The area of catacombs is a small part of a fascinating labyrinth of 3rd-century AD subterranean tombs. These hypogea form part of the Roman necropolis, and it is still possible to visit a large number of underground burial chambers in the immediate area of St Paul’s Grotto. Burials used to take place outside the city walls for hygienic reasons, and the Roman city of Melite used to extend to the area where St Paul’s Grotto is found. This Roman city was much larger than the present day Mdina and the Wignacourt College is now located just outside the ancient walls.
Here one can get a very good idea of the different tombs used at the time. When venturing around this area you can notice saddle-backed baldacchino tombs, window tombs, troughless baldacchino tombs and small loculi. When looking inside some window tombs you can also see where the heads of some deceased once rested. These indentations were purposely carved out of the soft limestone. Even though these catacombs were looted in the past and little or nothing much remains inside the tombs, do not get scared if you come across a bone or two! When you get to the end of this set of catacombs you reach an area where an air shaft is found. Also note the rock cut benches along the way which were dug out during World War II, as people even used the catacombs to take refuge, even though this was unsafe in the eventuality of a blast by a bomb.
A small Agape table can be reached from the other end of the shelters. These unique tables were used for ritual meals, which were celebrations carried out in honour of their deceased.