Today we’d be heading to the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum and we figured we’d get a bus to save us dicking around with parking. As we loitered outside waiting for it to open, periodically wiping the grit from our eyes that the brutal fucking winds sweeping across the island kept depositing in there, Tarrant asked, “What is it exactly?” I looked at her. “Well it’s… I… I don’t actually know… I just got tickets for it… apparently it’s meant to be cool?” I mean, it’s not included in the multisite pass, you’ve got to pay for it separately and book it wayyyyy in advance. I knew all of these things so it’s exactly what I did but what I failed to research was, what exactly was I booking and paying for? Well it’d be a nice €35 surprise for us wouldn’t it.
Basically it’s a massive burial chamber with elaborate rooms mimicking the above ground architecture we’d become familiar with at Ħaġar Qim, except instead of being built from megaliths it’s hewn into the living rock. Mind. Blown. This is the kind of shit I have to keep repeating to myself because I’m not sure it’s really sunk in. They took this solid lump of soft limestone (you know, the actual ground) and carved chambers into it, using fault lines in the rock to form one wall to make it a bit easier, and they did all of this with tools made from stone, flint and antlers. Fucking stone tools. Because they were hewn during the Temple Age, around 3600BC, and they didn’t have metal tools back then. It used to have an above-ground entrance but that was destroyed. The middle and lower layers were only discovered by complete accident when builders digging rain water cisterns for new houses broke into the chambers below in 1902.
It was very damp and the human remains were very damaged, and as people began to visit the Hypogeum a green mould started to cover the walls and the red ochre paintings that had been so well preserved for thousands of years. They closed it down and restored it and now the climate is very closely monitored and controlled and tour groups are limited to twelve humans at a time. I’m going to try not to rant at you with every single detail of this, I’ll try and keep it nutshelly, but it’s exciting to a nerd like me. You’re not allowed to take photos so what you see here are photos of postcards we bought. I was perusing the postcards before we went in actually and I thought, they’ve taken these with a fisheye lens. Nope. The walls just look like that. They literally just carved them fisheye, possibly to give the illusion of more space. I mean, we’ll never really know why they carved the rooms that shape but it’s a good guess, right?
There’s a room the call the Holy of Holies and the rendering of a roof in there gives us a good idea of how the above round temples built their roofs, with the corbelling technique. Obviously the roofs in the other temples fell in centuries ago but this underground chamber shows us pretty much what they would have looked like. There are other similarities between the chambers and the other temples, like the decorations, the dimpled stones etc. Oh, and one thing I forgot to mention in the last post (because I was far too busy excitedly boring the shit out of you with other details) was the statues that were found in many of the pre-historic temple remains. They were very fond, it seems, of carving obese figures with the gender not always being so obvious. They’re often referred to as female, but this isn’t definite. They don’t know if they’re gods or goddesses or what, but they were a common theme everywhere. The hypogeum is where the famous Sleeping Lady was found but that’s been moved to a museum.
I’ll try and leave that there but I’m still thinking about it all even now. We’ll never even know what language they spoke. They must have had a language, you can’t build complex structures like this without some form of communication. Was their language written? Wouldn’t we have found evidence of it if it was? I have so many questions and no way of getting the answers! If I had a time machine then this is where I’d come to watch them build their temples and carve their burial chambers and just see how they lived. With all of our knowledge and skills in archaeology we still know two tenths of fuck all about these people, and the fact we don’t know why they simply vanished? It melts my brain. Was it an invasion? A war? Disease? Famine? Did they simply up and leave? So. Many. Questions.
Something that won’t help you with this question thing you’ve got going on is a visit to another stone age temple. The Tarxien (pronounced tar-shee-an) Temples are just up the road from the Hypogeum so we headed there to put more things in our eyeholes that we couldn’t explain. This site was started around 3600BC and after the Temple Age civilisation disappeared (WHYYYY?!?) it was used as a Bronze Age cremation site. They found the most stone carvings and statues here, there were lots of spirals carved into rock and there are the feet of what could have been part of one of the obese people they liked so much.
