Rabat Heritage Sites

Trip Start Oct 11, 2012
Trip End Nov 19, 2012

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Where I stayed
British Hotel Valletta
Read my review - 4/5 stars
What I did
Domus Romana
Museum of Natural History - Rabat
St Pauls Church & Museum - Mdina
St Pauls Catacombs
Villa de Piro

Flag of Malta  , Island of Malta,
Saturday, November 17, 2012

I think my cold has taken a turn for the worse...my nose is stuffy and needs blowing and my throat feels congested again.  Hmmm, I should have been over this by now.  What a drag!

So today was another busy day.  I woke up earlier but didn't get up until 7ish when I tried to get into high gear despite my cold symptoms.  I washed my "smalls," the British term I learned for my underwear and sox - at least I think it covers sox as well.  After packing up the computer and organizing, I went down to breakfast.  The hotel staffperson was very helpful and since I was the only one there for awhile, we chatted about the weather now, in Malta in general, and about the boats in the harbor.  A big boat was coming in - he could tell by the pilot boat that preceded it.  I learned that the big boat yesterday was a cruise ship, the big boat across the harbor was a pricey yacht - probably owned by someone from Saudi Arabia or Qatar and I learned about the British Navy and US fleet ships that have passed through here too.  He told me a little bit about the Maltese language and promised to show me where the Saturday Market was.  After I left, on my way to Rabat, I checked out the market but, except for euro boxers, I didn't see much that appealed.

I hopped on a bus that I hoped was going to Rabat-Mdina since it didn't have stops posted in it.  It did go there and a whole bunch of people got off, so I got off too.  I probably could have gone one stop farther to bring me to the Mdina but it was a quick walk.  I found the Museum of Natural History immediately but decided to walk around the Mdina to take a few photos first.  Not many people were around yet - it was around 9:30 I think.  I asked directions to St Paul's Catacombs but then decided I might as well check out St Paul's Cathedral and Museum (not part of my Heritage pass) while I was in the Mdina rather than circling back. 

The Museum was quite extensive - it started with silver and other items collected by the clergy and wealthy patrons.  Then there was a collection of coins used in Malta through the ages - Carthaginian, Roman, Macedonian, British, French, et al.  I was amazed at how perfect some of the coins seemed - I tried to remember the best ones but now I have forgotten - the portrait was someone I remembered from Roman history though - maybe I will remember later.  Maybe Marcus Aurelius??  Another surprising thing was that the Roman emperors' wives also had coins minted in their likenesses - quite a few of them.  There were silk brocade chasubles and bishop's mitre hats donated by the bishops I guess.  Halls were filled with paintings and furniture - all part of the church's collection.  One other notable part of the exhibit was the Albrecht Durer engraving collection - sets of the Life of Mary and the Passion of Christ.  I really enjoyed looking at some of the details and the overall compositions. 

From the Church Museum, I went to St Paul's Church itself and marveled again at the marble tombstones covering the floor of the church.  Here the designs seemed less involved with symbols of death and more involved with symbols of clerical careers with hats signifying the different rungs of the career ladder.  There were other motifs as well, including chickens, but I have no idea of their significance.  The church was quite sumptuously decorated but had scaffolding and braces obstructing good views.  I loved the chandeliers and spent quite a bit of time trying to take photos of them as well as of the tombstones.  The third part of the the St Paul's ticket was to a villa with temporary exhibits and a cafe.  I looked at the rosary exhibit and then stopped for a cappuccino and blueberry-apple crumble because I was hungry and it was now past noon.

At this point, I stayed in the Mdina to go to the Natural History Museum - this was quickly dispatched.  I looked at the geological exhibit with the 5 strata of Malta:  coral, limestone, clay, greensand and more coral I think.  Different areas of Malta and Gozo have different layers with the Western half being hillier.  I zipped through the animals but really liked the animal skeletons, including a bat skeleton.  I spent some time looking at the stuffed birds to see if I could distinguish any that I had "seen" in Ethiopia.  The shell exhibit was interesting and I wish I had more time to go over it more thoroughly but I felt I had to rush to make sure I had time for the catacombs.  There was a mineral exhibit in another wing - I think it was the old museum, but not much else there.  This building had also been a palace and had lovely staircases and a Maltese cross inlaid in the marble floor.

