San Pawl Milqi is the ruin of a Roman-period agricultural villa, the most extensive to have ever been unearthed in Malta. According to tradition the villa is where St. Publius, the governor and first bishop of Malta, welcomed St. Paul after his shipwreck in 60AD. However, there is no archaeological evidence in support of Christian claims, and it is considered a myth dating to the middle ages. In fact, evidence of Christian worship on the site only dates back to the building of the first chapel in the fourteenth century. The site was included on the Antiquities List of 1925.
Although the remains of the villa have long been well known, scientific excavations, led by the Missione Archeologica Italiana a Malta, did not commence until 1963.
San Pawl Milqi is a Maltese archaeological site located near the village of Burmarrad, on the side of a hill overlooking the fertile plain of Barmarrad and Salina Bay. As often in Malta, the site is used for several periods (prehistoric, Phoenician, Roman, Christian) but the most important remains date back to Roman times and reveal an important agricultural villa centered on the culture of the olive tree. A small church stands on the site evoking the memory of the landing of St. Paul in Malta.
On site there was a temple dedicated to the Greek God Apollo and a Roman villa close to the Chapel of St. Paid el Milki (San Pawl Milqi).
It is managed by Heritage Malta and closed for conservation except for the annual open day, which is usually in February.
The site has been in use since prehistoric times; a couple of tombs date back to the Zebbug and possibly the Borg in-Nadur phases of the Maltese Bronze Age.
The first building on the site was probably built in the Phoenician-Punic period, when the site was used intermittently for agriculture. A small number of structures remain from this period and one burial bears a neo-Punic inscription.
In the Roman period, the site’s position on the slopes of a fertile valley and vicinity to the Roman harbour at Salina meant that it was ideally suited to the production of olive oil. The establishment was expanded; the original central courtyard was transformed into an industrial area. The trapetum (a rotating mill used to separate pips from olive fruit), anchor points and at least two presses can still be seen, as well as a set of settling vats used to purify oil.
Although large enough to have been the property of a rich aristocrat, the villa does not contain any residential quarters of any particular richness. The four rooms which can be identified as serving residential needs were, in fact, only decorated with painted wall plasters and common cocciopesto flooring. None show the elaborate and expensive floor mosaics like those of the Domvs Romana in Rabat.
The site was eventually reduced in size and surrounded by a thick fortification wall, probably during the period of Arab rule in Malta. Its fortified walls, constant water supply and good position meant that it was ideally located to control the nearby port and valleys.
A church was built on part of the site in the fourteenth century, but after more than a century it fell into disuse and in 1616 was replaced by a church dedicated to the welcoming of St. Paul. This church, which still stands today, is the oldest record connecting the site to the traditional event.
The site revealed the presence of three prehistoric tombs of the Żebbuġ phase (4100 – 3800 BC) and numerous chalcolithic shards of the Borġ in-Nadur phase (1500 – 725 BC). -C.).
The Punic presence on the site is attested by two tombs dating from the third century BC. J.C. as well as a fragment of funerary inscription of the same period, found as a sealing slab and many shards of Punic ceramic2. The shape of some olive press is also Punic.
It is by far the largest agricultural villa in Malta, covering 2,500 m23. It has been exploited for at least six centuries, from the second century BC. J.C. in the fourth century AD The buildings have undergone many reshuffles over the centuries. Most of the walls are built according to the Roman technique of opus quadratum, some in coral limestone.
Most archaeological finds were related to the exploitation and processing of the olive: several olive mills (trapetum) some intact and some presses (prela). A network of pipelines and various facilities for the processing of olives has also been discovered. The presence of several amphora debris evokes a maritime export of olive oil production. It should be noted that no such exploitation exists in Malta today.
Other agricultural tools are also identified: black lava mills used to grind cereals, and various storage volumes: water tanks, grain silo, many shards of amphora.
Living quarters reveal that the whole site was not only oriented towards agricultural production1. One building in particular seems to have two floors. Many architectural elements have been found here, such as remains of Doric columns and capitals that suggest the presence of a portico or a peristyle. The walls were painted in imitation marble, without figurative element found. Some tesserae have been reported, but no mosaic found.
A semicircular wall was discovered in the southwest corner, strongly evoking a defensive bastion. The structure is not dated but the excavation reports relate it to the insecurity prevailing in the Mediterranean before the Third Punic War (149-146 BC). The villa is located in a strategic position, overlooking the bay of Salina, then navigable.
Another structure in the southeast corner is interpreted as a square tower with similar defensive function. It seems, however, to be much later and rather related to the troubled times of the third century AD. J.C.
A fire ravaged the villa towards the third century AD. J.C., but it was rebuilt and continued its activity. It is the only known villa on the island clearly showing signs of activity after the end of the Western Roman Empire.
Part of the villa, under the church of the seventeenth century, seems to have been used long after Roman times, probably in connection with a large cistern nearby.
A medieval church stood on the site and was later replaced by a new church from 1616 to 1622, located in exactly the same place, but slightly larger. San Pawl Milqi meaning in Maltese “Saint Paul the welcome”. The Maltese tradition associates the Roman villa with the residence of Publius, the governor of Malta at the time of the arrival of St. Paul.
During the excavations of the building, a row of semi-circular stones was interpreted as proof of the antiquity of the early church, dating from the twelfth century. The primitive church was built in the main body of the Roman villa and aligned so that the main axis of its apse passes over the orifice of a water reservoir. We wanted to see a deliberate arrangement to highlight the tank that would have been used by St. Paul to baptize Publius, his sick father and the first Maltese Christians. The tank seems to have been considered particularly important since it reused a fragment of antique marble of good quality to form the hole. Graffiti engraved on blocks of limestone have been interpreted as the representation of a bearded man (Paul?), A ship (that of the sinking?) And an inscription in Greek (Paulus?), But these interpretations have been found to be largely abusive.
These meager clues have been the subject of much speculation about a place of worship associated with St. Paul’s landing in Malta, but the archaeological evidence is too thin for any certainty.
The first excavations date from 1878-1879. But most of the knowledge on the site dates from the Italian archaeological mission between 1963 and 1968.
The site is managed by the state agency Heritage Malta. It is closed to the public but can be visited by appointment.