They are located in the zone of Ħal Bajjada in Rabat, which at times is also known as Tad-Dlam. 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 2000 square meters.
The name Rabat is derived from the Arabic word for ‘suburb’ as it was the suburb of the old capital Mdina. Rabat is home to the famous Catacombs of St.Paul.
This catacombs were used in Roman times to bury the dead as, according to Roman culture, it was unhygienic to bury the dead in the city Mdina, and parts of Rabat were built on top of an ancient Roman city.
Interesting facts about Rabat
Part of St.Paul’s Catacombs, the part accessible from the Parish church which is dedicated to the same Saint, was where according to tradition and as recorded in the Bible, St. Paul stayed for three months when he was shipwrecked on the island.
The complex was perhaps abandoned, and to some extent despoiled, during the Saracenic period, when burial customs changed dramatically to suit the practices of the new conquerors. Part of the catacombs were reutilized during the re-Christianisation of the Island, around the 13th century, when open space was re-cut and used as a Christian shrine decorated with murals.
Although much smaller when compared to the catacombs of Rome and other large Roman centres, the catacombs of St Paul are a good example of the Maltese underground architecture, which is the result of an indigenous development that was barely influenced by overseas traditions.