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Malta's Ancient Temples

MALTA | Tuesday, 28 February 2012 | Views [1784]

"The Sleeping Lady" from the Hypogeum

It is more British than Italian and it is nearer to Tunisia than to Rome.  English vies with Maltese as the main language and Big Macs are as common as pasta. The first settlers came from Sicily but it has been occupied by Arabs, Normans, Spaniards and the British.  Welcome to Malta!

The monolithic temples of Hagar Qim, Mnajdra and Tarxien date to 3500 BC, more than 1000 years before the Pyramids at Giza!  What, you never heard of them?  No surprise.  Malta is hardly on many travelers' radar, today just a few Brits and northern Europeans escaping the cold.  But the architecture is amazing, especially considering everything was carved with flint and antlers.

The real treat turned out to be Hypogeum, a subterranean necropolis in use 5500 years ago.  It was discovered in 1898 by workers digging a cistern for a house. The first excavations began in 1902 but all records were lost when the archeologist died in Tunisia.  Since the Hypogeum became a World Heritage Site in 1980, strict regulations have been enacted to preserve this unique historic treasure.  Once again we got lucky.  Only 80 visitors a day, ten at a time, are permitted for a hour-long guided tour.  No photos.  At 25 euros it is a bargain!

The Hypogeum ranks with the best archeological sites we have seen.  It combines the architecture of Petra, the accidental discovery of the reservoir under Istanbul, and the mystery of Mesa Verde.  But the Hypogeum is more that that - perhaps the aura of the 7000 ancients who were buried here?  The architecture, especially in the "Holy of Holies," the innermost chamber we visited, rivals that of above-the-ground temples.  

The "Sleeping Lady" is the most symbolic and perplexing artifact found in Hypogeum.  There are no funerary vases, no cremation caskets, no jewelry, only this finely detailed Reubenesque woman, apparently reclining on a mat.  The Mother Goddess?  A fertility symbol?  One can only guess!





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