Friday, May 05, 2006

Romans in Malta Subject of New Heritage Trail

I see that Heritage Malta is conducting another thematic heritage trail on Sunday 7th May with the focus on the Roman Domus in Rabat and the archaeological site of Tas-Silg. "Tas-Silg has been identified by Ancient Greek and Roman geographers and writers -- most importantly in the works of Cicero -- as having served as an active cultural, political and commercial centre of the ancient world. Excavation works, carried out by the Missione Archeologica Italiana of the University of Rome and the University of Malta in collaboration with Heritage Malta and which are still taking place, uncovered structures and artefacts dating back to the Prehistoric, Phoenician, Punic, Roman, Byzantine and the Middle Age periods."

The Roman Villa and Museum sounds very interesting: "The villa probably belonged to a wealthy Roman merchant or a senior official. The siting has an Italian flair, looking west over the valley towards what is now Mtarfa.

The villa and its grounds were first excavated in 1881. The clean Neo-Classical temple museum building now camouflaged by a forecourt of citrus trees was built in 1921-24 during the second round of excavations.

Not all the museum's exhibits were unearthed within the villa's grounds. Among the artifacts and architectural fragments is an olive-pipper found in Marsaxlokk, parts of flourmills made from Italian lava, and tombstones. The cabinets display terra-cotta ornaments, theatrical masks, glassware, amphorae, lamps from Imperial Rome and a section of fine mosaic from the villa.

The corner stairs lead down to what remains of the villa itself. The main attraction is the now-roofed square mosaic-covered atrium, or central court, enclosed by 16 columns, only one of which is original. The whole of this area would have been roofed except for the impluvium of two birds sitting on a water bowl, from which rainwater would drain to the cistern in the corner. The two rooms off the atrium were, on the left, the triclinium or dining room, which housed the mosaic in the museum, and the reception room. Some heavy-handed restoration has left the remaining mosaics in poor order. In the small annex are relics from later Arabic graves found within the grounds.

Other items in the courtyard include the famous motif of an astonished open-mouthed woman from a mosaic's border, a blurred scene of either a satyr being teased by maenads (orgiastic nymphs) or Delilah and Samson, and marble statues and busts including Octavia, the mother of Emperor Claudius."
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