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This blog is dedicated to Malta - my island home. My aim is not to bore you with history but to share my thoughts and a few facts together with a photo or two. For a more in -depth background of the island please go here. The purpose of this blog is not to point out the short-comings of the island. There are plenty that do that already. My wish is to show you the beauty of an island at the cross roads of the Mediterranean, a melting pot of history; a place where fact and fiction are sometimes fused to create unique myths and legends; a country that has been conquered so many times that our culture is a mish mesh of the lands that surround us and of lands far away. I confess that my greatest desire is to make you fall in love with this tiny enchanting island.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

St Paul’s Catacombs–An Underground Necropolis

I recently re-visited the catacombs of St Paul. The last time I was in this underground necropolis I was just a child. Visiting the place as an adult felt vastly different. The tombs are empty but I could not help thinking about the lives of the people who had lain here. It’s easy to become morbid in a place like this so let’s move on to the historical facts.

Rabat and the Catacombs (15)

The catacombs of St Paul are situated in the town of Rabat. In the past, when Melite (modern day Mdina) was much larger, this area would have been just outside the gates of the city. The catacombs in  Malta were used solely for burial purposes since there is no record of any type of religious persecution during this era. These catacombs were the last resting place of Christians, pagans and Jews. St Paul’s catacombs were used up to the 4th century AD. The complex covers an area of 2000 square metres. One enters the catacombs by going down a flight of steep steps which lead into a main hall. This hall was used for the various activities associated with funerary rites.Two reclining tables, known as agape tables, were probably used for commemorative meals. 

Rabat and the Catacombs (3)

It is thought that in the 13th century this hall may have served as a shrine during the re-Christianising of the island. Doorways in the main hall lead to various passages, carved out from the limestone, which are lined with a numerous array of tombs.

Rabat and the Catacombs (24)

Rabat and the Catacombs (27)

Some of the tombs were closed up with blocking stones, some of which had carvings on them. This one is decorated with surgical tools of the time which suggests that it is the burial place of a surgeon and his family or, possibly, a group of surgeons.

Rabat and the Catacombs (8)

Rabat and the Catacombs (9)

Rabat and the Catacombs (10)

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of these catacombs is the large number of tombs known as ‘luculus tombs’. These small tombs were the final resting place of children and babies and the large number that can be seen hewn in the rock is a poignant reminder of the high infant mortality rate that existed at the time.

Rabat and the Catacombs (19)

In the past these catacombs were lit by oil lamps that were placed in small nooks in the passage-way walls. Vents in the ceiling provided fresh air and some light during the daylight.

Rabat and the Catacombs (29)

At present, St Paul’s catacombs are being monitored for temperature and humidity levels. It is expected that full restoration of the catacombs will be complete by 2013.

Rabat and the Catacombs (16)

The catacombs of St Paul are on UNESCO’s tentative World Heritage List. It is, indeed, important that sites such as this are studied and maintained for future generations. They not only provide us with a glimpse of the past but, on a human level, a link to our ancestors.

This link from Heritage Malta should enable you to see the catacombs in 360.

Rabat and the Catacombs (23)Rabat and the Catacombs (25)

 

St Paul’s Catacombs

St Agatha Street

Rabat

October 2011

9 comments:

  1. Fascinating place, awesome history and pictures!

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  2. Hi Loree
    You live with such and abundance of history and beauty... so glad you share it with all of us!!

    Have a lovely weekend. ciao xxx Julie

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  3. Catacombs are rarely this well maintained. I don't necessarily feel morbid in them though.

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  4. really fascinating. do you know where the remains were taken?

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  5. Okay, I have to admit these photos made my skin crawl a bit!

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  6. wWw, what a powerful post.....such intriguing images..the colors..the light..amazing!
    Kiki

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  7. How awesome to be able to experience such ancient history and I'm positively impressed that the catacombs are being restored. Thanks for sharing the 360 link, too.

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  8. Loree, Malta's geography and rich history are astonishing as always. You are a national treasure for sharing the stories and photos of your country... thanks for the link.

    Bises,
    Genie

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  9. Yet another place I need to see in Malta - great article and great photos. I am constantly surprised by this tiny little island!

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