When discovering marks of history in the neighborhoods of Mosta, tourists are attracted by Ta' Bistra catacombs, a rather extensive underground system of tombs that survived about 1700-year loot and re-use. Though little known compared to other Maltese catacombs, this site is still exciting and intriguing, especially for those who are interested in history and archeology.
The Ta' Bistra catacombs are located in Tat-Targa area on the outskirts of Mosta, quite close to the place where the ancient town of Melite was situated. The catacombs date back to the 3-4th century AD and they are considered one of the most important Paleo-Christian burials outside Rabat. Since the style of the catacombs was adopted from Maltese rock-cut tombs of the Phoenician and Hellenistic periods, the site can be regarded as a remarkable and unique for the Mediterranean mixture of pagan, early Christian and even Jewish funeral traditions and cultures.
Over the centuries, this burial ground suffered from looting and quarrying. Though the site was discovered and recorded at the end of the 19th century, the research started only 40 years later, in 1933, by archaeologist Charles Zammit. Unfortunately, even after the excavation and introduction to the Maltese Antiquities Act, the catacombs continued suffering damages from building roads and villas in the region. A farmhouse was built right above the catacombs, and the tombs were used to keep domestic animals. Also, during the Second World War, locals used the catacombs as an air-raid shelter.
The first steps to restore the historic site were taken in the early 90's under Heritage Malta, and new researches were performed in 2004, 2013 and 2014. Nowadays, the Ta' Bistra catacombs are accessible for visitors showing 57 tombs, grouped into 16 chambers, which are carved in a 90-meter limestone rock. Initially, the available catacombs were part of a much larger complex, but it was destroyed over time. Despites this deplorable fact, many distinctive features of ancient burials withstood the ravages of time, like multiple niches, pilasters, spiral borders, arched pottery shelves and a well-preserved triclinium for commemorative meals. Also, visitors can observe a traditional Maltese farmhouse and a stone quarry, which were blended into the complex of Ta' Bistra catacombs.