One of Malta’s most important archaeological sites from the Early Christian period is the St. Paul’s Catacombs. Built underground, catacombs are large areas where the dead were buried, especially during the Early Christian period.
St. Paul, one of the saints chosen by Christian countries, gave his name to these catacombs. Born in Tarsus, Paul became a Christian after Jesus appeared to him. After meeting Jesus’ apostles James, Peter and Barnabas, St. Paul set out to spread Christianity and followed the route of Cyprus, Anatolia and Thessaloniki. On his way to Rome, St. Paul had a shipwreck on the way to Malta and had to stay in Malta for a while. It is believed that St. Paul lived in a cave in Rabat for 3 months during his stay. Today, there is a church called Grotto and Parish Church of St. Paul above the cave called St. Paul’s Grotto. You can see the cave by entering this church.
Catacombs are also located in the area where the church is located. First discovered in 1894 by Maltese archaeologist Dr. Antonio Annetto Caruana, the catacombs of St. Paul’s Catacombs contain burials from the 4th to the 9th century. Catacomb means underground tomb and is formed by carving the rocks underground.
Rabat, one of the cities of Malta, is known for hosting the catacombs of St. Paul and St. Agatha. In Roman times, according to the Roman culture, the dead buried in Mdina or in ancient cities must have been buried in such a way because they created an unhygienic environment.
The Catacombs of St. Paul on the island of Malta are the largest of the catacombs at 2000 square meters. Over 1000 graves, mostly children’s graves, have been found. Not only Christians but also pagans and Jews were found in the catacomb complex.
In the same area, there are also the Catacombs of St. Agatha. Located in the garden of a church, these tombs are about 50 meters away from St. Paul’s Tombs and smaller in size than St. Paul’s.
Some, but not all, of the tombs are open for curious visitors. As you wander through the tombs, it feels like a labyrinth. You can pass from one burial chamber to another through gaps wide enough for a single person to pass through.
When you first enter the museum before entering the catacombs, you can closely examine many artifacts such as skeletons, skulls and pottery buried next to them.