Rabat Tourist Attractions

Rabat (pop. 12,000) has a Roman villa discovered in 1881, with a beautiful mosaic pavement; two Early Christian burial-places, St Paul's Catacombs and Ste Agatha's Catacombs; and St Paul's Church, built over the prison in which the Apostle was confined after his shipwreck off Malta in A.D. 60.

Roman Villa and Museum

The villa probably belonged to a wealthy Roman merchant or a senior official. The siting has an Italian flair, looking west over the valley towards what is now Mtarfa.
The villa and its grounds were first excavated in 1881. The clean Neo-Classical temple museum building now camouflaged by a forecourt of citrus trees was built in 1921-24 during the second round of excavations.
Not all the museum's exhibits were unearthed within the villa's grounds. Among the artifacts and architectural fragments is an olive-pipper found in Marsaxlokk, parts of flourmills made from Italian lava, and tombstones. The cabinets display terra-cotta ornaments, theatrical masks, glassware, amphorae, lamps from Imperial Rome and a section of fine mosaic from the villa.
The corner stairs lead down to what remains of the villa itself. The main attraction is the now-roofed square mosaic-covered atrium, or central court, enclosed by 16 columns, only one of which is original. The whole of this area would have been roofed except for the impluvium of two birds sitting on a water bowl, from which rainwater would drain to the cistern in the corner. The two rooms off the atrium were, on the left, the triclinium or dining room, which housed the mosaic in the museum, and the reception room. Some heavy-handed restoration has left the remaining mosaics in poor order. In the small annex are relics from later Arabic graves found within the grounds.
Other items in the courtyard include the famous motif of an astonished open-mouthed woman from a mosaic's border, a blurred scene of either a satyr being teased by maenads (orgiastic nymphs) or Delilah and Samson, and marble statues and busts including Octavia, the mother of Emperor Claudius.

Grotto and Parish Church of St Paul

Tradition has stated that during his enforced three-month stay in Malta, and while a prisoner of the island's Roman governor, Publius, St Paul eschewed the comfortable surroundings offered to him and chose this subterranean grotto instead. This seems unlikely, although it is possible that he preached from here.
The statue of St Paul was donated by Grand Master Pinto in 1748 and the silver galley hanging from the ceiling was the gift of the Knights of St John in 1960 to mark the 1,900-year anniversary of St Paul's shipwreck. The eight coat of arms are of each of the langues.
Pope John Paul prayed in the grotto while on his visit in May 1990.

Sanctuary of St Publius

Annexed to both the Church and Grotto of St Paul is the Sanctuary of St Publius. The Spaniard came to Malta in about 1600 to become a knight. Upon seeing the grotto he changed his mind and became a hermit. A sanctuary was built in his honor here in 1617. Lorenzo Gafa completely reworked the structure in 1692 and his brother Melchiorre executed the marble statue of St Paul. The altarpiece of St Publius is by Mattia Preti.

Parish Church of St Paul

The Parish Church of St Paul (1656-81) in Rabat was one of the first on the island to be built on a grand Latin-cross scale and has been altered many times. The author of the slightly overworked three-pediment Baroque facade is probably Francesco Buonamici. Lorenzo Gafa is thought to have had a hand in the vaulting and dome in 1692 while working on the neighboring sanctuary. In an enormous gilded frame, the famous painting "The Shipwreck of St Paul" (1683) by Stefano Erardi depicts a very dry St Paul shaking off the viper in front of an astonished gathering of "barbarians" and Romans, as his ship is pounded by the stormy seas.

Catacombs of St Catald (St Paul and Ste Agatha)

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