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Frontpage News 2016 Ensuring continued access to world heritage in Malta

Hypogeum @ Marc Vella
The Hypogeum is made up of interconnecting chambers set on three distinct levels. The deepest of the three levels is known as the ‘Holy of Holies’. Photo credit: Marc Vella

Ensuring continued access to world heritage in Malta

  • “The project will ensure long-term preservation and protection of the site and continued access for the public in the years to come.”

    These are the words of Maria Elena Zammit, from Heritage Malta. With over €700 000 in support from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, Heritage Malta is working to stabilise and restore the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum. As one of Malta’s three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the underground prehistoric burial site attracts around 26 000 visitors each year.

    Due to the delicate microclimate of the site, the maximum number of visitors to the Hypogeum is limited to 80 per day. Building on lessons learned from a mapping project funded under the EEA and Norway Grants 2004-2009, the site has now received a new environmental control system.

    Ensuring continued access for future generations

    The Hypogeum is vulnerable to season variations in temperature. The site is especially known for its intricate wall paintings in red ochre. The paintings are the oldest prehistoric paintings found on the Maltese Islands, and are especially exposed to fluctuations in temperature and humidity levels. Even the level of carbon dioxide breathed by tourists may contribute to erosion of the complex. Thus, the new control system is vital to stabilise the climatic conditions within the underground limestone site.

    MT02-0001 Hypogeum © Daniel Cilia Inscribed on the World Heritage List as ‘a site that bears a unique testimony to a cultural tradition that has disappeared’, it is important to ensure continued access to the Hypogeum for generations to come. Photo credit: Daniel Cilia

    As part of the project, studies assessing the condition of the site in terms of conservation and geology have been carried out to identify visible alterations and damages caused by organic materials and environmental conditions. This will provide Heritage Malta with knowledge to ensure protection of the site, and the tools to monitor the deterioration of the site. Based on scientific data, the environmental management system will control the climate of sight, and ensure stabilisation.


    The project is one of three under the EEA Grants programme in Malta improving environmental monitoring of marine waters, reducing human and ecosystem vulnerability to climate change and preserving cultural and natural heritage in Malta.

    Results from selected programme

    1 Cultural heritage site in process of restoration

    1 New environmental management system installed

    4 Studies carried out assessing the condition of the site in terms of conservation, geology and biology

    Read more about the ‘A new environmental management system for the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum World Heritage site’ project

    Read more about the Maltese ‘Integrated marine and inland water management’ programme

    Read more about the EEA and Norway Grants to Malta

  • Country:


    Project title:

    A New Environmental Management System for the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum World Heritage Site

    Project number:


    Priority sector:

    Protecting Cultural Heritage


    € 829175



    Project promoter:

    Heritage Malta

    Type of Institution:

    National agency

    Project duration:

    46 months

    Project cost:

    € 1,142,751

    Grant from:

    EEA Grants

    The Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, a recognised UNESCO site, is an underground prehistoric cemetery. Although an environmental control system was installed in the 1990s, technological advances and improved understanding of the challenges have necessitated the redesign of its environmental management to ensure the preservation and continued access to the site, which attracts around 26,000 visitors a year. This project benefits from €748,425 from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA Grants 2009-2014. It seeks to ensure the stabilisation of the site through the application of current technologies. The main elements of the project are: • Studies to assess the condition of the site in terms of conservation, geology and organic residues; • Elimination of harmful materials and residues; • Installation of a micro-climate management system, with both passive and active control measures; • Investigation and replacement, of overlying connections to water mains and sewers.