I’ve never read so much information before that doesn’t really contain any information. I mean, it’s fine, it’s excellent and I’m so happy we came here, but I need closure! Oh, and something else they find a lot of at this temples are spherical stones which they think were used to roll the huge, megalithic slabs of stone around. They don’t appear to serve another purpose other than that.
We left the area, our brains full of temples, and caught a bus to the Three Cities. If you’re not already fed up to fuck of wandering around narrow streets (we weren’t) the Three Cities of Cospicua, Vittoriosa and Senglea are the perfect places to do this. The latter two protrude out into the bay on long fingers and there’s a fort, Fort St. Angelo, at the end of the Vittoriosa peninsula so we took a stroll to that. We weren’t going to bother with the fort but it’s included in the Heritage Malta pass so we thought, fuck it, why not hey?
Glad we did. This is where the views are at, guys. You can walk along the wall and get some stunning glimpses of bastard huge boats you can’t afford. Not that I’d buy a boat even if I could afford it, I get seasick, fuck throwing millions at a big, floaty thing just so I can unceremoniously deposit my breakfast in the Mediterranean. We checked out every level of the fort we could find for the views, it’s stunning, even Maltese towns and cities are beautiful.
I love how everything is cuboid and sand coloured. You can look right across to Valetta and just about make out the humans over there looking back. As for Fort St. Angelo itself, you can get an audio guide but it’s 90 minutes of information and we wanted to get over to Valetta at some point. If you didn’t have the pass I’m not sure it’s worth the entrance fee unless you’re also getting the audio guide, or you really like forts, or just want those sweet, sweet views.
The ferries seemed to be running despite the epic winds, and these fucking winds! Mate! They’d take you off your feet and throw you into oncoming traffic if you weren’t ready for it. This particular bay seemed quite sheltered so there was a good chance we could get from one side to the other without the rest of the boat finding out the hard way what the inside of me looked like. Fun fact, your €1.50 ferry ticket also includes something called the Barakka Lift. I hadn’t got a fucking clue what this was and we ended up just following the crowd after we’d disembarked to just that; a massively tall lift which takes you to Barakka Gardens. All those humans we’d seen gawping back at us from Fort St. Angelo? This is where they were standing.
After we’d filled our eyeholes with some amazing views of the Three Cities we shuffled into Valetta, Malta’s capital city. It’s just a lovely as all the others. The streets are only slightly less narrow but it still has that old world feel to it. We bolted straight for St. John’s Co-cathedral because this is the shit we really wanted to put in our eyeholes in Valetta. It’s €10 to get in and it’s nothing to do with Heritage Malta so you’re paying this regardless of pass ownership, but this includes the audio guide. We were told to wear our bags on our fronts (no idea why, possibly to stop us turning around and knocking shit over?) and I was told to remove my hat so I obliged. Then someone told me I could put my hat back on if my head was cold. Well my head isn’t cold, lady, I just don’t think Malta needs to be subjected to my terrible hair right now.
So you pay up, get your guide and walk in, then you have to pick your jaw up off the floor before someone trips up over it. Oh. My. Fucking. God. Okay you probably can’t say that in a cathedral, but wow. Seriously, just wow. I can guarantee you don’t have enough eyeholes in your head to take all of this in. It’s huge and every single space is decorated with something, be it a fresco, a painting, something, I dunno, gold or some shit. The ceiling is called the barrel vault and tells the story of John the Baptist, then there are several chapels coming off each side of the nave, and the nave itself is floored with marble tombstones.
So apparently the cathedral used to be a bare and simple place similar to the current outside. Honestly, just looking at it from the outside you’d never guess what it looked like on the inside. Each chapel to each side of the nave was dedicated to a langue of the Knights of Malta, and the position of their particular chapel was related to the importance of that langue, and the more important it was the closer to the high alter it was. So each langue (so like, the Langue of Germany or the Langue of Italy and so on) was responsible for decorating their own chapel and fuck me, they went all out.
