Handsome churches and beautiful underground catacombs attract visitors to the historic town of Rabat. Located on the west of Malta Island, the town’s winding streets are dominated by medieval architecture and memoirs to the Roman Empire. Rabat runs to a very relaxed rhythm, and the town is pedestrianised with many of the establishments honouring the daily tradition of siesta. Rabat comes to life in the late afternoon when espresso mugs and red wine glasses start to adorn the many cafe terraces.
The St Paul and St Agatha catacombs are a natural starting point for any visit to Rabat. These are a memoir to when the Romans buried the dead on the outskirts of Mdina city, on the ground that would evolve into Rabat town during the 16th century. Traditional houses line up around the catacombs, and two of these have been converted into historical museums. The rest of the town is distinguished by an astonishing number of charming stone churches and basilicas, marking almost every street with ringing bells and statues of the Virgin Mary. Cafes and restaurants are clustered around the town’s various squares, and they have a distinctly local feel compared to other destinations in Malta.
Most of Rabat’s attractions are within an easy walk of the town’s small bus terminal. From here there are regular connections to Valletta and other towns on Malta Island. When walking, look out for remnants of the old city walls, found hiding amongst the architecture.
There are thousands of graves beneath Rabat, spread across multiple catacombs. Unusual frescos mark many of the gravestones, and the underground labyrinth is demarcated into sections dependent on the religion of the deceased. There’s a fascinating cellar beneath Wignacourt Museum that hasn’t been sanitised for tourists, home to musty smells and strange gravestones.