St Paul’s Catacombs are located in Rabat on the outskirts of the old Roman capital Melite (today’s Mdina). Serving as a burial ground from Punic and Roman times, the site represents the earliest and largest archaeological evidence of Christianity in Malta. The association to Saint Paul derives from the myth that this cluster of catacombs was once connected with St Paul’s Grotto.
If you’re in Malta, then chances are you’ll want to visit the ancient walled city of Mdina. St. Paul’s Catacombs are walking distance from Mdina and at only €6 entry fee plus €3.5M from the EU, they are worth a visit.
I booked an eCabs taxi via their iPhone app and the cost from Hilton Malta in St. Julian’s to Mdina was €18. I also purchased a Mdina and Rabat combined cultural experience ticket for €15 per person online in advance. This was mostly because I thought that the sightseeing train took you from Mdina to the St Paul’s Catacombs in Rabat. Once there, we found that the sightseeing train was comically bad and that you can walk from Mdina to the Catacombs. So I wouldn’t bother with this ticket as the Catacombs is only €6.
What looks like an old entrance is closed and you need to walk further along the street to a newly-built visitor centre, with two staff, then walk back to be behind the original entrance. And that is just to view the largest Catacomb – the rest are across the street.
The visitor centre is fully accessible, with a ramp for those unable to use stairs. And while I fully support the implementation of accessibility, the Catacombs themselves are only accessible via steep stairs. In addition, the requirement for a ramp is only because the original gate was abandoned in favour of this new centre on stilts. I started to sense that this was one of those classic EU ‘gold-plated toilet’ Projects.
The largest Catacomb was impressive, with floors covered by illuminated, raised, metal walkways. The best part is, that you can wander around freely – not stuck in a tour group, with a guide droning on about the history and offering anecdotes.
I’m not sure if the metal walkways are intended to protect the ground beneath, or, make it easier underfoot, but they have the effect of making the already low ceilings even lower. Watch your heads!
We exited the first Catacomb site and crossed the street to a manned entry booth.
The second series of Catacombs are set over a larger area. There are many smaller Catacombs, each with their own entrance and stairs down – most don’t extend much further than the bottom of the stairs. Unless your an archaeologist, it’s pretty much ‘seen one, seen them all’.
Several huts have been installed around the site, each containing some pictures and information, all fully accessible.
There’s also a coffee and gift shop.
We enjoyed our visit, but the excess caused by the inflated EU grant money was obvious. I can’t imagine why so many buildings are required, when everything could be combined in a central visitor centre. I also wonder what archaeological impact these buildings have on such an historic site.
There was obviously still some cash left over to produce this bizarre video, more suited to a cosmetic advert.
I’m not saying that I didn’t enjoy watching an attractive girl wander around the Catacombs – but really?
St. Paul’s Catacombs
St. Agatha Street,
Rabat RBT 2013
Tel: +356 21 454 562
June to October
Monday to Sunday: 09.00 – 18.00hrs (last admission at 17.30hrs)
November to May
Monday to Sunday: 09.00 – 17.00hrs (last admission at 16.30hrs)
Closed on 24, 25 & 31 December, 1 January & Good Friday