Pillars and urns and gold and paintings depicting the murder-death-kill that Catholics are so fond of. I’m not going to go into all of the detail here and not least because I can’t remember most of it, but look out for the human remains under the alter of some of the chapels, and definitely head up to the balcony for the most wonderful view of the nave and the barrel vault.
We’d intended to catch a ferry from Valetta to Sliema but they most definitely had been cancelled due to the high winds, which still hadn’t relented, whipping up the water. Fair enough, mate. Even if someone was daft enough to try and get a ferry across that water I don’t think my stomach contents would have made it. We jumped on a bus which took us around to Sliema and we headed to a restaurant we fancied trying. There are probably several places you can get traditional Maltese food but we fancied treating ourselves to somewhere a bit posher at least one night this trip. We both enjoy good food and nice restaurants and fuck it, we’re on holiday.
So we got to Ta’ Kris and easily got a table for two, but it wasn’t long after that that it started filling up, and this was a Tuesday night during the off-season. We ordered a bottle of Maltese wine which wasn’t too bad at all. I’m quite the philistine when it comes to wine and will quite happily work my way through a two for £6 deal, but Tarrant has a more sophisticated palate. It didn’t draw her gums back over her teeth so we’re calling it a win. We shared a starter of balbuljata tal-bulubif which is apparently some manner of corned beef and scrambled eggs amongst other things and it was fucking lovely! We ate a lot of corned beef in the Philippines too. It appears it’s only the British that consider corned beef a last resort because the apocalypse happened and you’re starving and someone else nicked the last tin of beans. I’m northern so I was basically weened on corned beef but Tarrant tends to raise an eyebrow.
Tarrant had bragioli, some manner of beef dish, and I’d been gagging to try bunny rabbit, apparently a thing over here, so that’s what I ordered. I thought it’d come in a stew but I was handed a delicious plate of limbs, veg and spuds and it was very tasty. Turns out rabbit is bony as fuck though so I gave up trying to eat it with a knife and fork like a civilised person and just used my hands to shovel it into my trap like I was raised by wolves, removing the tiny bones from my mouth once I’d stripped them of meat. The portions, however, were ridiculous. We thought it was quite pricey at first but once you convert the Euros back to sterling and see the absolute mountain of food you’re given, it’s not too bad at all. Mind you, we’re from Brighton, we’ll pay £6 for a pint of beer without wincing.
Stayed at: Boho Hostel
Useful shit to know…
- Buses are alright here, you can get pretty much anywhere for €1.50 (goes up to €2 in summer). If we were staying for longer than a week we’d probably have used buses rather than renting a car but we didn’t want to be beholden to the timetables given our limited time. You can easily use Google Maps to find out which bus you need to take, all the routes seem to be on there. If you’re going to be bussing a lot you can get a tallinja card from a local shop and pay €21 for a week’s unlimited bus travel.
- If you have a Heritage Malta Mulitsite pass it won’t get you into the Hypogeum. You can buy a ticket for €35 online but you’ll need to book several weeks in advance. It’s not a weather dependant attraction so this isn’t an issue.
- Your pass will get you into the Tarxien Temples with no need to book, or it’s €6 otherwise.
- Fort St. Angelo is €8 without the pass and I’m not sure it’s worth it but we didn’t get the audio guide, it could be the most interesting place in the world. However, the views are pretty epic.
- The Valetta – 3 Cities – Valetta ferry is €1.50 for a single or €2.80 for a return and time tables vary according to the season. Here’s a photo of said timetable and fares from Cospicua to Valetta.
- Without your ferry ticket, Barakka Lift is €1 to get up and free to get back down to the waterfront.
- St. John’s Co-cathedral isn’t a Heritage malta site so it’ll cost you €10 regardless of whether you have the pass or not but this includes the excellent and thorough audio guide. You can’t wear high heels and you’re asked to dress respectfully, so cover your shoulders and knees. And that means the blokes too.