The Wignacourt’s Shelters of War

Deep beneath the Roman catacombs lies a war shelter from World War II, and each inch of its pickaxed walls tells a story of survival. 

When World War II broke out, numerous war shelters were dug all over Malta, providing safety and protection to thousands of civilians. One of these shelters is located just below the Wignacourt’s adjoining catacombs, and consists of around 50 rooms.

What visitors will notice is that each of the 50 rooms found in the shelters is unique and numbered. This is because the government at the time was only responsible for providing the main corridors of the shelters in Rabat, and families had to then pay to have their own room dug within them.

The Wignacourt's War Shelters

Because the shelters are located right beneath the catacombs, the rubble that was removed from the shelters while they were being excavated was purposely put into the catacombs to provide cushioning from dropping bombs. This was crucial to ensure that the hollow catacombs did not give way and bury the people who had sought protection in the shelters below.

Families tried hard to adapt to their new living conditions, in fact, and those who could afford to laid down tiles, installed doors, and even had electricity connected. Nevertheless, money and supplies were very scarce and many rooms were relatively bare and basic, with oil lamps being the most popular way to illuminate and add warmth.

Thankfully, Rabat and Mdina were not heavily bombarded during the war and, although sirens would still go off periodically forcing the populace of the area to take refuge, these usually turned out to be an act of precaution. What the shelters prove, however, is that apart from physical protection, this series of underground tunnels also offered a sense of security and homeliness that must have heartened people during those trying times.

For more information on the Wignacourt Museum and the adjoining war shelters, you can contact us on +356 2749 4905 or at