2020 marked 100 years since Sir Temi Zammit started excavations at the Domvs Romana, 2021 marks the 140th anniversary of the Domvs’s accidental discovery and 2022 will commemorate 140 years since the Domvs was opened to the public as a museum. However what we see today when we visit the Domvs is a far cry from what this luxurious dwelling must have looked like, roughly between the second half of the first century BC and the first half of the first century AD.
David Cardona, senior curator for Phoenician, Roman and medieval sites at Heritage Malta, said that some workers were planting trees at what we now know as Howard Gardens, during which a spade made a jarring sound when it hit a hard surface. Startled, the workers stopped to alert their superiors, unaware of the marvellous discovery that was about to unfold. Following the incident during the tree planting at Howard Gardens, Antonio Annetto Caruana, the librarian of the Bibliotheca and curator of the archaeological collection housed in it, was entrusted with the investigation. Most of the areas of this rich Roman townhouse were discovered then and a museum was built to protect the mosaics and house Malta’s Roman antiquities.
Unfortunately a good portion of the house, as well as other surrounding structures and tombs, were completely lost when the British services cut the road leading to the Museum Railway Station in 1899.
The site underwent further investigations in 1920-25 by Sir Temi with the help of Robert V. Galea, Harris Dunscombe Colt and Louis Upton Way. Works extended in all directions of the site and uncovered a substantial number of Islamic burials above the remains of other small Roman houses.
The owner of this Domvs may have been an important public figure. What historians can deduce quite accurately, however, is that this was no humble abode. This was the home of someone wealthy enough to be in the top social stratum, someone with high social connections in Rome, as evidenced by two statues showing members of Emperor Claudius’s family carved in fine marble.
There is so much more to be discovered at the Domvs Romana, such an incredible wealth of artefacts that yet make up only a fraction of our unique cultural heritage. The sheer fact that we can set foot in this house some 2,000 years into its existence is a wonder in itself and all the more reason for Heritage Malta to celebrate its discovery’s anniversary as befits such a remarkable event in our history.