Friday, August 1, 2014

Hypogeum – Oldest Prehistoric Underground Temple

While constructing houses on the outskirts of Valetta on Malta, someone suddenly tripped into a hole in the ground which led to the accidental discovery of the Hypogeum Hal Saflieni in 1902. It is believed to be the oldest prehistoric underground temple in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

This subterranean site is filled with amazing mystery from the skulls discovered in them. The most intriguing issue which has been enticing experts from around the world is the unique acoustic properties that are found within the underground site of the Hypogeum.

 It is an underground temple like structures which is made of megalith blocks and are carved into the earth having three levels which dates back to ancient times.

The three level underground structures which is made from megalithic stone is a cultural property of exceptional prehistoric value dating back 5000 years and is the only example of the Bronze Age subterranean structure.

As it is often called the `Labyrinth’, it comprises of a series of elliptical chambers and alveoli of various importance to three levels, the access of which is through different corridors. The main or the principal room is identified by their domed vaulting and elaborate structure of false bays which have been inspired by the windows and doorways of contemporary terrestrial constructions.

Oracle Sanctuary – Amazing Acoustic Properties 

Hypogeum, it is believed though not certain, was originally used as a sanctuary, probably for an oracle and it is for this purpose that a unique chamber had been carved out of solid limestone demonstrating amazing acoustic properties which has been called as `the Oracle Chamber’.

 William Arthur Griffiths, who wrote `Malta and its Recently Discovered Prehistoric Temples’, states that a word spoken in the Oracle room is magnified a hundredfold which is audible throughout the entire structure and the effect on the credulous can be imagined when the oracle spoke and the words came thundering forth through the dark and mysterious place with terrifying effects.

Some state that standing in the Hypogeum seems to be like being inside a giant bell where at certain pitches; one feels the sound vibrating in bone and tissue as much as hearing it in the ear. Richard Storm, Sarasota arts and architecture critic, relates the sensation, `because you sense something coming from somewhere else, you cannot identify, you are transfixed’.

Popular Tourist Attraction 

The acoustic properties within the Hypogeum structure has been studied which was discovered by Ruben Zahra, Maltese composer and a research team from Italy, that sound resonated at 110 Hz within the oracle chamber.

This matches similar or same frequency which has been found in several other ancient chambers across the globe which includes Newgrange in Ireland. Dr. Robert Jahn, from Princeton University states that the dimension of the room or the quality of the stone could be responsible for the exact pitch of this echoing effect.

Being a very popular tourist attraction and due to its age, Heritage Mall, the government body which takes care of historical sites, permit only 60 persons per day to visit this structure and recommend tourist to book in advance for their visit to avoid disappointment.

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