Rabat, Malta

A Former Suburb in the Heart of Malta

If Mdina became the noble capital of the island, the Knights Hospitaller decided to sacrifice the fortification of present-day Rabat. The city outside the walls expanded. It survives as a popular and rural counterpoint to the now living museum in Mdina.

The summer and Mediterranean heat is the same inside and outside the walls.

In the improved and fortified interior of Mdina, an improvised and unkempt display of appliances and refrigeration solutions like the one we find on the street Wirja Ta'Vari it would be absolutely impossible.

Unlike the mother city, the neighbor does not feel the pressure to appear on the provisional list of the UNESCO, to look forward to joining the other three places in Malta declared a World Heritage Site.

In its assumed subservience, Rabat satisfies the villagers as best it can.

At the height of a brazier, an open-top truck is welcome, which exposes passers-by to electric fans, thermos, glaciers and the like, all of which are providential items.

In good southern European fashion, the city's pensioners have more to do than spend afternoons at home.

when we entered the King George V Cafe, under the arcades that face the Basilica of St. Paul, we find them in animated chatter, here and there, exalted with the luck of the cards.

In that dark refuge, between ancient and thick walls, the heat barely enters. If you do get in, it's disguised by the conviviality, the cold beers and the distraction of hungry and thirsty tourists, easy targets for the mornings that the employees reserve for them.

Inside the Vilhena Gate, in the streets of Mdina, only jalopies are used for elegant weddings and the occasional vehicle essential for maintenance.

Rabat, meanwhile, is at the mercy of the fleet of aging cars that roam the island.

And, in particular, of the many pseudo-prototypes tuning that young Maltese show off and drive wildly, even if they share the labyrinth of triqs (streets) of the city with carts, bicycles and other even slower vehicles.

In one of these tricks, Joseph Cappara advertises his blacksmith shop with an eccentric font sign that further promotes him as a supplier of British paints. In a blacksmith's house, the wooden skewer is common.

With a companion poster, announcing the Hammerite metal shield, the logo under a crest of armor and helm, Cappara dispels any doubts.

And it takes us back to Malta's golden age, between 1530 and 1798, when the Knights Hospitaller ruled and developed it as a satellite island of the Kingdom of Sicily.

The Secular Split between Mdina and Rabat

It was Girolamo Cassar, a military engineer from the Hospitallers, who, by decreeing a substantial reduction of the walled Mdina, caused the definitive division of the spaces of Mdina and Rabat.

No middle of the Mediterranean, Malta has long been coveted.

Arabs, Ottomans and others saw it as a Christian trophy alternative to Holly Land. Unsurprisingly, the safest place from these arch enemies was the middle of the island.

Lacking space within the walls of Mdina, the religious orders allied with the Hospitallers installed themselves and their temples in the vicinity of the fortress.

So did Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians.

After four centuries, protected to match, these orders resist. They proliferate in their monasteries and convents.

They are the spiritual guarantors of the long-standing Maltese, the remission of their copious and assorted sins, from their obsession with tuning, to the scams carried out by cafes, restaurants and bars on unsuspecting tourists.

Corner behind corner, Rabat reveals much more than just your everyday life.

It reveals, for example, the simple but stunning architecture of Palazzo Xara, as well as a restaurant, a band club with scrolls.

The Roman Domvs, a Prodigious Legacy of Old Melite

One of the city's unavoidable heritages, the Domv's Romana local, arises over the border between Mdina and Rabat. It takes us back to even more distant times when the city was neither one nor the other.

Around the XNUMXst century BC, Malta was part of the already vast Roman Empire. For a significant part of the more than five hundred years that it dominated Europe, North Africa and Asia Minor, Rome made good use of the small island below the Italian Peninsula.

As the Empire expanded, it highlighted aristocrats charged with managing and developing Melite, the former capital.

The aediles were installed in sumptuous mansions, arranged around colonnaded courtyards, their divisions decorated with polychromatic mosaics in the appropriate Hellenic style.

Who, like us, visits it, discovers, in Domv's Romana a prodigious survivor.

From the passing of centuries.

And the conversion into a cemetery that the Fatimid Caliphate subjected it to in the XNUMXth century, when it was buried under at least two hundred and forty-five graves of Arab subjects.

That was how it remained when, in 1881, landscape workers became aware of the unusual overlap, which was soon confirmed by a team of archaeologists.

