Boasting a population of around 11,497, Rabat is widely considered the birthplace of Maltese Christianity – filled with Ancient Roman and early Christian remains.
Throughout the centuries this cradle of Maltese heritage has gone from a suburb of Malta’s old capital to an expansive and vibrant town, whose locality is filled to the brim with sites to see and trails to explore.
Though Mdina may attract hundreds of thousands of tourists every year, one should not underestimate the sheer amount of things you can do in Rabat. Whether you like to explore the countryside or wander through historical streets, Rabat has something for you.
With the help of Ryde, here’s a Lovin Malta to this amazing place to visit.
1. Birthplace of Maltese Christianity
The area of Rabat (and by extent Mdina) is located upon a strategically important plateau on high ground, offering it as the perfect site for habitation. Thanks to this naturally defensible location, the site has been inhabited since Prehistory.
Rabat first came into prominence, however, during the times of the Phoenicians, where the area became the colony of Maleth around the 8th Century BC. By the time of Roman rule in 218 BC, Maleth was renamed Melite and the city grew to become a haven far from Rome’s politics.
It is here in Melite that, according to the Acts of the Apostles in the Bible, St Paul the Apostle stayed following his shipwreck on the island.
According to local tradition, after having been greeted by Melite’s governor, Publius, and curing his sick father Melite converted to Christianity and Publius supposedly became the first Bishop of Malta.
In particular, St Paul’s Grotto beneath the Parish Church is said to have been where the Patron Saint of the Maltese Islands preached to the citizens of Melite.
The various catacombs around Rabat, including St. Paul’s Catacombs and the Abbatija Tad-Dejr hypogeum, also offer some of the earliest signs of Christianity in Malta and are considered to be among the most important examples of Early Christian burial rituals south of Rome.
By the time of the Byzantine and Arab rulerships over Malta, Melite (which was renamed Medina) was resized, with modern-day Mdina becoming Malta’s capital city while Rabat grew from a suburb to a full-on town in its own right.
From there on, Rabat has stood as a centre of civilisation in the Maltese islands right up until the Knight’s rule over Malta where the population focuses were around Gozo’s Cittadella, Birgu and Mdina/Rabat.
2. The Festi of Rabat
Fitting for the birthplace of Christianity in Malta, Rabat is home it numerous feasts throughout the year with the feast of St Joseph and St Paul at the most notable.
19th March marks the feast of St Joseph, which many across the islands likely eagerly await as the return of Zeppoli. His feast celebrates the father of Jesus Christ yet also what is arguably Malta’s greatest dessert.
On the other hand, 5th July marks the feast of St Paul, the Patron Saint of Malta who is definitely a huge figure in our religious history.
3. Sites To See
Considering that the area of Rabat has been occupied since Prehistory, it is not surprising that Rabat has a huge range of sites to see and explore.
While much of its ancient history is harder to see in modern times, Rabat is truly highlighted by Roman ruins and Early Christian catacombs yet also, by the stunning countryside that one can explore.
In particular, anyone who visits Rabat has to visit the Domus Romana (also spelt Domvs Romana). Located just outside the gates of Mdina, the Roman Villa with its set of mosaic pavements has been ranked amongst the finest preserved in Europe.
Built in the 1st Century BC, the Domus Romana has been excavated to the discovery of well-preserved mosaics, statues of the Imperial Roman family, coins, tableware and many other artefacts depicting daily Roman life.
For those who’d prefer to explore Malta’s Christian history, Rabat is the perfect place for you with the option to explore around ten Churches, the Wignacourt Museum for a taste of Knights of Malta-era art and St Paul’s Grotto and finally the Catacombs of St Paul and St Agatha.
Should it happen to be open, the hypogeum of Abbatija Tad-Dejr is also particularly fascinating to explore, yet don’t get your hopes up as open days are very rare and far apart.
For the intrepid lovers of nature, you can venture out to the borders of Rabat’s locality to enjoy the sites of Fort Binġemma and walk across the Victoria lines – which run across five localities in total.
Walking through this often-overlooked part of Malta is both peaceful and lets you see more glimpses of Malta during the times of British rule.
4. The Food
When it comes to getting a bite to eat when in Rabat, sure you can just pop into Mdina. But why let the numerous, amazing restaurants of Rabat go underappreciated?
If you are visiting Rabat during the Feast of St Joseph, make sure to visit Bottegin Palazzo Xara to enjoy some of the islands best Zeppoli.
And who can forget some pastizzi? With the famous Crystal Palace nestled just outside Mdina’s gates.
If you want to enjoy what is considered Rabat’s best restaurant according to TripAdvisor, Fork & Cork is your choice. Enjoy a delicious selection of Mediterranean food with a menu that changes every season to offer customers a different experience with each visit.
For those wanting to enjoy a gem of a wine bar experience, L’Enoteca at the centre of Rabat will be your favourite pick.
With a wonderful selection of shareable food (including vegan-friendly options) combined with the perfect wines, L’Enoteca will let you enjoy a relaxing and pleasant evening in the heart of Rabat.
Given that Rabat has such a vast array of things to do, no doubt this cradle of heritage in Malta should be on everyone’s ‘must sees’ when visiting Malta.
What is your favourite part of Rabat? Let us know in the comments