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so you wanna see the Hypogeum but you didn’t know you had to book a ticket weeks in advance, especially in high season?
you try to reserve online but this is all you get?
or you try and go to one of the points around the city where they sell tickets and you see a sign like this, with a date almost a month away?
well, there are, i discovered, last-minute ticket sales at the Museum of Fine Arts* in Valletta (go through the main gates, down a couple blocks to South Street, make a left and it’ll be down the street a little ways on your right). Hypogeum tours are hourly from 9 AM until 4 PM, but the 12 PM and 4 PM times are for last-minute-sales only. at 10 people per hour, you need to make sure you’re one of the first 20 people, or one of the first 10 if you need a specific time slot.
* they used to be available at the archaeology museum, but now it’s the fine arts museum — be sure to go to the latter!
the ticket sales start at 9 AM, when the museum opens, but you should definitely queue beforehand, especially during high season. i read somewhere that the line starts at 7 AM, but i got there at 7:40 and i was the only one (on a Wednesday, late July). a couple people showed up later but it didn’t really get crowded until 8:15, and even then by 9 AM there weren’t enough people there to sell out both available tours. use these times at your own risk, though. if you really want a ticket, get there early to secure a spot in line (err, crowd; there’s no line, but people seemed to remember the order they arrived in).
Finally have company and she's reading the same book I am, except in Italian. Another hour to wait. pic.twitter.com/IEGrV5hm1c
— Jonathan Khoo (@jonk) July 23, 2014
a last-minute ticket is €35 compared to the pre-purchase price of €30 (online or in person, half price for seniors and youth), so it’s definitely worth it to plan ahead. if you’re like me and didn’t, though, this is the way to go. oh yeah, they accept credit cards.
tips on visiting the hypogeum
- visit the nearby Tarxien Temples either before or after the Hypogeum because the latter is an underground version (looks-wise) of megalithic temples like the former, and it’s good to be able to see the similarities between the two.
- the small waiting room at the Hypogeum visitor center is air-conditioned so don’t worry if you get there early — you won’t be stuck standing outside in the sun.
- although there are only 10 people on each tour, i’m not sure it was built with that number in mind as some of the spots you have to stand in are quite small so you’ll be very chummy with your neighbor.
- the flooring, though a raised platform, is wet so wear shoes that are grippy, and there are ramps and a large number of stairs. one older lady had a cane and she didn’t have a good time navigating the dark interior (even though the guide had a flashlight, she wasn’t in very good shape). to return to the surface you have to ascend a spiral staircase; the poor lady was huffing and puffing by the time she reached the top.
- no bags AT ALL are allowed. everything goes into a shared locker before you begin the tour, including cameras.
the big question: is it worth it?
i’m not sure it is, especially at this price (whether €30 or €35). sources online indicate it used to be 25% of that price, but i suppose if there is demand (and there clearly is, given how sold out it gets), they might as well charge a premium.
it’s pretty amazing, though, to see it and imagine how it was built 5,000 years ago — in the Stone Age, without metal tools — and to marvel at the fact that this underground complex still stands today, with many of the chambers and even some of the wall paintings intact. can you imagine, attending ceremonies there or even building the place, with the smell of rotting and decomposing bodies all around you?! ack! luckily today all you have to deal with is a lot of humidity and any umm, odors emanating from a body (one person on my tour let one rip and that was bad enough…).