After our short stay in Gozo, we took the ferry back to Malta and decided to dive into some of the historical sites first. The diverse history of this small independent country is fascinating to me and I was very much looking forward to seeing some of the ancient ruins and other sites first-hand. You can read more about this beautiful archipelago located off the coast of Sicily on the Wikipedia page.
First we decided to explore the northwest corner of Malta which includes Rabat, Mdina, and Mgarr. Like so much of Malta, this area is rich with historical sites so we wanted to spend our day here visiting several historical sites that were part of the Heritage Malta Pass. The Heritage Malta multisite pass includes access to 22 sites and museums plus the Malta National Aquarium and the Citadel Visitor Center and is good for 30 days. If you plan on seeing multiple sites rather than one or two it’s worth the 50 Euro per adult or family pass for 110 Euro good for 2 adults and up to 2 children.
We began at the Domvs Romana, a wealthy aristocratic Roman house built in the first century B.C. and discovered in 1881. A museum was built around the remains and opened in 1882. Although most of the house has been destroyed over the years, beautiful mosaics remain along with marble statues of Emperor Claudius and his family. I think it’s worth going to this site, just don’t plan on spending more than 30 minutes max here.
The Skorba Temples are small but of great historical significance. There are two remaining monoliths, one dating to before the Temple Period before 3600 B.C. and these structures are among the oldest constructed structures on the Maltese islands. We only spent about 15 minutes here because there simply isn’t that much to see but it’s still impressive.
Ta’Hagrat Temples are comprised of two structures, the oldest of which dates back to 3600-3200 B.C. The temple has a well-preserved doorway and facade and is the only temple built entirely of local upper corralline limestone. Ta’Hagrat Temples are bigger in scope than the Skorba Temples and we spent a bit more time here to be able to take it all in.
St. Paul’s Catacombs was our final stop on our historical tour of the Rabat Area and it is the best in my opinion at least of the sites we saw on this day. We chose to only go to St. Paul’s Catacombs even though Ta’ Bistra Catacombs are also in the area because it seemed like St. Paul’s would be more interesting. You can actually walk into over 20 different burial sites at St. Paul’s and although I don’t know for sure since I didn’t go, it doesn’t look like you can do that at Ta’Bistra.
St. Paul’s Catacombs consist of over 30 hypogea or burial grounds that were in use until the 4th century A.D. They are the earliest and largest evidence of Christianity in Malta. Roman law prohibited burials within the capital at the time so the burial grounds were chosen just outside the city of what is now Mdina.
I really liked being able to go inside so many hypogea and explore the catacombs completely on my own (versus with a guide or workers there standing guard). Some were bigger than others but typically you would go down anywhere from a few to several stairs and you could walk around and see areas where the people would have been buried. If you’re claustrophobic this would not be a good place for you, though, since it was very tight, confined spaces. In case anyone is wondering there were no skeletal remains left in any of the catacombs.
As much as I enjoyed these historical sites, the ones we went to later during our vacation only got better (for the most part), although we had no way of knowing that at the time. Join me as we explore the capital city of Malta, Valletta in my next post!
Have any of you been to the catacombs anywhere else in the world, like Italy? What do you think of catacombs? Creepy or cool?