Now it was time to leave the Mdina (the walled part of the the city) and enter regular Rabat - or so it seemed as if that were what I was doing.  On my way out, I stopped at tourist info and picked up a map - to find out that Domus Romana was nearest to the Mdina so I went there first - it was included in my Heritage Pass.  They had a quite modern exhibit - very nicely done I thought.  The floor mosaics were the primary draw here.  This building was also discovered by workers digging to build something - I forgot what it was now.  There were some ruins of additional buildings out in back that are being worked on.  The Roman domus itself is not reconstructed but the exhibit shows how a Roman domus (town-house) would look and describes the various functions of the rooms.

Now to follow the map to the Catacombs.  I inquired at a souvenir shop and before I could even ask, the man told me to head down the street for the catacombs.  Do I look ghoulish??  I was grateful for the help though.  I hear something loud outside - probably a big boat.  Nope, don't see one out there.  I love the view from this room - I get to see all kinds of boats coming through - especially in the morning, but the hotel staff person says a lot come through during the night as well - waiting for the price of oil, or whatever, to rise.  At least, that is what I thought he said.

So I got my audio guide for the Catacombs with my health insurance card as deposit.  Odd.  Have to remember to pick it up - oh, yeah, having that audio guide around my neck might clue me in.  There is a little garden behind the ticket area with some mausoleum-type structures.  I followed the guide and went down into the first one and found a few rooms.  One of the rooms had some niches carved out and one room had a round table carved out of the rock.  People used these for burial rituals - perhaps meals.  I am not sure whether they would be real meals or symbolic meals for the dead.  Sometime in February, annual feast days to commemorate the dead were celebrated by certain pagan peoples so they think that might have happened here.  After going into one or two of these smaller catacombs, I went down lower into the much larger underground burial site.  Here there were several large rooms - with more "tables" and lots more little rooms carved out with different sorts of burial places.  There were little niches in the walls for children, deeper slots in rows where multiple people were buried, and some special places for more special people that had stone roofs over the burial space - catafalques.  I tried to follow the audio guide from 5-14 and stop at the places the guide described but I couldn't always get to the right place - there were arrows pointing and hard to know sometimes where they ended.  In any case, it was quite fascinating.  I don't know whether all the bones or remains of the people had totally disintegrated, or what happened to them, but there were no bones there now.

I wasn't sure what time it was, but I suspected it was getting close to closing time....and I was hungry.  I asked the attendant for a restaurant recommendation.  He mentioned a place near the church that he thought was open.  I saw the Maltese platter on their posted menu, but when I went in and tried to order it, the waitress said they didn't have it because they had switched off the summer menu.  I looked at a few more places - one had the Maltese platter, but for 2.  I ended up back in the Mdina and decided to try the first restaurant/bistro I came across.  They had a Maltese platter and a Maltese pizza.  I decided on the pizza only to find out that it was not available until 6 pm, so I opted for the Maltese platter.  Odd, that was what I had originally wanted. 

Each one of these Maltese platters is different - I thoroughly enjoyed this one too - artichokes, a Maltese bean dip with soda crackers, pickled onions, Maltese sausages, olives, capers, greens, Maltese bread - a lovely salad.  I think I will try to make them at home.  I had to get a half bottle of wine since they didn't have glasses.  I had a Maltese cabernet sauvignon.  The little bottle had a cork and I had to give it the taste test and the waiter wrapped a napkin ingeniously around the bottle tucking the end into the depression in the bottom of the bottle.  I was a bit tipsy when I got up and tried to walk back to the bus terminal but managed to get a bus quite quickly.  And not get killed.

Back to Valletta, back to the British Hotel, back to my computer and photos and blogs....and soon back to sleep.

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