Hypogeum: unique underground temple

Malta – The Hypogeum of Hal Safleni (source: Heritage Malta)

The Hal Saflieni Prehistoric Hypogeum in Malta is a Unesco World Heritage Site and the only known example of a Neolithic Age underground structure in the world. The name Hypogeum comes from the Greek word for “underground.” The site was discovered in 1902 during construction works not far from the temple complex of Tarxien.

While much about the original purpose and function of the Hypogeum still remains a mystery, it appears that it was built as a subterranean sanctuary, which also served as a burial site. Consisting of 32 chambers and halls carved out of solid rock, it covers an area of 500 square meters and is three levels deep. The oldest level, the closest to the surface, is dated to 3600-3300 BCE, while the lowest level, the deepest one below the ground, dates to 3150-2500 BCE.

After the discovery of the Hypogeum, many artifacts, including pottery, jewelry and household items were found.  It is generally assumed these objects belonged to the deceased buried there.

Source: Flickr by

Among other objects was a clay image that has been called “the sleeping lady.” She may have been an ancient representation of a fertility goddess or a queen of the subterranean realms of the dead. Some believe her to be a representation of a sleep of death, thus confirming Hypogeum to be a burial site – while still others believe she represents the dream state that connects to other realms of consciousness. This figure is now on display at the Archaeological Museum in Valletta.  

Discover One of the Oldest Underground Structures in the World

The Hypogeum was likely originally used as a sanctuary, a place to communicate with the divine, possibly through an oracle. This is why one of the chambers which demonstrates its unique acoustic properties has been called the Oracle Room. Carved out of solid limestone, it is one of the greatest mysteries in the Hypogeum.  If a person is within the Oracle Room, their voice is echoed all around the complex, magnified a hundredfold.    

According to several field studies in the field of archaeological acoustics, the sound of a male voice in the Oracle Room resonates at 114Hz, which is a frequency similar to the one produced by a male voice in many other ancient temples around the world.

It is possible that the chamber was constructed to enhance a mystical experience during ritual chanting, as people opened themselves up to vibrations which may have affected their mood and thinking.

Booking is necessary to visit the Hypogeum. A visit is only possible as part of a guided tour in a group of a maximum of 10 people, to protect the site.  The tour lasts one hour. How to get there? Book a private tour with driver and combine the attraction with others nearby.