New find at Mdina most important so far in old capital

Author: Michael Testa

19 March 2002

Prof. Dennis de Lucca, Dean of the Faculty of Architecture, pointing to some of the Roman remains unearthed in Mdina

Prof. Dennis de Lucca, Dean of the Faculty of Architecture, pointing to some of the Roman remains unearthed in Mdina

The archaeological discovery of a well preserved Roman structure - a wall forming part of the podium of a temple to the god Apollo - is the most important one made so far in the old capital.

It is a clear example of buildings from the Roman period, confirming that the alignment of the city during Roman time was different than today.

It also confirms writings by author A.A. Caruana (1898) who mentions that a tetrastyle (a temple having four columns) temple existed in Villegaignon Street.

Prof. Dennis de Lucca, Dean of the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Malta and chairman of the Mdina Rehabilitation Project, said the discovery was the most important finding made in three sites in Mdina during works to bury unsightly wires and other services underground.

The structure, a Roman wall and base, was discovered two weeks ago but excavation works were carried out during Friday and Saturday.

Members of the Archaeology Services Cooperative are busy excavating in the area and profiling the find so that the MRC would then decide what to do with the Roman wall, the higher part of which is situated about a metre or so under the street level.

Prof. de Lucca said that in his book 'Ancient Pagan Tombs and Christian Cemeteries in the Islands of Malta', A.A. Caruana writes that a Latin inscription discovered in 1774 mentions the presence of a tetrastyle temple raised on a podium and housing a large gilded statue of the god Apollo which apparently overlooked some form of theatre-type structure.

According to Caruana, this building occupied a site in Villegaignon Street opposite the Benedictine Monastery.

Prof. de Lucca said that the excavations confirmed what Caruana wrote.

Prof. De Lucca said similar tetrastyle temples could be found in other places in the Mediterranean, such as the one in Cagliari where a tetrastyle temple raised on a podium overlooked a space containing semi-circular theatre-type seating.

He explained that the podium on which the temple proper stood was designed to make the structure more outstanding for aesthetic reasons.

This style of architecture resembled to a large extent the structures of Roman times which can be found in North Africa, he said.

Prof. de Lucca said that by studying the details of the designs of the Roman remains found recently one would soon notice a strong influence from the Carthaginian period. This could also be found in the pottery excavated at Mdina.

Prof. de Lucca said that the location of the archaeological remains uncovered during excavations in the past year - near the Carmelite Convent, in the main square and the recent findings in Villegaignon Street - shed interesting light on the different street pattern of the Roman town of Melite. All the findings had the same alignment which is different from the mediaeval Mdina.

Prof. de Lucca said the existing part of the structure is very well preserved, but unfortunately part of it was ruined by workers in the early of 20th century when they laid drain pipes right through it. A long part of the wall forming the podium runs under Inguanez Palace.

Prof. de Lucca said that the MRC is to discuss how to preserve the Roman podium wall and possibly to expose it to visitors permanently.

The site is situated on the main road in Mdina, which makes prospects of exhibiting it even more difficult. However, one possibility is to cover the wall with glass at street level so that visitors may be able to look down on it.

Source: Times of Malta, www.timesofmalta.com


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