Oout of all trips described in this guide, Paola is the closest one to Valetta. It contains the site which I consider most worth seeing: the Ħal Saflieni hypogeum. In combination with a visit to Tarxien temples (and optionally, Kordin III temple) which are within a walking distance from the hypogeum, I think Paola gives you the most worth for your money.

Ħal Saflieni hypogeum

The hypogeum is a complex of underground tombs. It used to serve as a mass-burial site, where only the bones were stored – perhaps after being exposed and stripped of flesh by scavenger birds as was the case in Çatal Höyük. The hypogeum spans several levels, with various rooms being decorated and serving different purposes: there’s a chamber decorated with red ochre spirals, a chamber where stone was cut in such a way as to imitate a temple façade, and a couple of places which have special acoustic properties and amplify the voices of people speaking in the right place (but only of a voice certain pitch).

It’s the most impressive sacred site I visited in Malta, especially after you realise that it was all cut in rock with stone tools and nothing more. While walking the corridors of the hypogeum, I was filled with awe but also an overwhelming feeling of grief at all that was lost. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photographs from that visit. As an undergound site, carved in limestone, it is vulnerable to damage caused by light. Carbon dioxide introduced by human breath is also a serious threat to the paintings. For that reason access to the hypogeum is strictly controlled, the tours are short, and visitors are not able to visit all the levels. (There is also no possibility of touching anything or leaving offerings). Despite this, I consider the hypogeum a must-see. The tour is additionally enhanced by audio-guides, which apart from the tour contain experimental music played in the hypogeum by an artist using instruments that would have been available to Neolithic people.

Route by bus
Valetta – Paola (Paola 3, Pjazza or Ipogew bus stop). Get to Triq Hal Luqa (south from Paola 3, north-west from Ipogew), follow the street south, turn right into Triq Ic Cimiterju.
Time by bus
about 25 mins
you have to reserve the tickets well in advance or buy the last minute ones in Valetta (check out the tips post). The entrance may be hard to find because it looks like a normal building front. Set off well in advance so that you don’t miss your reserved tour. When in doubt, follow the signs or ask locals.

Tarxien temple complex

Tarxien is not my “must see” choice among temples, but it’s in the same location as the hypogeum, and is therefore worth seeing them together. The site is well-presented, with walkways built inside as well as around and above the temples. This is the place where the famous “fat lady” statue was discovered. It also contains the most interesting stonework, including animal and vegetable reliefs and altars. Everything you will see on the site, however, is a reproduction; the actual stonework has been moved to the Museum of Archaeology in Valetta. Additionally, the walkways add to the feeling of separation and visiting an exhibit rather than a sacred site.

The current theory for the proximity of Tarxien temples and Ħal Saflieni hypogeum is that every major temple complex had an accompanying burial site. This is confirmed by the fact that he tombs of Xagħra Stone Circle are located close to the Ġgantija temples. It’s theorised that other underground burial sites exist, but haven’t been discovered yet. (Personally, I think Xemxija and Buġibba may have been linked as well).

Route by foot
start at the Hypogeum. Walk east towards Triq Hal Luqa, follow it north, turn right into Triq Hal Tarxien, follow it south-west, turn left into Triq it Tempji Neolitici, follow it north, the entry will be on the right.
the entrance may be hard to find because it looks like a normal building front. When in doubt, follow the signs or ask locals.

Kordin III temple

Visit this only if you’re feeling that you “gotta catch them all”. This is the only one of three temples in Kordin that survived being bombed during WWII. It’s closed. You can see it through the gate and that’s it. It’s up to you if you want to bother, but it’s not very far from Tarxien.

Route by foot
exit the Tarxien temples and go west until Triq Is Sorijet. Follow the street north, pass the greenery, cross to the large roundabout to the west. You should see the Ghajn Dwieli church. Immediately to the left of the church there is a walled yard. The Kordin III temple is visible through a gate. When in doubt, ask the locals how to get to the church or the mosque (it’s opposite of the church).
Time by foot
from Tarxien to Kordin III, 20 mins

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