An ancient set of catacombs in Mosta dating back almost 1,700 years will become more accessible to visitors as a result of a new walkway and reception centre.

A planning commission approved a development application by Heritage Malta to built an enclosed roofed walkway to view the Ta’ Bistra catacombs and construct a shelter and reception area, estimated to be around 300 square metres, in a nearby quarry.

The case officer said there was no objection to the project since it formed part of the Ta’ Bistra Rehabilitation Project that was currently on the tentative list of Unesco World Heritage Sites.

Also, it did not have any negative impact on the surrounding environment.

The site consists of an extensive network of catacombs with individual entrances within the vertical face of the ridge looking northwards towards St Paul’s Bay. They consist of 16 groups of chambers tunnelled next to each other with the first hypogeum being the largest.

Originally, the Environment Protection Directorate raised concerns about the dismantling of a rubble wall and uprooting trees but “in this particular case, these were considered to be justified as they would hinder the conservation of the archaeological remains”. The remains take precedence when considering the site’s archaeological and historical value, the case officer said.

The architect had said the existing trees, almond trees in an advanced state of decay, were damaging the catacombs since the roots were penetrating the fissures and catacombs.

First unearthed in 1891, another part of the catacomb network came to light during road works in 2005. The site features sculpted spiral borders, scallop shells, arched pottery shelves and agape tables.

Unlike the catacombs in Rabat that were dug underground, the ones at Ta’ Bistra were cut by means of tunnelling in the face of the ridge.

The whole network was recorded and drawn by Charles Zammit in 1933. But by then the site had long been looted because the Knights of St John used to issue licences for treasure hunting.

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