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Four curiosities in Rabat

It often happens that we do not know much of the history around us even if this is our own village.

Life keeps us busy in our daily preoccupations and history often takes a back burner. But how interesting it is when we get to know a story or two about a place of which we thought there is nothing new to know about.

These stories are what give depth and colour to our daily, apparently mundane, lives.

A few weeks ago, I was quite intrigued by some nuggets of information about a part of Rabat through a tour of this area with the Ramblers Association. I will mention just four from the many that enriched our understanding of the place.

St Paul’s church in Rabat was built in 1372 on a ditch, and all that is left of this is a patch at the back of the church. The ditch extended all through St Rita Street (in front of the church), which was also built – in the 1960s – on this ditch.

There is a charming medieval chapel dedicated to San Bert in St Bartholomew Street – and it is the only medieval one in Rabat. In the past, this chapel had been used as a school and many still remember those days.

Later, there was a long period when the chapel was kept closed and unused. It had to be Nina Micallef, a devoted and generous woman who lived close to this chapel, to get the ecclesiastical authorities of St Paul’s church to have it opened again. There was the issue of funds for the maintenance and Micallef, courageously and through many personal challenges and traumas of her own, took the initiative to knock on doors in her area for quite a long time to collect money to help with the expenses needed to get the chapel opened again.

St Paul’s church in Rabat was built on a ditch and all that is left of this is a patch at the back of the church

She is one of a number of unsung heroes as she managed to see her dream come true. Today the chapel has been opened for some eight years for silent prayer on most days, from 7am to 7pm in summer (and till 5pm in winter); and when it is full moon, till 11pm – when there are satanic rituals taking place elsewhere.

Today, at 80, this gentle woman still takes it upon herself to take care of the chapel. I caught her there while on this tour.

Grand Master Philippe Villiers de L’Isle Adam stayed (between 1530 and 1534) and died in a cell in St Mary of Jesus church of the Franciscan Order, and his heart, on his request, was buried in this church. A plaque on a wall in the church commemorates this.

Rabat has an ingenious aqueduct system beneath it, dating from the Byzantines; and part of this system are the two fountains known as Saqqajja and Għeriexem. The latter is on the main road facing Mtarfa and has been recently renovated. The system consists of channels and shafts created according to the elevation of the land to provide water through dripping over a long distance.

An extensive study of this system was made by Fr Eugene Theuma, OFM Conv.

The study, available online, is called Qanat, Saqqajja and Roman Aquaduct System in Rabat, Malta.

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