The Malta Independent 22 July 2019, Monday

Hal Resqun Catacombs: Re-discovered tomb unique to Maltese archaeology

Malta Independent Thursday, 17 August 2006, 00:00 Last update: about 6 years ago

After almost 50 years of oblivion, a Paleochristian catacomb, originally excavated by Sir Themistocles Zammit in 1912, has been re-discovered by officers of the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage in a traffic roundabout at Hal Resqun, close to Malta International Airport.

Although known to Maltese archaeologists for almost a century, the Hal Resqun catacomb had been obliterated under a wave of debris and asphalt following the construction of the Luqa airport.

While it was generally understood to lie beneath a roundabout close to Bir Miftuh chapel at Gudja, its precise location was, until now, unknown. Various attempts to locate the site had failed in the past, resulting in an increasing fear that the catacomb may have actually been destroyed. Thankfully, that fear has finally been laid to rest, as officers from the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage have inspected the site, and confirmed that the tomb unearthed some days ago is in fact the very same one that was first sketched by Sir Temi in 1912.

Contacted yesterday, the head of the University’s Archaeology Department, Prof. Anthony Bonanno, said that the discovery was important for Maltese archaeology and history, although the site had already been well documented in drawings and sketches left by past researchers such as Sir Temi Zammit.

“The catacomb’s existence was known for a number of years but when the roundabout at Gudja was constructed, it was unfortunately completely covered over without a trace. Through the sterling work of the then director of museums, F.X. Mallia, it was again re-traced, although its exact location remained unknown to this day. So it is extremely good news that it has been found again,” said Prof. Bonanno.

He told The Malta Independent that the site had been earmarked for conservation when Mepa drew up the local plan for this area some years back. He said that he hoped to visit the site shortly on a personal initiative to view the catacomb, and could not confirm whether any damage caused by the recent excavations.

The 1,600-year-old Hal Resqun tomb is of particular scientific significance to Malta’s archaeology due in part to the refined use of decoration. The decorative schemes inside the catacomb imitate Roman architectural motifs, including a number of fluted columns etched into the rock face of the tomb.

The site is also unique in that it includes two scenes cut in low relief into the rock-face of the catacomb. These scenes include both human and animal figures, and offer a very rare insight into what religious notions early Christians in Malta entertained with respect to death and the afterlife.

The rediscovery was made possible due to a number of precautionary measures put into place by the Malta Transport Authority on the recommendation of the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage. The roadworks at Gudja are, in fact, part of a road improvement project being undertaken by the ADT.

A spokesman for the Urban Development and Roads Ministry said that the find would not have any impact on the target completion date of the road, which is still slated for late September.

In view of the importance of the Hal Resqun site for Maltese Paleochristian archaeology, it is hoped that its re-discovery will lead to its permanent conservation, following 50 years of oblivion.

The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage will continue to work to ensure that this site will be conserved for the public benefit in terms of the Cultural Heritage Act.

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