What to do when in Rabat & Mdina
This might be slightly biased, yet these two wonderful towns are probably the nicest we have to be grateful for. This is our special on the area and its surroundings, if you want to get your hands on some raw Maltese history. We will be going into the attractions that should not be missed and others that you might be interested in.
The main attractions in Rabat would have to be the catacombs of St. Paul and those of St. Agatha, the Domvs Romana – located just outside the Mdina bastions – and the National Archives.
The catacombs were used to bury the deceased, due to it being unhygienic to do so in the main city. St. Paul’s catacombs are looked after by Heritage Malta, and it is said to be the place St. Paul stayed whilst on the island after he was shipwrecked. At St. Agatha’s catacombs there are over 500 graves of various forms and it is sectioned off for Pagans, Jews and Christians.
The Domvs Romana is a ruined Roman-era house, built in the 1st century BC. It was used as an aristocratic town house. During the 11th century though a Muslim cemetery was established on the remains of the house. The site was rediscovered in 1881 and several Roman mosaics were found to be preserved. It has been a public museum since 1882. The mosaics are still very much intact and the museum also stores a good amount of 1st century AD statues of the Roman family along with several coins, glassware, tableware, bath accessories, amphorae and other artifacts found in the domvs.
They are open from 9-5p.m. and they offer a cultural ticket that includes the Domvs, St. Paul’s Catacombs and National Museum of Natural History (Mdina) and the sightseeing train.
These catacombs are an interconnected web of underground Roman cemeteries that were used up unto the 4th century AD. They provided the earliest evidence of Christianity in Malta. It was cleared and investigated in 1894.
Reasons to visit
– largest late Roman underground cemetery in Malta
– burial ground from Punic and Roman times
It is also open from 9-5p.m.
The National Archives works to preserve the memory and records of the island, which is not easy. The National Archives is in conversation with various other institutions to be able to retrieve records and information that should be stored in a state house. They also work to save everything digitally, so they deal with preserving paper records as well as emails, films, audio-tapes, photographs among others.
You can easily make an appointment and be shown round the archives. Or how about going there to actually look up some information of family members and people who came from abroad.
There are various old, quite unique buildings and houses you will be able to see as you walk through the streets. If you want to go around the churches there are many you will be able to visit, all are in walking distance from each other.
Interestingly parts of the films ‘Munich’ and ‘Black Eagle’ were filled in Rabat.
It might also be a great idea to grab the bus, or drive to Dingli. It is located on the outskirts of Rabat, possibly a 10-15 minute drive. The village itself is quaint and pleasant to walk through. If you feel like a bit of a hike you might want to head over to Dingli Cliffs, to look out onto the sea and the island of Filfla. There are also places you can stop at to boost your energy, one is also organic.
Along the way you will also reach the bit of greenery which is called Buskett. Thanks to this we can boast of our own little bit of forest. Buskett Gardens also happens to be the home of our Presidential Palace, Verdala. Walking through the Gardens you will be able to see various types of trees such as orange, cactus, Mediterranean pines and cypress, vineyards, olive and lemon groves.
Mdina is the gem of the island, it is known as ‘the silent city’ or ‘citta’ vecchia/notabile’. It is a fortified city that served as the island’s capital for a while, until the arrival of The Order of St. John in 1530.
The number of inhabitants is still restricted and thought there might be a house or palazzo up for sale, the houses are usually inherited and stay within the family.
The city was originally larger, yet it was reduced to its current size during the Byzantine occupation.
What is there to do in Mdina?
Apart from the Cathedral and its museum you might want to visit Palazzo Vilhena or the National Museum of Natural History.
This is a masterpiece designed by Lorenzo Gafa in the 17th century. Its facade dominates the piazza landscape and its dome dominates the Mdina profile.
From inside it’s simply another world. There are various works of art by the famous Mattia Preti and a gorgeous organ. This Cathedral is worth a visit and if you want to stay to celebrate mass they have a regular schedule.
This is the magisterial palace, named after Antonio Manoel de Vilhena – the Grand Master who commissioned it. The palace was used as a hospital in the 19th and 20th centuries, and became known as Connaught Hospital after 1909.
Since 1973 it has been used as a history museum.
The main exhibits of the museum are various acquisitions and collections of natural history material, particularly local biota.
Reasons to visit
– collection of rocks and minerals
– largest squid found in Maltese waters
– large collection of birds
Other sites of interest
– Mdina Dungeons
– Mdina Experience
Mdina was the site used to film parts of the first series of Game of Thrones – it was used as the capital city of King’s Landing.
There are various bars, cafes and restaurants that are great to stop at and enjoy the views from the highest point on the island. Mdina and Rabat are both worth a visit if you’re just planning on walking through the streets. Enjoy the buildings, different balconies, stone work, the breeze and other fine details!