The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, the only known prehistoric underground temple in the world, used between 4000 BC and 2500 BC, is remarkably well preserved. Located in the Maltese town of Paola, it’s the most impressive of the archipelago’s many Neolithic remains and protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Visitors can only access the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum by guided tour. Great care has been taken to preserve the archaeological site, with dedicated walkways and soft lighting designed to minimize erosion, as well as strict limits on the number of visitors per day.
Tours explore the maze of underground chambers, passageways, and halls over three levels, with live commentary detailing the excavations and historical importance of the site. The hypogeum is close to some of Malta’s other prehistoric sites, and a popular choice is to combine a visit here with a stop at the nearby Tarxien Temples or the temple complex at Ġgantija on the island of Gozo.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Visitor numbers are strictly limited due to conservation reasons, so it’s essential to book in advance—tickets for high season sometimes sell out months before.
- Guided tours take around an hour. See a 20-minute audio-visual show at the on-site visitor center (payable separately).
- The site has steps and uneven ground, so wear flat, comfortable shoes.
- The hypogeum is not wheelchair accessible and may not be suitable for visitors who suffer from claustrophobia. However, the visitor center is accessible.
How to Get There
The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is located in Paola, a 15-minute drive south of Valletta. To get there by public transport, take bus 83, 84, or 91 from Valletta bus station.
When to Get There
Guided visits take place hourly throughout the year, but these can fill quickly in peak season (July and August), so be sure to book well in advance.
History of the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum
Built between 3,600 and 2,500 years ago, the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum was quarried down to 40 feet (12 meters) on three levels and used as a place of both worship and burial. The bones of more than 7,000 people were found during excavations in the early 20th century. The hypogeum’s uppermost—and oldest—layer comprised natural caves, which were filled with coffins; the second layer down has circular walls and arched ceilings and was a temple with several small chapels; the deepest level may have been used for grain storage.