The Hypogeum of Paola, Malta, literally meaning “underground” in Greek, is a subterranean structure dating to the Saflieni phase (3000-2500 BC) in Maltese prehistory. Thought to be originally a sanctuary, it became a necropolis in prehistoric times, as proven by the remains of more than 7,000 individuals that have been discovered during the course of the excavation. It is the only prehistoric underground temple in the world. The Hypogeum was depicted on a 2 cents 5 mils stamp issued in the Maltese Islands in 1980 to commemorate the acceptance by UNESCO of this unique structure in the World Heritage Site list. It was closed to visitors between 1992 and 1996 for restoration works; since it reopened only 60 people per day are allowed entry.
It was discovered by accident in 1902 when workers cutting cisterns for a new housing development broke through its roof. The workers tried to hide the temple at first, but eventually it was found. The study of the structure was first entrusted to Father Manuel Magri of the Society of Jesus, who directed the excavations on behalf of the Museums Committee. Magri died in 1907, before the publication of the report. Following Magri’s sudden death, excavation resumed under Sir Temi Zammit.
There is an account that in the 1940s a British embassy worker, Miss Lois Jessup, went on a tour of the Hypogeum and persuaded a guide to let her explore a 3 ft. square “burial chamber” next to the floor of the lowest room in the last [3rd] sub-level. She claims that after squeezing through this chamber she came into a large room; where she was standing there was a large cliff with a steep drop and the floor of the cavern could not be seen. Across the cavern there was a small ledge with an opening in the wall. According to Ms. Jessup, a number of ‘humanoid beings’ that were covered in white hair and hunched over came out of this opening. They raised their palms in her direction and a large gust of wind filled the cavern, extinguishing the light of her candle. She then claimed that she felt something brush past her. When she went back to the Hypogeum on another occasion, she was told no such tour guide had ever worked on the site. Sometime after Miss Jessup’s first visit, a group of school children and their teacher visited the Hypogeum on an outing and entered the same burial chamber, which then collapsed while they were inside. Search parties could not conduct a thorough search for the children or their teacher due to the cave-in. The parents of the children claimed that, for weeks, they could hear the voices of their young children coming from under the ground in several parts of the island. According to National Geographic’s Ancient X-Files there are no local newspaper reports or accounts from residents about the missing children, making it more likely this was an invented story.