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Hypogeum of Paola

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Eerie Underground Malta Burial Chamber

By James Donahue

There exists a strange underground structure composed of natural caves and man-made rooms known as The Hypogeum of Paola, Malta that archaeologists believe dates back to 3,000 to 2500 BC in Maltese prehistory.
 
Discovered in 1902 by workers cutting cisterns for a new housing development, the hypogeum is described as the only known prehistoric underground temple of its kind in the world. It is believed to have started as some natural caves that were used as a site to place the bones of the dead. This could have occurred around 3600 BC. 

Later as the caverns filled, new chambers were cut in the rock. Then as the cavern system became more elaborate, new rooms were skillfully carved to imitate temple architecture built above ground. The hypogeum now includes halls, chambers and passages covering about 500 square millimeters and dropping down three levels to a depth of 10.6 meters.
The remains of over 7,000 bodies have been recovered there.
 
The second level of the complex is the most interesting. It includes a large main room with entrances branching off into adjoining rooms. These include what are called the Oracle Room, the Decorated Room, the Snake Pit (a two-meter deep pit) and the Holy of Holys. The walls of the rooms are predominately painted a red wash of ocher. Others offer elaborate art works on the ceilings. Some art statuettes found there have been removed to Malta museums.

The bottom level appears only partly completed. It contains no bones or art, and is partly filled with water. Some theorize that it may have been used for storage.

The hypogeum has become a popular tourist attraction maintained by Heritage Malta. Because of its age and in an effort to maintain a climate that preserves the caverns, visitation is limited to about 60 persons per day.

There is a strange legend that has been told about this macabre place of the dead. It seems that sometime in the 1930s Lois Jessup, secretary of the New York Saucer Information Bureau, was touring the Hypogeum. She persuaded a guide to let her explore a three-foot square burial chamber near the floor of the bottom level. After squeezing through the chamber she said she entered a vast room and found herself standing on the edge of a massive cliff with a steep drop. Her light could not show the bottom of the cavern in front of her. Across the cavern Jessup said she could see another small ledge with another opening in the wall behind it. As she watched, she said a number of “humanoid beings” covered in white hair and hunched over came out of the opening. Just then, a gust of wind blew out her candle and she fled the room.

Sometime after the Jessup experience, a group of school children and their teacher were touring the Hypogeum. While in the lower chamber some of the children dared to squeeze into the same cavern. While inside there was a cave-in that trapped the children. This launched a massive but unsuccessful rescue effort. While cutting into the rock the rescue workers and parents said they could hear calls from the children coming from the ground in several parts of the island. 

There were no newspaper accounts and the Jessup and lost children stories have never been confirmed.