Thursday, 13 August 2015

Day 5 Malta

Today Maree and I caught the bus for our 11am appointment to tour the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, Malta Triq iċ-Ċimiterju. Unfortunately no photos were allowed so these photos below are sourced from the internet.

We were drawn to get a bus much earlier than we planned due to the problems we have been experiencing with the buses and the fact that we could not be late for our appointment. Due to our early arrival we found Anique, Tricia, Pia, Carly, and others just coming out of there tour of the structure. Synchronicity working at its best as it has been throughout our whole week in Malta. We then went and had coffee before our tour.

An incredible underground necropolis, discovered during building work in 1902. It consists of halls, chambers and passages hewn out of the living rock and covering some 500 sq metres; it is thought to date from around 3600 to 3000 BC, and an estimated 7000 bodies may have been interred here.
The construction went down from the top of a limestone hill, using stone mallets and horn or antler picks, whereby the walls were smoothed with implements made of flint – which must have been imported, as flint is not native to Malta.

The more than thirty rooms are located on three levels, though there are accounts that there are deeper levels that remain unexcavated. Most rooms are on the middle level, which is seen as the centre of the structure, because of the complexity of the rooms on this level. Several are decorated with spiral and other geometrical patterns painted in red ochre, while a number of chambers have walls shaped in imitation of the megalithic architecture of the island – like the Tarxien temple, which is situated only a few hundred metres from the Hypogeum.

Believed to be the oldest prehistoric underground temple in the world.  The subterranean structure is shrouded in mystery, from the discovery of elongated skulls to stories of paranormal phenomena. But the characteristic that has been attracting experts from around the globe is the unique acoustic properties found within the underground chambers of the Hypogeum.

Hal Saflieni Hypogeum is a cultural property of exceptional prehistoric value, dating back approximately 5,000 years and the only known example of a subterranean structure of the Bronze Age.  The 'labyrinth', as it is often called, consists of a series of elliptical chambers and alveoli of varying importance across three levels, to which access is gained by different corridors.  The principal rooms distinguish themselves by their domed vaulting and by the elaborate structure of false bays inspired by the doorways and windows of contemporary terrestrial constructions.

Although not known for certain, it is believed that the hypogeum was originally used as a sanctuary, possibly for an oracle. It is for this reason that a unique chamber carved out of solid limestone and demonstrating incredible acoustic properties has been called ‘the Oracle Chamber’.  According to William Arthur Griffiths, who wrote ‘Malta and its Recently Discovered Prehistoric Temples’, a word spoken in the Oracle room is “magnified a hundredfold and is audible throughout the entire structure.  The effect upon the credulous can be imagined when the oracle spoke and the words came thundering forth through the dark and mysterious place with terrifying impressiveness."

It is said that standing in the Hypogeum is like being inside a giant bell. At certain pitches, one feels the sound vibrating in bone and tissue as much as hearing it in the ear.  Sarasota arts and architecture critic Richard Storm explained the sensation: "Because you sense something coming from somewhere else you can't identify, you are transfixed."

The acoustic properties within the Hypogeum have already been studied extensively. It was found by Maltese composer Ruben Zahra and a research team from Italy that sound resonates at 110 Hz within the Oracle chamber, and this matches the same or similar frequency that has been found in many other ancient chambers around the world, including Newgrange in Ireland.

One theory put forward by Paolo Debertolis and Niccolo Bisconti of the Universities of Triests and Siena respectively, is that the chamber was constructed in such a way as to created acoustics that would affect the psyche of people, perhaps to enhance mystical experiences during rituals, and this perspective has received scientific backing.  Dr. Ian Cook of UCLA and colleagues published findings in 2008 of an experiment in which regional brain activity in a number of healthy volunteers was monitored by EEG through exposure to different resonance frequencies. Their findings indicated that at 110 Hz the patterns of activity over the prefrontal cortex abruptly shifted, resulting in a relative deactivation of the language centre and a temporary shifting from left to right-sided dominance related to emotional processing. This shifting did not occur at other frequencies.  

Whether it was deliberate or not, the people who spent time in the Hypogeum under conditions that may have included ritual chanting -- were exposing themselves to vibrations that may have impacted their thinking. In addition to stimulating their more creative sides, it appears that an atmosphere of resonant sound in the frequency of 110 would have been “switching on” an area of the brain that bio-behavioural scientists believe relates to mood, empathy and social behaviour.

The Hypogeum was the key location for the Archaeoacoustics Conference the results revealed that a male human voice can stimulate the resonance of the structure at two frequencies (114 Hz and 68-70 Hz).  The use of a horn and conch shell did not create any resonance at all, while a friction drum produced low resonance. Interestingly, a shamanic natural skin hoop drum created a strong stimulation of resonance by harmonics of the drum at 114 Hz. The response was the same as that produced by a male voice singing 'oooh'. A female voice did not produce the same effect.

