Exploring Paleo-Christian Catacombs in Salina
Is it possible to find new places to discover after 13 years living in Malta? That even a toddler can enjoy? Yes, it is! This time I would like to tell you a little bit about the Paleo-Christian Catacombs in Salina and how you can easily get to them. The best orientation point the Chapel of the Annunciation, so let’s start here.
This chapel appears in documentation in 1618. The two side buttresses alongside the two walls were added in 1776 to prevent the walls from sliding out. Today the chapel forms part of the parish of Burmarrad. It’s still functioning and if you would like to attend a mass you can do so on Saturdays.
There are couple of parking spots available and it’s generally very quiet, so you shouldn’t have a problem with parking. Feel free to walk around the chapel and when you ready, come back here, facing the chapel. From this position, the catacombs will be on your right.
There is a sign, which informs you that there are indeed Paleo-Christian Catacombs. This signposted public pathway, which leads to the catacombs, passes though private agricultural land. Please be respectful and simply follow the path. It’s beautiful here, so let’s keep it that way. 🙂
Soon you will come to this opening, which will reveal the Paleo-Christian Catacombs. This is relatively unknown, small, but not less important legacy from Malta’s Roman period. These catacombs are believed to be dated to the 2nd or 3rd century AD. Such burial site is an important record of the sizable community that must have lived in the area.
Now it’s time to start exploring! The site consists of a number of smaller tomb groups clustered around a rectangular court. They are cut in the rock, which must have been an ancient limestone quarry. The catacombs are well maintained, clean, easily accessible and free to visit.
I’m always very respectful and probably a bit scared of these places for some reason. But my son, wasn’t afraid at all. Him and his dad were full on with their explorations!
I have to say, the ceilings are not very high and being a tall person I had to be very careful to avoid painful encounters with the hard limestone.
In the picture below you can see perfectly preserved c-shaped dining ‘table’ also known as the agape table, which was used for commemorative meals. It is carved in its entirety out of the living rock! The agape tables generally rise around 60cm above ground level and in the Maltese catacombs are about 75cm in diameter. The small open section of the rim had most likely rather practical than ceremonial function. It is assumed, that this opening made it easier to clean and wash the table after the meals.
This hypogeum also features two baldacchino tombs, rarely found outside of the Rabat catacombs. These two window tombs that surround the agape table suggest that it was an important feature of the catacombs.
The catacombs contain different types and shapes of graves. Some of the graves are wide enough to hold the remains of two individuals lying side by side.
It’s worthwhile to mention that Malta’s Paleo-Christian heritage with its hypogea and burial rites, is considered among the most important in the early Christian world, in particular because some of the rituals constitute a mixture of religious rites performed on the same site.
According to UNESCO, the mixed features of the Maltese catacombs are rarely equaled anywhere else in the Mediterranean. Our island is rich in these types of burial sites. There is certainly a need to stimulate and foster and increased awareness of Malta’s Paleo-Christian heritage.
I had to close off this blog with this picture as I really like this ‘window’ with the direct view of the chapel.
As usual, I pinned the exact location for you. You can see that the Catacombs are in the close proximity of the Ta’ Cassia Restaurant, if that helps with the orientation.