Rabat is a picturesque village located in the West of the island of Malta, next to the old capital city of Malta, Mdina. The name of the village is derived from the Semitic word ‘suburb’ as once Rabat was the suburb of Mdina. According to research, part of this village formed part of the ancient city in the past years.
For number of centuries, whilst Rabat and the surrounding areas served as a shelter from the constant pirate assaults, several religious orders including Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians have established themselves within the village confines. The mentioned religious orders are still flourishing here in their sizeable friaries and monasteries, catering for the religious needs of the village parishioners in their churches.
In the 19th century under the British Period, Rabat saw the introduction of new social services including the construction of the first primary school, medical and postal services, the upgrading of spring water and street lighting and the birth of the train service between Valletta and Rabat. During this period, the two music band clubs L’Isle Adam (1860) and Count Roger (1869) were founded.
Major developments in Rabat occurred in the 20th century. After the Second World War, the population has increased by approximately twelve thousand. This development has boosted the demand for new housing areas in Tal-Virtu and Ghajn Qattet. Today, this development separates the old part of the town from the modern part.
The village of Rabat houses number of churches, sanctuaries and chapels. The Parish church is dedicated to St. Paul. The feast of St. Paul is celebrated each year around the first week of July. Besides the feast of St. Paul, the local community of Rabat celebrates other village feasts throughout the year most notably the feasts of St. Joseph and Corpus Christi respectively.
Rabat played an important role in the country’s past and is a prime source of its cultural heritage. In fact the Catacombs of St. Paul are the earliest archaeological evidence of Christianity in Malta. Together with the Catacombs of St. Agatha, these were used in the Roman period to lay the lifeless body to rest as Romans believed that it is not hygienic to bury the dead in the city. Early Christians used to meet and celebrate mass in these Catacombs.
Both complexes host number of hypogea and large halls.
The Catacombs are located in a pleasant natural environment among trees and shrubs. The Catacombs of St. Paul hosts a Visitor centre which displays an informative collection. Both Catacombs host a number of medieval frescoes, some dating back to the 12th century and also Agape tables which according to studies, these tables were used to host commemorative meals during the annual festival of the dead. During this ceremony, the rites of burials were renewed.
A well-known attraction with tourists is the Domvs Romana (Roman Villa) which was discovered in the late 1800s. The Villa gives a picture of how the Romans used to live whilst they were ruling the island of Malta. The building houses fine Roman mosaic pavements, Muslim tombstones located at the back of the Villa, marble statutes and terracotta ornaments, amongst others. An interesting feature if you are visiting the centre of the courtyard is the symbol of the two birds resting on the edge of a bowl called the Drinking Doves of Sosos. This was originally painted by Sosos.
The centre of Rabat hosts the Parish Church of St. Paul and St. Paul’s Grotto. According to the tradition, Apostle St. Paul have used on of these caves for his apostolic work. Therefore, this cave is considered as the foundation site of the Catholic Church in Malta. Pilgrims including Pope John Paul II showed their respect for this grotto which is considered as a sacred place.
Next to the Parish church of St. Paul’s, one will find the Wignacourt Museum. The three storey museum hosts several exhibitions which portray local and foreign artists’ masterpieces on the ground floor. Another floor hosts a collection of Punic-Roman artefacts and other items including coins and medals, maps, books, religious vestments, portraits, sculptures, ceramics and pottery. The main climax of this Museum is the Treasurer’s Room where the treasurer has slept. The underground of Wignacourt Musuem which is a World War II air raid shelter houses the 2000 year old Christian and Punic Roman catacombs with 44 rooms which are linked to the St. Paul’s Parish church by a tunnel.
A 16th century medieval palazzo which is the private house of a Maltese Noble family is located in St. Paul’s Street. The Palazzo houses architectural features including the balcony, an authentic 16th century front door, a barrel-vaulted hallway and a chapel in the underground floor. One can explore the interior which includes antique furniture, paintings and objet d’art with one of the guided tours available in the Palazzo.
A visit to the silent city, Mdina is a must. The old capital city houses Cathedral dedicated to St. Paul’s, chapels, museums, palaces, medieval, baroque architecture and narrow streets. The medieval town is one of Europe’s finest examples of an ancient walled city.
Today, the town became one of the leading commercial centres on the island of Malta. Rabat is famous for its own agricultural products and it is also established on the tourist map due to its historical and archaeological venues. The picturesque streets and piazzas of Rabat also attract well-known movie directors as parts of the movie Munich and Black Eagle were filmed here.