Heritage Malta

Suzannah Depasquale

curator archaeology

Heritage Malta

National Museum of Archaeology Auberge de Provence, Republic Street, Valletta, Malta CMR 01

www.heritagemalta.org

The Domvs Romana, Rabat

The Domvs Romana Bridging the gap between ancient and modern societies

On behalf of Heritage Malta and the National Government of Malta we would like to present to you the project of the Domvs Romana, which was inaugurated on the 26th February 2005, by the Honourable Prime Minister of Malta, Dr. Lawrence Gonzi.

Heritage Malta is the national agency of the Government of Malta, in charge of the management of 24 national museums and heritage sites and their related collections in Malta and Gozo, including seven UNESCO world heritage sites. The agency was established in 2002 under the provisions of the Cultural Heritage Act 2002 and commenced operations on the 1st January 2003. The organization is composed of various units from corporate and finance to curatorial and conservation divisions.

The Mission of the Agency is to ensure that those elements of cultural heritage entrusted to it are protected and made accessible to the public. The Agency's Functions are to ensure that all Heritage tangible and intangible, owned by the agency are conserved, restored, administered, managed, operated, marketed, studied and presented for exhibition, in the best possible way.

The Domvs Romana found in Rabat is one of the sites upon which Heritage Malta initiated this ambitious quest. The Project was conceived and initiated in 2001 with a strategic alliance happening for the first time on the Island between two major organizations the then Museums Department and the Malta Tourism Authority. The major organizations entrusted with the management and promotion of Malta's Unique Heritage. It was clearly established from the start that the synergy achieved by these two organizations should result in the development of tangible results within the Heritage Sector and for this reason the site then known as the "Roman Villa" was chosen.

The "Roman Villa" was a strategic site within the heritage map revealing stratigraphic archaeological remains with uniqueness resulting within the Roman and Islamic stratigraphic layers of the ancient city of Melite. Whose remains although accessible to the general public were not given their due importance as was being achieved within other major prehistoric sites. Hence the team recognized the importance of not only refurbishing this site but of also creating a strong didactic tool for both these periods in situ.

This ideology was not only recognized and promoted by the two major organizations involved but also extended within the National Government within the new Heritage Act enacted by national parliament in April 2002. Whereby Heritage Malta as the new National Agency for Culture took on this new role, in The Best in Heritage 2005 51 ensuring that those elements of the cultural heritage entrusted to it was not only protected but also made physically and intellectually accessible to the general public. Hence this project became the flagship for both Heritage Malta and the National Government as to how organizations should contribute together towards one goal as a team.

In fact within this project several stakeholders became active participants and contributors to this project within their specializations. Heritage Malta as owner and manager of the site became the unifying ingredient between all organizations including the government of opposition.

Heritage Malta with its new organizational structure, project managed the entire process from the project planning and consultation phase to the design, intellectual input and conservation of the building and its collection in situ and non. Working in collaboration with other authorities in the sector on; Conservation, Heritage regulations, Environmental planning, Education, Employment, Traffic management, Disability issues, Landscaping as well as working with the local communities and non governmental agencies, has enabled Heritage Malta to broaden its horizons and to engage in a wide public ownership.

The synergies developed between all the organizations concerned not only allowed all expertise to be directed together towards one national goal but also allowed the project to achieve its desired objectives within very limited budgets and cutting much beaurocracy.

The "Roman Villa" or Domvs Romana Museum is strategically located in the center of the island just outside the walls of the old capital city of Mdina and housed a unique collection of Roman antiquities recovered from all over the island. The collection it housed up until 2002 included objects of domestic, funerary and agricultural significance as well as architectural. Although sited within a unique setting designed by architect Galizia, the collection made little sense within the site, and especially within the old exhibition layout. The collection together with the title of Roman villa also provided the setting for misinforming the public about the true value of the site.

The site encompassed mainly the outstanding archaeological ruins of a Domvs Romana dating to the Roman Republican period (1st Century BC) as well as bore testimony to the Islamic presence in the 10th Century AD within the ancient city of Melite. With this in mind it was decided that the site be museologically redesigned, with a view of not only reinterpreting the site, its territory and the collection but with a view of providing physical and intellectual access for all.

The general aims and goals of the project included the:
- Consolidation of the current existing visitor center
- Galizia Building Grade A
- Refurbishment and installation anew of all utilities and services
- Redefinition, conservation and reinterpretation of the Roman collection
- Monitoring of environmental conditions of the site and the mosaics
- Conservation of the mosaics
- Presentation of a didactic and interactive display for the public
- Consolidation and integration of the external archaeological site
- Development of other ancillary products and services
The project set out the task of providing physical and intellectual access to all of both the collection and the site. It is the first archaeological site on the island to be fully accessible to people with special needs and to forge direct links with specialist audiences. The synergy created with the National Commission for the Disabled in Malta not post project development but within the initial planning and development stages of the project is setting the platform for all other archaeological sites and their development on a nationwide front. It also seeks not only to implement physical accessibility but also to create other forms of accessibility and interpretation for special users and diverse audience groups - such as vision, intellectual impaired etc. A major innovation within this project has also been to include a much debated and controversial element of our National heritage - that pertaining to the Islamic presence on the Islands between 871 - 1249AD. It is the first time that this period is being represented officially within a didactic environment, highlighting not only the discoveries made but also the politics of archaeology that have not allowed us to discover more of this unique archaeological inheritance. It has been presented stratigraphically within the context of this site together with Roman artefacts revealing the continual use of the same area for distinct functions - City life and life after death.

The project not only bridged the gap between these two archaeological periods on the site but also bridged the gap between diverse organizations and more importantly it narrowed the gap between different societies of the past and the present. Especially with regards target audience groups such as people with special needs and minority groups, such the community of Maltese who are devout followers of Islam who have never seen this archaeological inheritance made accessible, least of all made them partake in our national heritage.