Rabat is a popular tourist destination in Malta due to the town’s rich history and a large number of historical sites ranging from famous catacombs to age-old churches. It is also known for its multiple holy places, primarily associated with Saint Paul, who is Rabat’s patron saint. In addition to its narrow, yet camera-friendly, medieval streets, typical for Malta; the town offers plenty of green space, thus differentiating it from many other Maltese towns.
The town’s history dates back to the Bronze Age, when a settlement was arranged in the northern part of the island, then developed into the city of Maleth under the Phoenicians (approximately in the 8th century BC). During the Second Punic War (in the 3rd century BC), the city was captured by Romans and became a part of the Roman province of Sicilia, changing its name to Melite. For several centuries, Punic language and way of life coexisted peacefully with Latin and Roman traditions, creating a unique mix of cultures that delights us today.
Then, in 60 AD Christian religion starts gaining its adepts both in the city and through the island, after Saint Paul’s shipwreck near Malta. The famous Catacombs of Saint Paul is a lasting memorial of this turning point in the Maltese history. Over the next 800 years, the city was a part of the Roman and then the Byzantine Empires, until it was conquered and destroyed by the Arabs in 870.
Almost two centuries later, the Muslims inhabited the place again and built the city of Medina, then transformed to Mdina in Maltese. As the city grew, its residents started to build their homes around Mdina, thus creating Rabat – the name is derived from the Arabic "suburb". In the 11th century both towns surrendered peacefully to the Christians, led by the Great Count of Sicily, and from that time Rabat became home for many representatives of the local feudal aristocracy. Under the Order of Saint John rule (from 1530), Rabat continued to serve as a refuge for other orders, which established Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians communities there.
Nowadays, it is a small picturesque town, combining roles of an attractive tourist destination and a commercial center for surrounding villages. It offers exciting tours to St. Paul’s and St. Agatha’s catacombs, Domus Romana (a Roman villa with ancient mosaics), the Wignacourt Museum and its Punic-Roman artifacts collection, the beautiful Baroque Parish Church of Saint Paul and more than a dozen historic churches and buildings.