite this chamber are two recesses; the first holds a 2m deep pit whilst the second holds three slabs which cover a cavity leading to the Lower Level.

The final chamber in the Middle Level is rectangular with a sunken floor. The ceiling of this chamber is elaborately decorated with an organic design of spirals rendered in red ochre. This chamber also holds two shallow niches, one of which is decorated with red ochre.

The Lower Level is accessed by a flight of steps found in front of the entrance to the Holy of Holies. These lead to a rock-cut trilithon which in turn provides access to a series of small spaces divided by narrow walls.

Zebbug Phase (4100-3800BC) pottery found at the Hypogeum dates it to around 4000 BC or slightly earlier. The Upper Level of the site came into use during the Ggantija Phase (3600-3000 BC), whilst the Middle and Lower levels of the site were finished by the Tarxien Phase (3000-2500 BC). Therefore it appears that the Hypogeum was in use over the span of many centuries during which it was adapted and extended according to necessity.

Guided tours of the site are conducted daily, starting on the hour from 9.00 till 16.00 (there is no tour at 12.00). For conservation purposes the number of visitors is limited and it is therefore recommended that tickets are pre-booked.

December 2005



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