A Domv's Romana stands out as one of the oldest underground attractions in Rabat.

Far from being the only one.

The Grotto and Catacombs of São Paulo: An Incursion into the Depths of Rabat's History

Traveled a mere 650m through the Triqs San Pawl e Saint Agata, we enter the so-called Catacombs of São Paulo.

These galleries, even more carved and gilded by artificial lighting, were used as a cemetery for both the Phoenicians and the Romans who, for reasons of hygiene, prohibited graves in the urban space of Melite.

They were in use until at least the XNUMXth century.

And again, during the conversion of the island to XNUMXth century Christianity.

Despite the myth that they were connected with it, the Catacombs of São Paulo should not be confused with the homonymous grotto, accessible from the church of Saint Publius, a temple to the right of the nave of the Basilica of Saint Paul.

From the Shipwreck on the Coast of Malta to the Sanctification of the Apostle Saint Paul

a current of History argues that the Romans took the apostle Paul to Rome to be judged as a political rebel when a fulminating storm caused the ship in which he was following to sink.

Paulo and the other passengers on board would have managed to swim to Malta. Another richer narrative adds that, during the forced stay,

Paul took refuge in this same cave, now under the basilica. When winter came, he was invited by Publius, the Roman leader of the island, to his house.

In those days, Paul cured an intense fever that afflicted the Roman. Recognized, Publius converted to Christianity and was consecrated the first Bishop of Malta.

Also Paul was sanctified. It continues to be revered on the island.

A century after the church was built (1653-83), the 68th Grand Master of the Hospitallers (1741-73), Manuel Pinto da Fonseca, originally from Lamego, donated a statue of the saint that remains in the apostle's grotto.

The grotto and the basilica of São Paulo, in turn, have already received three papal visits.

From John Paul II, in 1990 and 2001, and from Pope Benedict XVI, in 2010.

At the end of the afternoon, we appreciate how the baroque facade of the basilica repels the shadow that takes over the esplanade of the King George V Cafe and the square that separates it from the religious domain.

Santa Marija Tal-Virtù: Malta's Demonized Chapel

For the worst reasons, another Rabat temple shook the city's and Malta's Catholic foundations. The Santa Marija Tal-Virtù chapel ceased to be used after the end of the 2nd World War. Years later, a German investor bought the building and surrounding land.

For a long time, he ignored them.

Aware of its abandonment, of how remote it was, a sect of Satanists made the chapel a place of worship. He impregnated it with inverted crucifixes, carved and filled with tar, on the walls, on the floor and even on the old altar.

The German owner passes away. Shortly after, a Maltese contractor takes over the restoration of the building. When the work begins, in addition to the recent Satanic work, it exposes a crypt over 2000 years old, with writings, however, identified as Romans.

Rabat is made up of these adventures and misadventures of history, so many of them underground, concentrated in a few kilometers2 and that would continue to take place, even in a longer text.

Wignacourt Museum: Exhibition of Historical Art on Aircraft Shelters

Let's take up the theme of the 2nd World War, let's go back to the surroundings of St. Paul's Basilica.

Over there, just cross another triq, to Kullegg, to reach the famous Wignacourt Museum, three floors full of works of art by Maltese and foreign creators, of Punic-Roman artefacts.

There we also find what is its star space, the Treasurer's Room of the Chaplains of the Knights Hospitallers, including those of the 54th Grand Master of the Order, the Frenchman Alof de Wignacourt, who gave the museum its name.

If, on the surface, the Wignacourt Museum is all this, underground, it is based on a hypogeum connected to the other catacombs and on air-raid shelters where the population of Rabat, Mdina and other parts of malta sheltered from the Axis bombings.

From WWII Recovery to Cold War Movie Setting

The Nazis and Italian Fascists sought to prevent the Allies from supplying British troops stationed in Egypt and, at the same time, from breaking their connection to the forces they held in Libya.

Malta was slow to recover from the atrocities. Mdina and Rabat suffered little damage compared to the damage caused by the more than three thousand raids and six thousand seven hundred tons of bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe and the Regia Aeronáutica on the Port of Valletta.

Since the end of the last great war, Rabat has lived in the peace of God, sponsored by the various churches. Among the commotions worth noting there, there are only a few footage.

Of the "Munich, "In Steven Spielberg, of the "Black Eagle”, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, in the middle of the Cold War.

And the successive tourist invasions that Malta has long since learned to live with.

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