Visiting the Hypogeum

Malta has 3 World Cultural Heritage sites: the city of Valletta, the megalithic temples of Malta (Ġgantija, Ħaġar Qim, Mnajdra, Skorba, Ta’ Ħaġrat and Tarxien) and the hypogeum of Ħal Saflieni.

THE HYPOGEUM, AN UNDERGROUND TEMPLE ALMOST 6,000 YEARS OLD

Discovered by chance in 1902 by workmen from Paola, the Malta Hypogeum (The Hal Saflieni Hypogeum) is a unique case in the world of an underground prehistoric cemetery built in rock between 3300 and 2500 BC.

The hypogeum comprises three levels: the oldest (3600 BC) is the highest, while the most recent (2500 BC) is 10 meters below ground.

A visit to the Maltese Hypogeum is an unforgettable experience during your stay in the Maltese archipelago – in fact, it’s a must! Excavations carried out throughout the 20th century unearthed pottery, beads and amulets (offerings to the dead), animal sculptures and figurines, including the famous Sleeping Lady statuette, which can be admired at the Museum of Archaeology in Valletta.

Lovers of Sleeping Lady will be able to rediscover her exclusively at The Snop House Senglea in a contemporary presentation in the form of a large bronze by the artist Caroline Lee (installed in the Sylolpasso room). (See photograph at the end of this article).

A view of the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, by Daniel Cilia

GETTING TO PAOLA & BOOKING A VISIT TO THE HYPOGEUM

Getting there by bus:

  • From Valletta (about 20 minutes): routes 1-2-3-91-92-93
  • From Senglea (about 8 minutes): routes 1- 213,

Stop at Paola (Boni West Side station) then follow the “Hypogeum” signs (5-10 min walk).

You need to book your visit to the Hypogeum (open from 10:00 to 18:00) well in advance, as only 80 people a day (in groups of 10 every hour) are allowed access. It is best to buy your tickets several months in advance on the Heritage Malta Hypogeum Tickets website. However, if your booking request does not work out for your dates of stay, all is not lost: 20 tickets are available each day for entry the following day at noon and 4pm. You can obtain these tickets at the Fort Elmo ticket office in Valletta: the ticket office opens at 9am, and the best is to be one of the first in the queue.

The best plan is to get there before 7.30am (one person can get 4 tickets), and to take the opportunity to visit Fort St Elmo, which houses the War Museum and, at certain times of the year, art exhibitions. If you are just passing through Paola, you can always try your luck at getting a last-minute ticket (more expensive, but welcome if there is no other option!).

WHAT TO DO IN PAOLA AFTER VISITING THE HYPOGEUM?

Paola (Raħal Gdid in Maltese) is a lively local town. It bears the name of its founder (in 1626): the Grand Master Antoine de Paule. The town, built on a typical grid plan, has established itself as a commercial centre and has been embellished with gardens and open spaces. The large square (on Via Triq Hal Luqa), which has recently been redeveloped, has become a lively place, with shops, cafés and interesting restaurants in the square and in the surrounding streets. We particularly like Panormus, with its authentic Sicilian home cooking, and The Pavilion Club, located on the historic site of the former naval and military prison on Corradino hill.

There are two parish churches, one dedicated to Christ the King and the other to Our Lady of Lourdes, as well as a very old Baroque church dedicated to Saint Ubaldesca.

Built between 1924 and 1959 to accommodate the town’s growing population, the parish church of Christ the King (Kristu Re) is impressively large, with a total of ten altars, and its many silver domes are highly distinctive. A statue of Christ the King stands in the apse of the main church. The feast of Christ the King is celebrated on the fourth Sunday in July.

The baroque church of Saint Ubaldesca (sister of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem) was built in the 17th century by the Order of Saint John in Paola. The building is a historical landmark, being the oldest established church in the locality, and is listed in the National Inventory of Cultural Assets of the Maltese Islands.  The church ceased to be Paola’s parish church around 1928, when religious rituals began to take place in the Church of Christ the King.

Venturing further

A few blocks from the Hypogeum, we recommend a visit to the megalithic temples of Tarxien (open from 10:00-18:00). This religious complex consists of four temples built between 3000 and 2500 BC and perfectly reflects the construction techniques of the first civilizations that populated Malta. The semi-circular chambers of the temples feature stone altars carved with geometric motifs (spirals, volutes) and animal motifs (goat, goat, pig, etc.). The first apse on the right houses the lower part of a colossal statue (Mother Goddess representing Fertility), which must originally have been almost 3 m high.

You can take advantage of your presence in this district to walk to the Chinese Garden of Serenity in Santa Lucia, a beautiful place dedicated to contemplation, or wander through the alleys of the Addolorata Cemetery in Paola, a vast necropolis with a multitude of sculptures and architectural features.

A bronze rendition of The Sleeping Lady by artist Caroline Lee, at the Snop House (in the room Sylolpasso)
Moving around Malta

Moving around Malta

Moving around Malta from the Snop House is easy, whether you want to use the buses, ferries or taxis. Read on and start planning!

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