Hypogeum Hal-Saflieni: the underground world of Malta

The dreaded secret of Hypogea.

As you know, there are quite a few catacombs, cave underground cities and temples on our planet. Today we would like to remember not the most famous underground temple, but nevertheless keeping a lot of burning mysteries and secrets. We will talk about Hal-Saflieni or Hypogea, i.e. the underground temple, located in the city of Paola on the island of Malta. According to scientists, Hal-Saflilieni was cut through the thickness of a limestone rock about six or even seven thousand years ago. That is, the underground temple is as much as a thousand years older than the Egyptian pyramids in Giza! And in fact many historians still consider them the oldest monuments of architecture in the world.

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But here’s the question: what civilization built the multilevel ramified Maltese labyrinth, carved at a depth of eleven meters? What functions did this underground facility perform? Finally, what happened to the marvelous builders, all traces of whom are lost in time? So far, science can not give an exact answer to these questions. Nevertheless, the discovery of Hal-Saflieni – a discovery of world significance. And in 1980, the hypogeum of Hal-Saflieni was included by UNESCO in the list of the most significant monuments of the cultural heritage of mankind. And some historians insist on recognizing the Maltese hypogea as the eighth wonder of the world.

And the discovery was made quite by chance. At the very beginning of the twentieth century, in 1902, in the suburbs of Paola an intensive housing construction was underway. The workers, beginning the construction of another house, dug a well in the rock, which was supposed to install a cistern to collect water. They found out that there was a sort of cavity in the rock. And although it was immediately clear that the cave was of artificial origin, the developers, not wanting to lose profits from a lucrative concession, ordered the work to go on. And construction debris began to be dumped into the cave.

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One day the Jesuit Father Emmanuel visited the construction site. He was able to recognize the significance of the find and got the city authorities permission to begin excavations. He discovered human skeletons inside an underground cavity with many cone- and egg-shaped rooms, and he immediately suspected that this was the cemetery of a catacomb church in the early Christian era. This presumption, however, was contradicted by the absence of any Christian symbolism inside the cave. The walls were covered with ochre-colored geometric patterns, mostly in the form of spirals. The remains of sacrificial animals, in addition to human remains, were also found, which also refuted the original hypothesis: Christians did not sacrifice animals. After Jesuit’s death in 1907, the excavations were continued by the Maltese archaeologist Temi Zammit. The most significant of his discoveries is the “Chamber of the Oracle” with its amazing acoustic properties, which will be discussed below. On this basis, Zammit suggested that the temple in antiquity housed an oracle, to which pilgrimages were made by people from all countries of the Mediterranean.

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Marija Gimbutas, an American archaeologist and culturologist of Lithuanian origin, suggested that Hal-Saflieni was a sanctuary of the goddess of female fertility, Mother Earth or Great Mother. She drew such a conclusion based on the fact that some premises of the hypogeum had the shape of a mother’s womb. In addition, during the excavations was discovered two small clay figurines of obese women with unduly wide hips, lying on their sides (the majority of the seven thousand human remains found in the burial chambers of hypogea is also in this position). These statuettes were called the “Sleeping Mother”. Some believe that the pose of the woman resembles the pose of an embryo, but it is more like the pose of just a resting woman. In addition to the figurines, many ornaments, vases, statuettes and a variety of cult objects have been found. It is also believed that the hypogeum served not only as a place of cult worship and burial, it served primarily for the training of priestesses who practiced the cult of the Great Mother. Most scholars now consider Hal Saflieni to be an underground temple dedicated to the cult of birth and death. It has thirty-four rooms arranged on three levels over an area of about 500 square meters. They are connected by passages-tunnels and stairs. This is quite a tangled labyrinth, in which it is easy to get lost unprepared person. On the upper level of the labyrinth is a large hall, the central passageway and burial chambers on each side. The hall is rounded and several passages lead out of it, some ending in dead ends. This is where the figures of the sleeping women were found. On the second level of the hypogea is the so-called ‘Chamber of the Oracle’. This is perhaps the most interesting object of the underground temple. In this room, at face height of a man of average height, there is a small oval niche. If you say something in it in a low voice, the sound, many times amplified, will spread throughout the underground rooms.

