We were in Paola primarily for our reserved tour at the Hypogeum, a vast underground necropolis dating back to 3600 BC. This fragile UNESCO World Heritage site only allows 80 people each day to tour, so we felt fortunate to get reservations.
The Hypogeum is a vast burial complex in which they have found the remains of more than 7,000 bodies. It is unknown who was buried here, but it is believed that the remains are from a time period spanning nearly 1,000 years so theories are that only wealthy or important persons were buried in the Hypogeum.
NOTE: Make your reservations as soon as you know you will be in Malta, especially if you are there during holidays and the busy summer season. We were there in the off season and all the spaces were booked solid for the week we were there. The only way to get tickets is to order/pay online at Heritage Malta. Be sure to print up your ticket and bring it with you. Prices are higher than most other Malta archeological sites, but this is probably due to supply and demand, along with the need to have a tour guide (2012 prices = €20/person).
The Hypogeum is small and cramped – part of the reason that only 10 people at a time are allowed in. The tour is conducted using audioguides that were in several different languages. In our group we had English, German, and French users. The tourguide leads you through the passages and gives warnings about low ceilings, slippery pathways, and steps. The music on the audio guide is rather unique and was written specifically for the site – a CD of just the music is available for purchase.
The Hypogeum was discovered in 1902 by those working on the houses above the complex. At the time, they kept their discovery a secret until they finished the housing (they apparently knew that work would have to come to an end if they told, along with their income for the building project). So the Hypogeum’s location is in the middle of a housing area in Paola with just a simple doorway opening; if you didn’t know it was there, you would probably walk right passed it.
Before the tour, everyone is required to put all their bags (including cameras!) into a locked storage unit behind the security guard. The guide locks the bin, but then I had to chuckle when she put the key on top of the same bin! But I felt very safe having my things in there since it was away from the front door of the building. The tour begins with a small museum area and displays, including a copy of the famous Sleeping Lady statue that was found at the Hypogeum (original is located in the Malta Archeological Museum). This museum portion is followed by a short movie about the history of the site. After the movie, the group begins the short descent to the actual site.
A series of lights as well as our tour guide led us through the complex. We would listen to the audio guide describe the various chambers and rooms along the way. Even with a small group of ten people, we needed to be considerate and ensure that everyone had the opportunity to see in some of the very small openings into some of the rooms.
I found the early paintings on the walls interesting and the concept of carving stone so far underground was amazing to me – workers would have had to use simple handmade tools and the only light would be from torches.
NOTE: Absolutely NO photos are allowed to be taken in the Hypogeum. They sell postcards if you want to have some photographic memories. I encourage you to look at the photos on the website listed below to get an idea of the complex.
The Hypogeum made for a very information and interesting prehistoric site to visit. Recommend!
The Parish Church is the landmark given by the Hypogeum for those visiting and arriving by bus. It seemed to be the main bus terminal for the area. You really can’t miss the church as it dominates that part of town. We were there at noon and the bells kept ringing and ringing – for almost 15 minutes! It was very pretty (see my video to have a listen).
If you are using the Parish Church as a landmark to find the Hypogeum, follow the signs. As you look at the church, you will head towards the right. Continue up the main road and keep following the signs. Chances are you will still miss the Hypogeum, so look down the side streets as you go along. It is a very plainly marked doorway on one of the side streets off the main street about 5-10 minute walk from the Parish Church.
I booked more than 4 weeks ahead of our trip to get tickets at the Hypogeum. FYI we visited in October so not even high season. When I booked the tickets already most places were booked. So be prepared! Many people tried to get in last minute but no such luck.
I did find it worthwhile! I can't post any pictures as it is forbidden to take any pictures inside.
The old state prison now serves as Paola police station, but adjoining that is the current, more modern prison. The old prison building shown here actually bears the legend "Women's Prison" in the stonework above the door.
This was also the site of public executions and the last one was held there in 1945.
Malta's only serving mosque is in Paola, staning on Corradino Hill. There is a newly commissioned Muslim cemetary right next to it too, there having been no proper Muslim cemetary in Malta for many years until then.
Though the minaratte of the mosque was clearly visible from the town square it was the heat of mid-afternoon by now and we couldn't find the energy to walk to the mosque to see it up close. You can see from this picture (taken from the square) that the minarette is very colourful though.
The town square is surrounded by most of Paola's important buildings - the church, the band club and Hibernians FC (and the police station/prison is just around the corner) and in the centre of the square is a delightful elongated oval of a park. It's totally surrounded by trees to give shade and in the centre (but offset more towards the church end of the oval) is a kisok serving hot & cold food, drinks and beer.
The whole thing has an Art Deco look to it and it must be a quite vibrant meeting place in the early-to-late evening, hopefully having an atmosphere to match the square at Balutta. Unfortunately we weren't there then, we called in for lunch one afternoon. At that time the square was quite quiet, just a few peole around having lunch or falling asleep on a shady bench. That looked like a great idea, actually.
Lunch is decsribed in the Restaurants section.
This church is quite modern, being founded in 1923 when the present parish church became too small for the congregation. Probably it was with future growth in mind that they built this as the biggest church in Malta. It's vast - and its silver coloured domes make it stand out against the skyline for many miles around. This silver colouring is also pretty unique (I'm sure I didn't see another church with it) and so you always know when you see the church at Paola.
From close up you just can't get a shot that capures its sheer size - the main title picture for this page was taken from neighbouring Selglea. The church doesn't have a single huge dome as some do (eg Mosta, Xewkija) nor is it particularly attractive from a purely architecturaly viewpoint (unlike Gharb) but it is immensely impressive just for its scale.