Although not so much haunted as St. Paul’s catacombs, St. Agatha’s historical complex attracts a lot of tourists, who are interested in archeology and in the history of early Christianity. The complex includes mysterious catacombs with ancient tombs, fabulous St. Agatha’s crypt with age-old frescoes, an acting church of the 16th century dedicated to the martyr and a tiny, but exciting archeological museum.
As early as in the Phoenician-Punic period, local catacombs were used as a burial place for inhabitants of an ancient Greek city that once occupied the site of today's Mdina and Rabat. According to traditions of that time, the cemetery had to be arranged outside city walls and later this tradition was adopted by the Romans. In the times of ancient Rome, pagans, Jews and Christians were buried in the catacombs, but along with this Maltese Christians began to utilize the underground labyrinth as a venue for their secret religious services and rituals, when they were persecuted by the Roman emperors.
According to a local legend, in the middle of the third century, St. Agatha, who is one of the most famous and revered saints of early Christianity, made a getaway from Sicily and found shelter in Maltese catacombs, trying to escape from persecution, initiated by emperor Decius’s anti-Christian laws. The legend says that St. Agatha prayed in a tiny underground basilica carved in the rock of the local labyrinths. Later, after the dramatic death of the martyr, this crypt was named after St. Agatha and she was claimed as the patroness of Malta. Then, the crypt was expanded and became a place of Christian worship.
Nowadays, tourists can go downstairs into the shadow of St. Agatha’s catacombs and see the alleged martyr’s shelter, as well as precious early Christian frescoes, some of which date back to the 3rd century. Walking through the underground labyrinth, visitors can observe ancient tombs with the remains of deceased, which survived through centuries down to our days. A guided tour allows learning many interesting facts both about ancient burial rituals of Maltese inhabitants and the history of early Christianity. In the museum, there are several engaging expositions, including minerals and gems, prehistoric remains, various artifacts found both on the island and other countries, as well as religious paintings, statues and books.