I did get to the Hypogeum the next day, and, of course, arrived very early. While waiting for my 12:00 tour, I popped into the local church. Not a cathedral, but just an ordinary parish church, of which there are hundreds! I asked a tour guide one day if the people here on Malta are very religious, and she said that they definitely are! Lots of resources go into churches, that’s for sure!
The Hypogeum was spectacular. It was carved out of the living rock starting in about 3600 BCE, but made to look like a built structure. This is a picture of a picture (no cameras allowed) that shows only a small portion of the whole huge complex. It was built on three levels, the top one exposed to the sky; the lower two levels about 40 feet down—-each of them. This ‘room’ also gives an idea of what the ceilings looked like in the above ground temples. Nowadays the roofs have all collapsed, but apparently this is how they originally looked.
An estimated 7,000 people were buried here. The corpses were allowed to decay and then
all the bones were piled up to make room for new bodies. This is where the Sleeping Lady
was found, now residing in the Museum of Archeology in Valletta. This complex was discovered in 1899 when workmen were installing underground cisterns in some new housing for dockworkers, and accidentally broke through to level two of this structure.
The tour was great, showing parts that had ochre designs on the walls; and many connecting rooms where they expanded the structure over centuries.
This structure is older than the pyramids of Egypt, a sobering thought. What happened to these people? They don’t know. All traces of them disappeared for centuries after about 2600 BCE.
Returning to Valletta, I went to the St. James Cavalier, part of the fortress structure, but
now an art museum. There was a show by Maltese artist Antoine Camilleri, who died in 2005. I especially enjoyed his “Annunciation” and another painting, “Rock and Roll.”
The next day I decided to tag along with my hostel friend, Gregor and his classmate on an all-
day tour. Our first stop was the Mosta Dome, a church built in the 18th C modeled on the Pantheon in Rome. In 1942 during a World War II bombing raid, one of the German bombs went astray and pierced the dome, landing on a marble tomb. The bomb did not explode, although
it did some damage to the dome and the tomb. We saw a replica of it in the church.
Our guide, Victoria, had a wonderful story relating to this church. Victoria’s father was the youngest of 12 children. His mother (Victoria’s grandmother) wanted desperately for one of her sons to become a priest, but none were called. In fact, Victoria’s father ran off to Australia at age 15 to escape the pressure. So Victoria’s grandmother adopted a Pakistani boy who wanted to become a priest. She supported and encouraged him, and he eventually was successfully ordained. He returned to Pakistan to serve there, but made periodic visits to Victoria’s family and when he said Mass in this church, the grandmother sat proudly in the front pew. The last time he came was she died and he officiated at her funeral.
We stopped off at San Anton Palace and Gardens, which is now the official residence of the
President of Malta. (There is also a Prime Minister—-the President’s job is mainly ceremonial) However, the President of Malta is a woman! Actually the second one.
We had a bit of free time and I got a cappuccino, the only good one that I’ve had since I left Italian Sardinia!
We went to see St. Paul’s Catacombs in Rabat—-the only relationship to St. Paul was that they are near the Church of St. Paul. These were used from the 3rd C AD for about 500 years for burials. There was a myriad of rock cut tombs that went on and on. They also used the area for church services at some point.
Next was a glass-blowing operation and some craft villages, but we didn’t spend long there, and there wasn’t any pressure
to buy. Glass-blowing is always fun to watch.
Then we walked up an old (2,000 years old) Roman
road to a Roman Apiary where they raised bees.
There is some relationship between the word
‘malta’ and honey.
It was kind of a long, tiring day, and we made a few more stops that I haven’t included here. Still, I was glad I went.
Sunday I packed up my stuff and prepared to move to a different dorm room. I had a most unusual roommate for several nights. Starting about midnight, he would get noisily up, rummage around, and then go out. An hour later he would return and go to bed. He did this several times during the night so that made it difficult to sleep. The staff was sympathetic and so managed to change me to a different room. This is the first time this has happened in all my dorm staying. The usual is quiet, considerate people, and I’ve rarely had trouble sleeping because of inconsiderate guests. That night I slept well. I’m wondering if maybe this person has a disability—-his behavior was just a little off.
And then on Sunday I went back to Rabat and Mdina. There were several things that I had wanted to see that were either closed when I was there before (Monday) or I didn’t have time to see. When I got the bus I photographed some sidewalk seating. It had been days before I realized what these were! You just pull one down and sit down!
In Rabat I found St. Paul Street and followed it to the Wignacourt Museum. One interesting thing in this collection was a pair of red shoes worn by Pope Alexander VII in the 1660s. Did you know that Popes wear red shoes? Anyway, this Pope had been the Malta Inquisitor before he became Pope.
Connected to this museum was the St. Paul Grotto. This is actually a cave where it is believed in Malta that St. Paul lived/preached here for three months after the shipwreck. Then in this same area, during World War II they dug underground rooms
(like catacombs!) to be safe when there were air raids. I walked a long ways through these, seeing the tiny rooms that were dug off this main corridor.
A change of pace, now ABOVE ground, was the Domus Romana,
which was a house built in the 1920s to house remains of a Roman 1st C. townhouse
that had been found in 1881 while planting trees. There is a beautiful Mosaic floor showing two doves drinking. When they excavated this site, they also found an 11th C Islamic cemetery on top of the Roman townhouse. The house had many artifacts on display from both of these eras.
Then over in Mdina (Rabat and Mdina are really right together) the Palazzo Falson, a 16th C. house, preserved and lived in by an artist, who lived there until he died in 1962. All the rooms were on display—-I especially liked the kitchen and dining rooms.
And just roaming around Mdina is such a pleasure. It’s really a trip back in time. Apparently nowadays the people who live there are largely the aristocracy, similar to the artist who lived in the Palazzo Falson. Keeping up these ancient properties must be quite a challenge.
Malta has a wonderful bus system. There’s nowhere you can’t get within an hour on a bus. The schedules are posted at each bus stop, and, for the most part, adhered to. I bought a ticket for 12 rides for 15 euro, which makes it cheap as well as convenient. When you transfer, the card knows automatically what transfers are permitted.
Tuesday my destination was Ghar Dalam Prehistoric Cave. This cave had layers going all the way back to bones of animals that were from the time during the Ice Age when Malta was connected with Sicily and European land animals crossed over to Malta. There were elephants and hippopotami that eventually became diminutive, as animals on islands
often do through natural selection. This cave also had bones from the earliest of people here, about 5400 BCE. There were some interesting teeth preserved and displayed in the museum, which some scientists think were Neanderthal teeth, but others learned that this particular kind of tooth was not limited to Neanderthals. Of course there were stalactites and stalagmites.
Today I set out for Gozo, the smaller island, part of the country of Malta, but north of the bigger Malta island. On the bus I met a lovely British lady, who lives on Gozo, who helped me get on the ferry and also get the right bus after to go to Victoria, the main city on Gozo.
The ferry afforded lovely views of a Knight’s Tower,
and also of Mgarr, the town where the ferry arrives. There is no shortage of beautiful views in this area. Also, the weather has been perfect, the last few days.
I managed to find my hotel, which was a bit of a miracle as I didn’t have very good directions. It’s a funny ‘family’ place, and I’m the only guest in the four rooms. I had a nice linner with some good pizza today. Tomorrow I shall start to explore Gozo in earnest.