The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is a unique gem dating as far back as 4000 BC. The site is an underground complex made up of several interconnecting chambers spread on three levels, located in the village of Paola, Malta (also referred to as Raħal Ġdid locally). The UNESCO World Heritage centre describes it as being of Outstanding Universal Value .
Experts believe that the Hypogeum was originally a sanctuary, a place for prayer and worship, which later became a burial site. Excavations, which began as early as 1904, revealed a wealth of findings, such as decorated pottery items, buttons made of shells, stone beads and amulets, little stone carved animals and birds that may have been worn as pendants as well as stone and clay figurines of human figures.
The most striking of these figures is the iconic fat woman lying on a couch, known as the ‘Sleeping Lady’ now on display at the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta. Apart from these artefacts, the excavators also found the remains of some 7,000 human bodies. The bones helped researchers understand the prehistoric burial rituals and how our ancestors celebrated death.
More info about similar sites in Malta: Uncovering Malta’s Megalithic Temples (including map)
The Hypogeum allows only 10 persons per guided tour, which means you should buy your tickets well in advance!
The most distinctive feature of the Hypogeum is most certainly the red ochre paintings that decorate some of the walls. These are the oldest and only prehistoric paintings recorded on the Maltese Islands.
The chambers, made to resemble other temple structures found around Malta, were cut into soft globigerina limestone using very basic tools made out of rock and animal bones. The whole complex was hewn out of the side of a hill with the builders going down to 10.60 m below ground level.
During excavations, archaeologists found the remains of some 7,000 human bodies. The bones helped researchers understand more about prehistoric burial rituals and how our ancestors celebrated death. But that’s not all. A number of these skulls had peculiar deformities, others showed signs of surgery, and stranger yet, a number of elongated skulls were found among them, causing a stir of debates and theories as to their origin .
One of these skulls even lacked the Fossa median (the join that runs along the top of the skull). These skulls, some of which used to be on display at the National Museum of Archeology in Valletta, are similar to others found in Egypt and also in South America. This has led to speculation especially when these skulls disappeared from the museum for unknown reasons  in 1985. The Ħal Saflieni mystery remains.
After having been closed to the public in 2017, the Hypogeum has reopened to the public and now offers an upgraded visitors’ centre and much improved audio guide to give you a much better experience.
To get to the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum you can catch a ride on bus routes 84, 85 or 88 from the main bus terminus at Valletta. The trip takes around 40 minutes.
The Hypogeum is open Monday to Sunday between 09.00 and 16.00hrs with a maximum of 8 tours each day.
Paola PLA 1116
Tel: +356 21 805 019
Access to the Hypogeum is limited to 10 persons per guided tour, so you should buy tickets well in advance due to this site’s popularity.
Check out my two guidebooks full of local knowledge and my best recommendations for your trip, and up-to-date for 2023!
Malta & Gozo guide book
Valletta: An Insider’s Guide to Malta’s Capital
Take the hassle out of planning your trip to Malta and be an informed traveller!
Get the best travel tips from Malta Uncovered delivered to you in bite-sized chunks by email. (Unsubscribe at any time!)
Was this article helpful? Share it with your friends!