HYPOGEUM OF HAL SAFLIENTI

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The Hypogeum of Paola, Malta, literally meaning "underground" in Greek, is a subterranean structure dating to the Saflieni phase (3000-2500 BC) in Maltese prehistory. Thought to have been originally a sanctuary, it became a necropolis in prehistoric times and the remains of more than 7,000 individuals have been found. It is the only known prehistoric underground temple in the world. The Hypogeum was depicted on a stamp issued in the Maltese Islands in 1980 to commemorate the acceptance by UNESCO of this unique structure in the World Heritage Site list.

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It was closed to visitors between 1992 and 1996 for restoration works; since it reopened only 60 people per day are allowed entry.

It was discovered by accident in 1902 when workers cutting cisterns for a new housing development broke through its roof. The workers tried to hide the temple at first, but eventually it was found. The study of the structure was first entrusted to Father Manuel Magri of the Society of Jesus, who directed the excavations on behalf of the Museums Committee. Magri died in 1907, before the publication of the report. Following Magri's sudden death, excavation resumed under Sir Temi Zammit.

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     Father Manuel Magri                    Sir Temi Zammit

First Level

The first level is very similar to tombs found in Xemxija in Malta. Some rooms are natural caves which were later artificially extended. The second level was only opened when the original builders found that this level was no longer adequate. This level is only ten metres below the surface.

Second Level

This level features several apparently important rooms, such as the Main Room, the Holy of Holies, and the Oracle Room.

The Main Chamber

This chamber is roughly circular and carved out from rock. A number of trilithon entrances are represented, some blind, and others leading to another chamber. Most of the wall surface has received a red wash of ochre. It was from this room that the statuettes of the sleeping lady were recovered. Nowadays these figurines are held in the Museum of Archaeology, in Valletta, Malta.

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The Oracle Room

The Oracle Room is roughly rectangular and one of the smallest side chambers. It has the peculiarity of producing a powerful acoustic resonance from any vocalization made inside it. This room has an elaborately painted ceiling, consisting of spirals in red ochre with circular blobs.

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The Decorated Room

Out of the Oracle's Room, through the hammer dressed chamber, on the right is another spacious hall, circular, with inward slanting smooth walls, richly decorated in a geometrical pattern. On the right side wall the entrance is a petrosomatoglyph of a human hand carved into the rock.

The Snake Pit

The second level contains a 2 metres deep pit which could have been used for either keeping snakes or collecting alms.

Holy of Holies

The focal point of this room is a porthole within a trilithon, which is in turn framed within a larger trilithon and yet another large trilithon.

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Third Level

The lower storey contained no bones or offerings, only water. It strongly suggests storage, maybe of grain.

Cave-in

There is an account that in the 1940s a British embassy worker, Miss Lois Jessup, went on a tour of the Hypogeum and persuaded a guide to let her explore a 3 ft. square "burial chamber" next to the floor of the lowest room in the last [3rd] sub-level. She claims that after squeezing through this chamber she came into a large room; where she was standing there was a large cliff with a steep drop and the floor of the cavern could not be seen. Across the cavern there was a small ledge with an opening in the wall. According to Ms. Jessup, a number of "humanoid beings" that were covered in white hair and hunched over came out of this opening. They raised their palms in her direction and a large gust of wind filled the cavern, extinguishing the light of her candle. She then claimed that she felt something brush past her. When she went back to the Hypogeum on another occasion, she was told no such tour guide had ever worked on the site.

Sometime after Miss Jessup's first visit, a group of 30 school children and their teacher visited the Hypogeum on an outing and entered the same burial chamber, which then collapsed while they were inside. Search parties could not conduct a thorough search for the children or their teacher due to the cave-in. The parents of the children claimed that, for weeks, they could hear the voices of their young children coming from under the ground in several parts of the island.

The story of the missing schoolchildren and their teacher is not a legend. A story about childen lost in these caves was reported in National Geographic magazine, August, 1940, Vol. 78, No. 2.

"Many subterranean passageways, including ancient catacombs, now are a part of the island's fortifications and defense system. Supplies are kept in many tunnels; others are bomb shelters. Beneath Valletta some of the underground areas served as homes for the poor. Prehistoric men built temples and chambers in these vaults. In a pit beside one sacrificial altar lie thousands of human skeletons. Years ago one could walk underground from one end of Malta to the other. The Government closed the entrances to these tunnels after school children and their teachers became lost in the labyrinth while on a study tour and never returned."

Here is a more fuller account of the Lois Jessup incident.

One article written by a Miss Lois Jessup, at the time an employee of the British embassy appeared in an old issue of Riley Crabb's BORDERLAND SCIENCE magazine, published by the Borderland Sciences Research Foundation (B.S.R.F.) and was later reprinted in full in Dr. Allen's book ENIGMA FANTASTIQUE.

Miss Jessup claimed that she visited Malta and the Hypogeum also, once before the tragic disappearance of the children, and shortly thereafter. She described how on her first visit to the catacombs she finally convinced the guide to allow her to investigate one of the so- called "burial chambers" near the floor of the last chamber in the third sub-basement, the supposed "end" of the Hypogeum tour. He seemed to know something she didn't, but finally consented and told her that she could enter at "her own risk". As she did so, candle in hand and her loosed sash being used as a guide rope for her friends who followed behind, she crawled through the small passage and eventually emerged into a large cavern, where she found herself on a ledge overlooking a very deep, seemingly bottomless chasm. Below and on the other side of the chasm was another ledge which appeared to lead to a doorway or tunnel in the far wall. We realize that what happened next might sound unbelievable to many who read this, but we would ask them to make their own determination of it's validity. Miss Jessup swears that what follows really happened.

Out of this lower tunnel on the far side of the chasm, she claims, emerged in single file several very large creatures of humanoid form but completely covered with hair from head to foot. Noticing her, they raised their arms in her direction, palms out, at which point a violent "wind" began to blow through the cavern, snuffing out her candle. Then, some "thing" wet and slippery (apparently a creature of a different sort) brushed past her. This all happened just as the person behind her was beginning to emerge from the passage and into the cavern. They could not understand her panicked attempts to get back to the "Hypogeum" room, but they consented after she insisted. When they found themselves back in the Hypogeum chamber, the guide saw her expression and gave her a "knowing" look. About a week afterwards the disappearance of the childrenand their teacher(s) took place, and on her second visit she saw an entirely new guide who denied that the other guide had ever worked there, although she knew that this new guide was hiding something.

She learned from more cooperative sources however, that THIS was the tunnel that the children and their teacher(s) and possibly the old guide, had entered. She also learned that after the last child had made it through, the walls of the small tunnel just "happened" to collapse or cave-in. Although the official version stated that the walls caved-in on the students, search parties were never able to locate any trace of the teacher(s) or the children, although the rope that they had used to fasten themselves to the lower Hypogeum chamber was found to have been CLEAN CUT as if by something sharp (not falling rock). It was asserted that for weeks afterwards the wailing and screaming of children was heard underground in different parts of the island, but no one could locate the sources of the cries. As for the Catacombs beneath Malta itself, there are some ancient accounts which say that deep caverns beneath the island continue underground BEYOND the shores, and according to one source, part of this labyrinth stretches hundreds of miles northwards and intersects with catacombs beneath Rome (the hill Vaticanus) or at least did so in ancient times.

 

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