Friday, November 30, 2012

Malta: the Hypogeum, Tarxien Temples and Marsaxlokk

Well, I made it into the Circle of Moms Top 25 European Blogs - just - the roller door hit me on the backside as it came down. Thank you so much to everyone who voted for this blog over the three weeks - you're the best!

Back to Malta. The Maltese Islands may be small but they're attraction-packed. We did a lot while we were there and still could've done more if we'd had the time. And that's without all the summery activities (beach, boats, diving, etc) given it was November.

Here's a quick outline of one of our days where we managed to fit in three great visits.

First up, we hit the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum - an example of the amazing megalithic temples dotted all over Malta.

The Hypogeum is fascinating. It was an underground burial chamber built somewhere between 3600 and 3000BC (1000 years before the pyramids!) by some of the earliest inhabitants of the Islands, who were thought to have come from neighbouring Sicily. It was discovered by accident in 1902 when workmen broke a hole through the ceiling while trying to install a cistern under a house.

The necropolis is huge - some 500 square metres, probably holding around 7000 bodies. It has three levels, the deepest being over 10 metres (33 ft) below ground. The whole thing - passages with separate chambers, stairs, columns and beams, were chipped out of rock (with basic tools). Generation after generation (for a thousand years) continued with construction, adding new chambers as required.

Bodies were put to rest in the chambers closer to the surface and the bones were then moved to chambers further in the back once the meaty bits had decomposed. Eeww. Speaking of eeww - can you imagine being on the construction crew? Sitting down there in the dark chipping away at the rock with an antler, the fetid particles of a thousand decaying bodies in the air around you? Sure makes cremation look good.

There are many unanswered questions about the Hypogeum and the mystery is part of the appeal. Why did the original builders start these traditions which are nothing like those followed in Sicily? How did they get light into the necropolis when archaeologists haven't found a single scorch mark indicating the use of flames? And most of all - why did they one day just stop using it? There is no explanation as to why it was abandoned after hundreds of years of work to build it and the interring of generations. Gah! I want to know!!

Some useful stuff:
  • Photos are not allowed in the facility (the whole thing is located inside a building in a residential area). 
  • The tour is about an hour and kids under 6 are not allowed (the mister and I took our two big kids in shifts). 
  • The tour is via audio guide over a walkway constructed through the Hypogeum so as to protect the rock. It's actually quite roomy down there now they've taken all the bodies out (for those who get antsy in enclosed spaces like me) and although I've lingered on the grim details, the tour won't frighten the kids. Our two loved it. 
  • Most important point: you must book your tickets in advance. We booked ours online a good month and a half ahead. In the high season you'd want to try earlier. Only 80 people a day are allowed in the Hypogeum to protect the temple from carbon dioxide damage.  
  • There is no dedicated parking, you have to find a spot on the street. 
We parked down there on the left. 

Just a few blocks over from the Hypogeum are the Tarxien Temples.

Seen on the walk to the Temples:

Most excellent door knocker

Back to the Temples:


The complex was discovered by a ploughing farmer in 1913 and was later excavated by the same fellow who oversaw the works at the Hypogeum.


The Tarxien Temples are a grouping of three temples (known as East, South and Central Temples) and were built at different times, the oldest in the same era as the Hypogeum.

New walkways being constructed while the 3 yr old strolls 

It's not really known what exactly they were used for (religious, political, economical reasons?) but they were communal centres. Relics have shown there were also most likely animal sacrifices in the South Temple. 

Altar depicting animals near where sacrifice remains/tools were found

The temple culture ended abruptly (as I mentioned with the Hypogeum's creators) however the Tarxien complex saw further use in the Bronze Age when it was turned into a crematory/cemetery.

She's got legs (and not much else)

After our morning among the ruins we headed further south for lunch in the fishing village of Marsaxlokk.


It's only a small spot but perfect for a seafood lunch by the ocean.


The bay is full of traditional, brightly-coloured Maltese fishing boats, called luzzu.


Parents - you know when you nag your kids not to do something and they don't listen you?


Honey, please don't x, you might y
Sweetie, if you keep xing, you're gonna end up ying. 
Listen up kid: if you y, don't come crying to me. 

x = stand on the boat ramp runners
y = fall in the water


Well, y did indeed occur. The adjacent diners enjoyed the lunchtime show much more than a certain child enjoyed eating her meal in wet clothes.

Getting wet in 3...2...

Lesson learned?


We can only hope so.


Susan said...

Ha, ha, ha!!! You tell the story so well!! Sometimes they just have to learn the hard way! I hope it was only wet clothes that serious injury! Love the elephant knocker! Congrats on the 'top 25'!!

JoeinVegas said...

Wow, finally a consequence that came true!

Poppyprint said...

Another fab vacay post!!! You've sold me: I am putting Malta on our list for 20th anniversary trip with NO kids. yippee!!

Annie Cholewa said...

Congratulations on making the 25!

Next holiday abroad ... Malta ... I'm blaming you!

Teresa said...

Fascinating, indeed! Also the places you were able to take photos of. For several years now, I've been hunting a door knocker that would be a bit out of the ordinary but the lovely elephant might be too much for us up here in the north. BTW, I love the last photo. You certainly deserve to be among the top 25! said...

I love traveling with you.These photos are beautiful and the story was fun.

Eva said...

Such beautiful colours in Malta! The hypogeum sounds fascinating, but I'm not sure I would be able to last the whole tour without freaking out ...

Congratulations on making the list!! :-)

Sara Louise said...

I cannot believe she fell in!!! And I cannot wait to hear all about it tonight! x

Aidan said...

I love the statue of the fisherman. I am forwarding this post to my half Maltese friend. She will love it. As for your one girlie, at least the water was warm. She's an adventurer at heart!
A xo

Katy Cameron said...

Congrats on the top 25, and love the photos, especially that knocker. Particularly like the x and y-ing lol

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