Friday, June 22, 2018

Malta, 11: Hal Saflieni Hypogeum

The Hypogeum is a subterranean neolithic sanctuary/necropolis, built some 5,000 years ago, then buried and lost for the next 4,000 years until digging for a cistern broke through its ceiling in 1902. The remains of some 7,000 individuals were found in the necropolis along with a wealth of grave goods, pottery, votive figures, and such. All this would make it one of the most important of archaeological sites. But it is the Hypogeum's architecture and ornamentation that are most striking. Depending on your experience with the Neolithic--Stonehenge, Avebury, Newgrange, Carnac, etc.--it is simply amazing to descend into the three levels of the Hypogeum and see what was going on here while our other ancestors up north were merely hauling big stones around and aligning them with celestial cycles and the environment. The Maltese were doing some of the same above ground, and the Hypogeum and its finished work also shed some light on what was above.

Heritage Malta only allows 80 people per day, in groups of ten, into the carefully maintained site, under the watchful eyes of staff members and a guide. No photos are permitted. Tickets are often booked weeks in advance, but a limited number of next-day tickets, at a premium price, can be had at the national archaeological museum in Valletta and at the Gozo museum, where I got ours. I'll post just a few pix below, either off the web or pix of pix from the national museum. Wikipedia has a good article with some pix, and Heritage Malta's site includes a bit of a streaming tour. One of our best ever archaeological visits.

We were there June available reservations, July
25th; book ahead!

Inside; much of the photography gives it all a reddish cast....the color is really
the same creamy limestone one sees everywhere in Malta, new and old and
unimaginably old

The "main" chamber; thanks, Smithsonian

Ceiling decor thereabouts

The "Holy of Holies"--here, it is thought, light from the dawn of winter solstice
illuminated the facade (through a light box, sort of like Newgrange (?); also
interesting is the carved ceiling: a depiction of the corballed roofing of the
monuments above ground, like Tarxien and Ggantija

Interior carving...this from a stone now at the national archaeological museum,
where the rest of the loot is; we'll visit on June 9th

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