The remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Site underground temple at Paola was built between 3,600 and 2,500 years ago and quite apart from being the best preserved and easily the most impressive of Malta’s many Neolithic remains, it is the world’s only known prehistoric underground temple. It was quarried down to 40 feet (12 m) on three levels and was 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.
Visitors can only access the ruins by guided tour and then for the sake of preservation only with a soft glow to light the way around its maze of chambers, passageways, and halls. As the guided tours here are informative on Malta’s prehistory, it’s a good place to visit before an exploration of Malta’s other prehistoric sites, such as the nearby Tarxien Temples and the temple complex at Ġgantija on Gozo.
The Hypogeum is on bus routes 83, 84, and 91 from Valletta bus station. If hiring a car, follow the signs to Paola and Tarxien; it is a 15-minute drive and there is plenty of parking near the site. The Tarxien Temples, another great Maltese ancient site, are only a 10-minute walk away.
The Hypogeum is accessible only by guided tour booked in advance; visits are limited to 80 sightseers a day in eight multi-lingual tours per day, starting at 9pm. Reserve tickets well ahead as tours are booked out for weeks, especially in the summer. The Heritage Malta Multisite Pass cannot be used here.