In 1902 a group of workers was digging a waterwell when they found extended underground catacombs. Only years later people got interested in these catacombs and found out that in fact it was an underground temple! It had the same form as the 'normal' temples but it was entirely hewn out of the rock: Hal Salfieni (a.k.a. Hypogeum, which means 'underground chamber'). Hal Saflieni can be found just outside Paola, close to the Tarxien temple complex. The 'building' of Hal Saflieni started in the Mgarr period and was extended in the Tarxien period, so it was built between 3600 and 2200 BCE.
Hal Saflieni has been closed for the public for a very long time. Fortunately on the website it says: "The Hypogeum has been receiving visitors since August 2000". All the more reason to get back to Malta!
The Hypogeum at Hal Saflieni was originally an underground chamber used by Neolithic people to bury their dead. The site originated some 6000 years ago, when a natural cave was adapted for burial. Later on, excavations were made downwards to a depth of 11 metres. It is made up of three superimposed levels of curvilinear form. Scolars think that the upper level consists of the original cavities. The middle level was hewn out during the temple period (3600 - 2500 BCE). It is made up of several compartments of which one has the semblance of a megalithic temple sculpted in the rock. An anti-chamber was used both for burial and as a lobby, or meeting place. Another compartment served as Holy of Holies -the sacred chamber of the place. The lower level is a maze of covert chambers, septal walls and rock - tombs. No use seems to have been made of this section, as the whole neolithic community was exterminated or left the island at about 2500 BCE when this crypt was still under construction.
The large quantity of human bone deposits found on this site indicate that over 7000 persons have been buried here. Many statuettes, amulets, figurines, vases and other objects have been recovered, these can also be seen at the National Museum for Archaeology in Valletta.