Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Stumbling On Egypt

Day 75

I was up early and glad that my foot was no longer bothering me. That had really become a drag. I had places to go and dead people to see.

One of the best things about Malta is that it is so small. It never takes very long to get anywhere. After a short ride to Valletta I switched buses and headed to Rabat and Mdina. I had thought I would need to take a but from one to the other, but it turned out that they were right next to one another.

I started off with the much larger Rabat, mostly because I was following the crowd. I broke off though when I found a bookstore with inexpensive English books.

In no time I was back on track and following signs for St. Paul's Grotto. In about the year 60 AD St. Paul landed here after a shipwreck, I think I learned about this a few days ago but am not quite sure. While he was here he lived in this cave. Why this cave and why in the middle of the country and not on the beach? I have no idea. Pope John Paul also came here to pray at St. Paul's alter on a visit to Malta some years ago. Attached to the grotto is a burial chamber for local Bishops. I sort of crashed a tour, I was walking in and the guy talking motioned me to come forward. After he had talked for about 5 minutes he asked for us to give a contribution to the saint. To be honest I would have been happier if he had just said 'now pay for the tour'. It felt odd giving money to a saint.

Just a minute down the road is St. Paul's Catacombs. Not only could I take pictures, but an audio guide was included in the entrance fee. The catacombs had begun as a burial pit for a group of people who's name I can't spell even with spell check. The Romans eventually came along and expanded the catacombs into a massive complex. The whole thing was a bit creepy, and I had the place mostly to myself. When I pressed number one on my audio guide it told me to not be afraid. One of the odd features was a table to have feasts on. I don't think I would have wanted to eat among a bunch of rotting bodies. At one point the catacombs became so large that the rock carvers would moonlight as guides through the place.

Unfortunately these catacombs were looted long ago and the bodies destroyed or lost to time along with the objects buried with them. During WWII the catacombs were used as a bomb shelter. Oddly, they were not fully cleaned of remains until the 1960's.

These were really quite amazing and I decided to stick with the theme by continuing to St. Agatha's catacombs. The saint is said to have spent some time on Malta while running from the Romans. It is thought that she prayed in this chapel while in hiding. St. Agatha is the one who had her breasts cut off, and who's body I tried to visit in Catania. In 1200 the Maltese painted some amazing frescoes here. Bit of of them remain, however, the Moors defiled them by damaging the faces and it is now hard to tell who is who. It's and early Christianity guessing game.

The catacombs attached to the chapel date to the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. Even though that had been looted like St. Paul's, some bodies still survived in skeletal form. The last chapel I saw was probably the first rock cut chapel in Malta. I couldn't take pictures in here and had to see the place with a guide. Luckily, I was the only one on the tour!

After a quick lunch that I had packed back at the hostel and a rest I headed across the street to the medieval town of Mdina. Right when I walked through the gate, just out of the corner of my eye, I saw a pile of people and one of them had a steak through its head. When I got a better look it turned out to be a pile of mannequins. The film Agora was being shot throughout the city. There was dirt on the ground and Egyptian things all over the place. It took away from Mdina's charm, but it was kinda cool to be walking through a movie set.

I was in the mood for some cheesy history, but when I got to the first place it was just way too expensive. I was about to leave but then the woman said that she would make me a deal and gave me the child's price.

The first museum, the Medieval Times museum, had dummies in displays. It was corny, I knew it would be. One part showed a classroom full of students, I felt sort of bad that school would never end for them.

The second museum was called the Mdina experience. Basically we watched a movie almost like the Malta experience and then saw more dummies permanently acting out parts. Most of it was the different Grand Masters and how they improved Mdina over the years.

The last bit of cheese was the Knights of Malta movie. This was basically the first two museums combined. It was cheesy, but at least Maltese history is burned into my hea.

After an Internet session and some phone calls I set up my plans for the next day and headed back to the hostel. There was laundry to do, a package to send home and German MTV to watch!

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