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But if you say something in a high voice, even those standing nearby won’t hear you. So it turns out that the niche only responded to men’s voices? Were women deliberately excluded from the list of those who were allowed to say something to the niche? Such a strange acoustic phenomenon! And it could not help but attract the attention of experts. Acoustic research carried out by the Maltese composer Ruben Zara and a group of Italian scientists showed that the sound in the “Chamber of the Oracle” resonates at a frequency of 110 hertz, which corresponds to the resonance frequencies in many other ancient places of worship, in particular in the Irish Newgrange. (These data were published in the journal Time and Mind in 2008.) Such acoustic effects have a very strong influence on the psyche of people. According to scientists, resonant sound at such a frequency as if to turn on the area of the brain, which is responsible for mood, empathy and social behavior. In addition, a person in hypogea feels this sound vibration with all the tissues and bones of his body. This leads to a certain change of consciousness and probably enhances mystical sensations during religious rituals. This is assuming that Hal-Saflieni was indeed created as an underground temple. But there is another hypothesis for the purpose of the “Chamber of the Oracle”, which will be discussed later. On the third level of the hypogea there are niches called funerary chambers by archaeologists because human remains have been found in some of them. They are so small that one can only look into them by kneeling down, and only crawl into them. All the cells are deaf, and only one has an opening in the opposite wall, which leads into a dark tunnel. This “last”, third, level in the hypogea was built in the period of time when the civilization that created the temple mysteriously disappeared from the island.

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In 1940, the famous explorer Louise Jezzap, who worked at the English embassy in Malta, visited Hal-Saflieni. During a tour, she managed to persuade her guide to let her enter one of the mysterious niches. He was reluctant at first, but eventually had to retreat under the pressure of an eccentric foreigner, only warning that it was very dangerous and he was not responsible for the consequences. Miss Jezzapot took a candle and told her friends to take hold of her long scarf to back her up that way. As she squeezed her way through the hole, the intrepid explorer found herself standing on a small ledge of rock at the edge of a narrow but probably very deep chasm, beyond which she could see the outlines of a vast hall. On the other side of the abyss, just below, was the same ledge, and just beyond it was a tunnel leading somewhere deep into the rock. Near it Miss Jezzapaw saw some hairy creatures that looked like men. They threw a rock at the woman. Frightened out of her wits, she rushed back. The guide was not at all surprised by her fright. He seemed to know exactly what she might have seen. A week after that, a group of thirty schoolchildren and their teacher disappeared in Hal Saffilieni. It turned out that they had climbed into the very tunnel from which Louise Jezzapart had escaped. Accidentally or not, there was a cave-in in this passage immediately after the group of schoolchildren disappeared. Search parties excavated the manhole, but found only a fragment of the safety rope that the excursionists were pulling from the burial chamber. It had been cut with something sharp. No trace of the children or their guide was ever found. True, many Maltese later heard children’s cries and screams coming from underground in different parts of the island. But no one was ever able to pinpoint exactly where the sounds were coming from. It is said that a network of catacombs extends under the entire island and even beyond, allegedly reaching as far as Italy, so it is not surprising to get lost forever in this labyrinth. And it begins exactly in the hypogea of Hal-Saflieni. National Geographic magazine of the same 1940 wrote about these incidents: “Some brave men who managed to squeeze into the chamber, disappeared into the depths of the passage without a trace and forever. Many researchers, historians and archaeologists ask the same question: who built such an underground miracle? And where has this ancient civilization disappeared to? There are a variety of versions. Thus, astrophysicist Anatoly Ivanov believes that Hal-Saflieni more than six thousand years ago lived immigrants from the star systems of Nemesis and Sirius. Ivanov, like many other modern researchers, for some reason believes that in those immemorial times, the earthlings simply could not have had the technology to cut through the rocks with the ease of a knife entering a bar of butter. So only aliens from the stars could have done it. But what if there was a highly developed ancient civilization and the grey-haired myth about Atlantis is not an idle fantasy? Why not assume that Hal-Saflieni was a great refuge, where the population hid under the threat of nuclear attack and other dangers? Then it is easy to explain the presence in one place of seven thousand remains of people who died, probably at the same time, as victims of a terrible war that destroyed this civilization. Most likely, too, the niche in the “Chamber of the Oracle” – a means of alerting the unwilling inhabitants of this most ancient protective bunker. On the basis of this hypothesis, we can also explain the mystery of the lowest room of the hypogea.

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The steps leading into it drop off several meters above the floor. Why? Most likely, there was a pool filled with water, which was taken for cooking and other household needs. It seems that the hypothesis of an ancient protective shelter has the same right to exist as all the others. Then, Hal-Saflieni became an underground sanctuary later, in ancient times. The people who populated Malta took advantage of the fruits of the labors of an older, unknown civilization. Whether it’s true or not, but the riddles of Hal-Saflieni still excite scientists, and the flow of tourists wishing to visit the hypogeum, does not dry up. By the way, it is strictly forbidden to take pictures in hypogea even without flash for unclear reasons.

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