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under phoenician influence

From 1000 BC the power of the Phoenicians extended all over the Mediterranean. The Phoenicians - a nation of traders from the present Lebanon - dominated the most important trade routes and had strongholds at several points. Malta came under Phoenician influence as well, most probably since the 8th century BC. They called the island Malat , which meant something like 'safe harbour' in the Phoenician language. The prehistoric temple of Tas-Silg was reconstructed and dedicated to the goddess Astarte. In 1697 two candelabra were found with inscriptions in both the Phoenician language and in Greek. These candelabra have been of great importance for the deciphering of the Phoenician language. One of them is at present in the Louvre in Paris, the other one is in the National Archaeological Museum in Valletta.

Candelabrum with inscriptions in Phoenician and Greek Catacombs - subterranean burial complexes from Roman times

the romans

The centre of power in the Phoenician empire shifted from the main land in present Lebanon to the colony of Carthage in what is nowadays known as Tunisia. Against the Carthaginians, the Romans fought several battles, the so called Punic Wars. During the second Punic war, in 218 BC, Malta fell into the hands of the Romans. The Romans called the island Melita , probably a corruption of the Phoenician Malat . The present name Malta is derived from it. The capital was also called Melita and was situated at the hilltop of the present city of Mdina. But Melita was larger than Mdina and included parts of Rabat. In Rabat there are still some traces of the Roman presence in Malta, like the mosaic floors of a Roman house from the 1st century AD. Furthermore there are some catacombs in Rabat, subterranean burial complexes that were in use during the Roman and early christian period.

Mosaic in the Roman Villa in Rabat Statue of Saint Paul in St. Paul's Grotto in Rabat

saint paul's shipwreck

In the year 60 AD an event took place that is comprehensively described in the Bible: the shipwreck of the apostle Paul (Acts of the Apostles 27 and 28) . According to the legend this shipwreck took place at St. Paul's Bay. Saint Paul stayed in Malta for three months and performed a number of miracles, like the healing of the father of Publius, the Roman governor. Publius became the first bishop of Malta. Tradition has it, that St. Paul converted the Maltese to christianity, but there is no historical evidence to prove it. The first signs of the existence of a christian community in Malta date back to not earlier than the fourth century. Nevertheless Saint Paul is regarded as the one who brought christianity to Malta; Saint Paul is the patron saint of Malta and the cathedral of Mdina is dedicated to him.

Niche statue of Saint Paul in Mqabba St. Paul's Island, where Saint Paul shipwrecked

 hints for visitors

There are not many Phoenician remains in Malta. The temple of Tas-Silg cannot be visited. In Gozo you can see the rock-cut Phoenician sanctuary at Ras il-Wardija, behind the village of Kercem. To be able to find this temple, you will need a good map and you should not be afraid of a long walk. In Western Malta you may come across Phoenician tombs, most of which are indicated on good tourist maps.

Worthwhile is a visit to the Museum of Roman Antiquities in Rabat, usually called the Roman Villa. Here you can see the remains of a Roman patrician house, of which some mosaic floors have been preserved reasonably well.

You can also visit several catacombs, like St. Paul's Catacombs and St. Agatha's Catacombs, both in Rabat.

For those who want to follow in the footsteps of Saint Paul, a visit can be recommended to San Pawl Milqi in Burmarrad and Saint Paul's Grotto under the parish church of Rabat.

The chapel of San Pawl Milqi with Roman remains


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