Marija Gimbutas commented on a find that was made inside the Hypogeum: a 12 centimetre long terracotta figure, known as the “Sleeping Lady”, now on display in the National Museum in Valletta. Indeed, the only qualification that suggests she is sleeping, rather than dead, is that she lies on her side, rather than on her back. Gimbutas queried: “Why is she sleeping in the tomb? One explanation is that this represents a rite of initiation or incubation. To sleep within the Goddess’ womb was to die and to come to life anew.”

Zammit also added that the ceiling and walls of the Hypogeum showed no signs that any form of light (like torches) had been used, suggesting it was “never fully illuminated”. Though this might qualify it more as a tomb than a temple, initiations normally involve dark structures. And both Gimbutas and Zammit proposed that the type of initiation that was practiced here, was the so-called “temple sleep”: where the initiate is asked to spend the night in a temple; if he or she is able to fall asleep, the dreams were thought to be influenced by the deities, and might provide insight about the past, the present, or the future. The famous terracotta figure called the 'Sleeping Lady' was found (in a 'cistern' containing numerous offerings).

The temple complexes of Malta and Gozo are known to incorporate solar alignments, and it is believed that the same applies to the Hypogeum. Hard evidence is difficult to come by, as how the surface level parts of the structure looked like, is now unknown and impossible to find out. It is known that the internal lobby of the middle level gave access to other areas of that level, but also received the first incoming light from the external parts and the upper level. A series of upright megaliths may have been placed to play with the sunlight that could apparently only indirectly enter the structure.

Still, the raised doorway linking the Main Chamber with the so-called Holy of Holies appears to have been carved with a solar orientation intention in mind. Observers have noted that the Hypogeum is situated on the crest of a hill to the western side of the Tarxien temple, and that this position is similar to that of the Xaghra Stone Circle in Gozo. Of course, the west is the position of the setting sun, and is hence “naturally” associated with death. One can therefore argue whether certain alignments to the setting sun were once part of this structure.

Some have noted that the Holy of Holies is orientated towards the winter solstice sunrise, exactly in the same way as the other megalithic temples of Malta. Opposite the doorway to room 27, on the floor of the inside niche, is a circular depression. The feature is believed to be unique, and coupled with a sort of hook carved from the rock face itself, it has been seen as the support for some cult object. Others, have argued that it played a role in a solar play, in which the sun “hit” this location during the winter solstice sunrise – putting the Hypogeum on par with e.g. the Irish Newgrange, where an artificial cave was created, so that the sun too could play with the interior of the structure once a year.

Today, one is only confronted with the exotic names given to the rooms: the Snake Pit, the Oracle Room, while the central chamber is known as the Holy of Holies. This central chamber has carved pillars resembling trilithons, niches, windows and even a corbelled roof. Some of these rooms have clover-leaf lobes, all of this resembling the temples built above ground, showing that “as below, so above” – and vice versa: the Hypogeum is not a rarity, but in line with, and part of, the other Maltese megalithic structures. There is clear evidence that it was linked with the structures above, and seems to have formed a “sister site” to the Tarxien temple, like the Xaghra Stone Circle was linked with the Ggantija. 

The hypogeum offers us a rare glimpse at the prehistoric synthesis of funerary, solar-worship and shamanic traditions. The central chamber has several small rounded cubicles carved into the walls which it is currently suggested, were originally intended for 'living' people as part of a ritual, in which they would have had to lie inside in a foetal position (out of necessity). It is reported that from within these small cubicles, echoes from the 'speaking' chamber reverberate into a rhythm that is similar to the human heartbeat.

The 1990-1992 excavations suggested that there may have once been a monumental structure built directly on top.  The 'speaking chamber' is a hole in the wall carved with a rounded interior surface. The result is an echo which reverberates throughout the hypogeum. It is speculated that this hole was part of a ceremonial process. A design was painted in red-ochre onto the ceiling of one chamber which starts off on one side with a honeycomb design and transforms into an collection of 'floral' spirals on the other. It is possible to see both trilithons and 'doorways' in the same style as those found in the numerous temples on the islands. 

I found the Hypogeum to be one of the most amazing structures I have been privileged to see, I felt like Inanna slowly go down into the underworld, giving something up at each different section of the temple until when I found myself in the Holly of Hollies chamber I was completely open, and bear of all trappings and could just stand in the wonder of the ancients achievements, dedication and love.  
We looked around the town of Paola and then caught the bus to Valetta where we had a look through the shops had a lovely lunch in the plaza and again caught a bus home to have a relaxing afternoon.
In the evening we walked along the waterfront of Sliema and watched with the locals a soccer match between Barcelona verses Sevilla on the live TV.

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