The small museum of the Domvs Romana is built around the remains of a rich, aristocratic roman town house (domvs) which was accidentally discovered in 1881. Although very little remains from the house itself, the intricate mosaics which survived for centuries as well as the artefacts found within the remains are testimony enough of the original richness and story of this fantastic abode.
The building housing the remains of the domvs was partly built immediately after the first excavation to protect the uncovered mosaics. It is thus the first building in the Maltese Islands to have been purposely built to protect and house an archaeological site and collection. The entrance to this small museum was through the side road (the room now housing the museum shop) and it only covered the peristyle and the two adjacent mosaics. Most of the Roman artefacts and antiquities, including the few remaining marble pieces scattered in the streets of Mdina were transferred to this museum, which was officially opened to the public in February 1882. Throughout the years the Museum continued to hold Roman material and it soon became an open storage space for all the Roman artefacts found around the Island.
The first plans to enlarge the building were made in 1906 but these were superseded by the plans made by architect Galizia in 1922. These plans, which included the addition of a facade with a triangular pediment and a large rectangular display room, resulted in the Museum that still stands today. The then Museum of Roman Antiquities has seen various renovations both to the structure and the original mosaics. It was closed during World War II and was afterwards used as a small centre for restoration. It was re-opened to the public in 1945. The mosaic of the peristyle underwent a big restoration project in the second half of the 20th century. During this restoration, the mosaic was lifted into panels and placed onto cement slabs. Unfortunately the metal rods placed in the cement are now corroding causing considerable damage to the mosaic itself. As a result, Heritage Malta, with the help of its conservators and a renowned mosaic specialist, is currently carrying out a detailed state of conservation report which will also present the methodology required to repair the mosaics with little or no damage. The display of the museum also saw two extensive renovation drives between 2002 and 2005, when the display was changed from the Victorian-style one to a more modern one, and again in 2011.
The current Museum building does not only preserve some of the most precious Roman remains but also allows visitors to get a glimpse of life in a Roman domestic household. Apart from showing the complex history of the site, the current museum display is in fact designed to take the visitor through the various aspects of a Roman family and household with aspects ranging from the actual division of roles in a Roman family, to fashion, education, entertainment, food and drink.