spotlight on: rabat

Photo: James Bianchi

The town of Rabat, found in the Western region of Malta, has a population of just over 11,000. The name Rabat means a ‘suburb’ or ‘fortified town’ in Semitic, as it was once the suburb of Mdina, the old capital of Malta.

During the 15th century, Rabat served as a shelter from pirate attacks, which were a frequent occurrence. During this time, several religious ordered arrived and when the Order of St John arrived, Rabat was held in high esteem for its close proximity to Mdina, St Paul’s Grotto, the covent schools and the arable farmland. For many centuries, the religious orders established themselves within the precincts of the town and in fact, Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians still flourish here in their convents and monasteries, catering for the religious needs of parishioners in their churches.

During the late 19th century, when Malta was under British rule, Rabat saw the introduction of several new social services, such as the building of the first primary school, the initiation of medical and postal services, street lighting and the start of a train service, between Rabat and Valletta.

The 20th century, on the other hand, brought about some major developments for the town. The population increased to around 12,000 following the Second World War. The growth encouraged the construction of new housing areas, such as Tal-Virtu and Għajn Qajjet and nowadays, the development distinguishes the old part of the town from the new. What’s more, Rabat is known for its quiet, rural character and natural beauty. It is also known for one of the few forested areas in the country, Buskett, the entrance to which can be found on the outskirts of the village.

The town of Rabat is home to the famous catacombs of St Paul and St Agatha. They were used during Roman times to bury the dead, as, according to Roman culture, it was unhygienic to bury the dead in the city. Mdina, as well as parts of Rabat, were built on top of an ancient Roman City.

some spots in rabat worth visiting

St paul's catacombs

Roman law prohibited burials within the city and they refused to bury the dead in the city. St Paul’s Catacombs therefore, served as a burial ground from Punic and Roman times, the site represents the earliest and largest archeological evidence of Christianity in Malta. The catacombs form a typical complex of interconnected underground Roman cemeteries that were in use up to the 7th, and possibly the 8th centuries AD. The area is littered with more than 30 hypogea, of which the main complex, situated within the St Paul’s cluster, comprises an intricate system of interconnected passages and tombs that cover an area of well over 2,000 square metres. 

wignacourt museum

A beautiful museum that opened its doors in 1981, and spreads over no less than three floors. The ground floor hosts several exhibitions with works from both local and foreign artists. The main floor, on the other hand, has a collection of Punic-Roman artefacts, as well as items including ceramics and pottery, coins and medals, maps, rare books, religious vestments, portraits and sculptures. The Treasurer’s Room is one of the highlights of the museum, so do not miss out! There’s more. The underground level is a World War II air raid shelter set in a 2,000-year old Christian and Punic Roman catacomb with 44 rooms, which is linked to St Paul’s church through a tunnel.

victoria lines

Originally known as the North west Front and unofficially known as the Great Wall of Malta, Victoria Lines are a line of fortifications that spans no less than 12 kilometres along the width of the country, dividing the north, from the more heavily populated south. When built by the British military in the late 19th century, the line was primarily designed to present a physical barrier to invading forces landing in the north, intent on attacking the harbour installations. Although never tested in battle, the system of defences, including forts, batteries, entrenchments, stop-walls, infantry lines and howitzer positions are as impressive as ever.

domvs romana

The Domvs Romana Museum is the oldest purpose-built archeological museum on the island. It opened to the public in 1882, having initially been constructed to protect the mosaics. Besides housing the Roman artefacts found in and around Mdina, Roman artefacts found throughout the island were brought here, resulting in a magnificent collection. Over the years, the museum has substantially remodelled and enlarged, and the displays gave been significantly modernised, the most recent being in 2011. Using the old remains of the house and the artefacts here and at other sites in the area, the museum explores the setting of a Roman domestic household.