The island-nation of Malta in the Mediterranean is one of our homeschool countries-of-the-week, so why not spend a few minutes today learning about one of Malta’s World Heritage Sites: the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum.
The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is an ancient multi-level mausoleum constructed entirely underground. Lost for thousands of years, it was rediscovered by accident in 1902:
The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum (underground cemetery) was discovered in 1902 on a hill overlooking the innermost part of the Grand Harbour of Valletta, in the town of Paola. It is a unique prehistoric monument, which seems to have been conceived as an underground cemetery, originally containing the remains of about 7,000 individuals. The cemetery was in use throughout the Żebbuġ, Ġgantija and Tarxien Phases of Maltese Prehistory, spanning from around 4000 B.C. to 2500 B.C.
Originally, one entered the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum through a structure at ground level. Only a few blocks of this entrance building have been discovered, and its form and dimensions remain uncertain. The plan of the Hypogeum itself is a series of three superimposed levels of chambers cut into soft globigerina limestone, using only chert, flint and obsidian tools and antlers. The earliest of the three levels is the uppermost, scooped out of the brow of a hill. A number of openings and chambers for the burial of the dead were then cut into the sides of the cavity.
The two lower levels were also hewn entirely out of the natural rock. Some natural daylight reached the middle level through a small opening from the upper level, but artificial lighting must have been used to navigate through some of the middle level chambers and the lowest level, which is 10.60 m below the present ground level.
One of the most striking characteristics of the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is that some of the chambers appear to have been cut in imitation of the architecture of the contemporary, above-ground megalithic temples. Features include false bays, inspired by trilithon doorways, and windows. Most importantly, some of the chambers have ceilings with one ring of carved stone overhanging the one below to imitate a roof of corbelled masonry. This form echoes the way in which some of the masonry walls of the contemporary above-ground temple chambers are corbelled inwards, suggesting that they too were originally roofed over. (UNESCO World Heritage Centre #130)
The organization Heritage Malta operates a museum at the Ħal Saflieni site, and their webpages contain a wealth of historical and cultural information about the Hypogeum.
You can find an additional gallery of photos of the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum on the World Heritage Centre’s website.
World Heritage Sites are cultural or natural landmarks of international significance, selected for recognition by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. More than 1000 such sites have been recognized in over 160 countries, and we feature one every Wednesday, drawn from one of our homeschool countries-of-the-week. You can find a complete list of World Heritage Sites online at the World Heritage Centre and in Wikipedia.
The World Heritage Centre also has a free and comprehensive World Heritage education kit for teachers, as well as a wonderful full-color wall map of World Heritage Sites, available for the cost of shipping. Why not add them both to your own homeschool library. 🗺
What world treasures are you exploring in your homeschool this Leo Term? 😊
❡ Books in the running brooks: You can always turn to your River Houses almanac, atlas, and history encyclopedia for more information about any of our countries-of-the-week. The almanac has profiles of all the nations of the world on pages 752–859; the endpapers of the atlas are indexes that will show you where all of the individual national and regional maps may be found; the history encyclopedia includes national histories on pages 489–599; and you can find additional illustrations, flags, and other mentions through the indexes in each of these volumes. For an ideal little lesson, just write the name of the Weekly World Heritage Site on your homeschool bulletin board, find its location in your atlas, read the WHC’s brief description aloud, look at a picture or two, and you’re done. Over the course of the year, without even realizing it, your students will absorb a wealth of new historical, geographical, and cultural information. 🇲🇹
❡ The great globe itself: This is one of our regular Homeschool States & Countries posts featuring historical and natural sites of international importance. Download a copy of our River Houses World Heritage Calendar and follow along with us as we tour the planet, and add your name to our weekly mailing list to get great homeschool teaching ideas delivered right to your mailbox all through the year. 🌍