Necropolis: Beyond the City Walls

Ta’ Bistra Catacombs

Malta is riddled with a number of small hypogea scattered widely in the countryside. The urban sprawl and construction development is slowly uncovering these hidden treasures. Ta' Bistra catacombs on the outskirts of Mosta in Malta is by far the largest set of tombs and catacombs accessible beyond the confines of the ancient city of the Island.

The Site
This site is Located half way between the ancient town of Melite and the once-important harbour of Salina.

The complex of catacombs known as Ta’ Bistra is considered among the most important set of Paleochristian burial complexes outside the area of Rabat.

Its original location at Tat-Targa seems, in fact, to have been close to the main access route down the Great Fault, thus in line with Roman customs of placing the cemeteries along the main roads outside the residential areas.

After it was abandoned, the site seems to have remained partially exposed.

Excavation and Conversation
Extensive quarrying has eaten up most of the hypogea and several tombs have ended up in private properties. Although originally discovered in 1891, proper excavation was conducted in 1933 when they were believed to have been destroyed due to road works. However, these were rediscovered in 2004 and today 57 tombs laid out in 16 chambers are open to the general public.

The site was documented for the first time by a drawn plan and a number of photographs taken by E. Magri in 1886 and F. Vassalli, who visited the site on the 14th of May, 1891.

The site was mentioned again by E. Becker in 1913, who also used one of Magri’s original photos.

The site was archaeologically investigated for the first time by Capt. C. Zammit in 1933 as part of the documentation process of four sets of burials that were meant to be destroyed by a new road leading to Burmarrad.

These excavations brought to light sixteen groups of burials for a total of fifty seven tombs.

Ta’ Bistra came back into the spotlight in 2004, when archaeological monitoring on road works on one of the roads re-discovered the four groups that were supposedly ‘destroyed’ in 1933.

This discovery brought the site back into the orbit of proper archaeological research.

Extensive archaeological excavations between 2013 and 2014 brought about new discoveries and hence, new interpretations.

The archaeological remains uncovered within the tombs amounted to a few bones and three lamps and a couple of tombs that had remained undetected by Zammit’s excavations.

The site was part of three EU-funded projects. These projects were The Cultexchange project, The Archaeotur project and the ‘Rehabilitation of Roman Baths and Christian Catacombs’ (REBACA) Project.

The Cultexchange project (co-financed by the EU ERDF) saw the main alteration and structural works on the farmhouse above section of the catacombs turning it into a small visitor orientation centre.

The EU ERDF funded Archaeotur project: Integrated management and promotion of archaeological sites in Ragusa and Malta saw the finishing works on parts of the catacombs including the farmhouse and visitor facilities.

The EU financed REBACA Project (part-funded by the EAFRD) was designed by Heritage Malta to study and regenerate two archaeological sites: the Għajn Tuffieħa Roman Baths and parts of the Ta’ Bistra Catacombs.

This project yielded a number of studies, conservation and construction of a protective shelter on most of the site.

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