Domvs Romana

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Domvs Romana
Malta - Mdina - Wesgha tal-Muzew - Domus Romana out 01 ies.jpg
Ruins of the Domus Romana
LocationMdina/Rabat, Malta
Coordinates35°53′7.1″N 14°24′0.3″E / 35.885306°N 14.400083°E / 35.885306; 14.400083Coordinates: 35°53′7.1″N 14°24′0.3″E / 35.885306°N 14.400083°E / 35.885306; 14.400083
Part ofMelite
MaterialLimestone and marble
Founded1st century BC
Abandoned2nd century AD
11th century AD
Site notes
Excavation dates1881, 1920–1925
ArchaeologistsAntonio Annetto Caruana
Themistocles Zammit
OwnershipGovernment of Malta
ManagementHeritage Malta
Public accessYes
WebsiteHeritage Malta

The Domus Romana (Latin for "Roman House"), stylized as the Domvs Romana (after Latin's lack of distinction between u and v), is a ruined Roman-era house located on the boundary between Mdina and Rabat, Malta. It was built in the 1st century BC as an aristocratic town house (domus) within the Roman city of Melite. In the 11th century, a Muslim cemetery was established on the remains of the domus.

The site was discovered in 1881, and archaeological excavations revealed several well preserved Roman mosaics, statues and other artifacts, as well as a number of tombstones and other remains from the cemetery. Since 1882, the site has been open to the public as a museum, which is currently run by Heritage Malta. It was erroneously called the Roman Villa when rediscovered as it was thought to be outside the city of Melite but on further examinations it was clarified to be within city limits.[1]

History and description[edit]

Roman house[edit]

The mosaic of the peristyle

The Domvs Romana is believed to have been built in the beginning of the 1st century BC, and it remained in use until the 2nd century AD. The house had a colonnaded peristyle inspired by ancient Greek architecture, and its best features are the well-made polychrome Hellenistic style mosaics found in the peristyle and the surrounding rooms, which show decorative motifs or mythological scenes. Two types of tesserae were employed: opus vermiculatum, in the centre of the pavement; opus tessellatum, larger tesserae to create three-dimensional designs all around the main image. The picture sought to imitate a highly popular motif which may be first painted by an artist from Sophos. The domus also shows fine painted wall plaster imitating coloured marbles and showing partly stylized architectural elements which would place them somewhere between the 1st and 2nd Pompeian Styles.

Although the house was mostly destroyed over time, its mosaics have survived largely intact, and they are comparable with those found at Pompeii or Sicily. A number of 1st century AD statues of the imperial Roman family, along with coins, glassware, tableware, bath accessories, amphorae and other fine artifacts have also been found in the domus.[2]

Muslim cemetery[edit]

Sarcophagus and limestone tombstones from the Muslim cemetery, now exhibited in the museum

In the 11th century, while Malta was part of the Fatimid Caliphate, the site of the domus was converted into a cemetery. At least 245 burials were discovered during the excavations, which also unearthed a number of limestone (and one marble) tombstones with Naskh or Kufic inscriptions. Some ceramics and a silver ring were also found during the excavations.[2]

Discovery and excavations[edit]

The Domvs Romana was discovered accidentally in 1881 by workers during a landscaping project. It was subsequently excavated by the leading archaeologists of the time, including Antonio Annetto Caruana, Sir Themistocles Zammit, Robert V. Galea, Harris Dunscombe Colt and Louis Upton Way.[2]


The Domvs Romana museum

After the domus was first excavated, a museum was built on the site of the peristyle of the house in order to preserve its mosaics. The museum opened in February 1882, and it was the first building in Malta that was constructed specifically to house a museum of a particular archaeological site. The museum was originally known as the Museum of Roman Antiquities, and apart from the mosaics and other Roman or Muslim artifacts uncovered from the domus, it also exhibited some other Roman marble pieces which were found in the streets of Mdina. Eventually, many Roman artifacts found elsewhere in Malta were transferred to this museum.[3]

In 1922, the museum was enlarged to designs by the architect Galizia,[clarification needed] and a neoclassical façade and a large display room were added. The remains of the domus were included on the Antiquities List of 1925.[4] The museum closed during World War II, and it housed a restoration centre before reopening to the public in 1945.[3]

The mosaic of the peristyle was restored in the second half of the 20th century, but was unintentionally damaged in the process. Currently, Heritage Malta is carrying out a report on how to conserve the mosaic and repair it with as little damage as possible. The displays of the museum were renovated between 2002 and 2005, and again in 2011.[3]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ "Zammit, V. (1999, June 27). Domus Rumana : ir-Rabat. Mument : Pizzikanna, pp. 3" (PDF).
  2. ^ a b c Depasquale, Suzannah; Cardona, Neville Juan (2005). Site Catalogue: The Domvs Romana – Rabat Malta. Malta: Heritage Books. p. 3. ISBN 9993270318.
  3. ^ a b c "Domvs Romana". Heritage Malta. Archived from the original on 5 January 2015.
  4. ^ "Protection of Antiquities Regulations 21st November, 1932 Government Notice 402 of 1932, as Amended by Government Notices 127 of 1935 and 338 of 1939". Malta Environment and Planning Authority. Archived from the original on 19 April 2016.