As the place-name suggests, Ras ir-Raħeb, known to Gian Francesco Abela as 'Gebel el Raheb', is a promontory. It juts out conspicuously into the sea on the west coast of Malta and must have been a very important landmark for seafarers.
On approaching the site, the most conspicuous elements of the surviving ancient remains at Ras ir-Raħeb are two upright megaliths, beyond which are the foundations of a building consisting of a courtyard surrounded by a wide corridor. The corridor was connected to a room immediately to its west by a doorway whose threshold still survives. At the northeast corner of the corridor is the head of a rectangular cistern. The courtyard is paved with a crushed pottery concrete floor 'cocciopesto' with white marble cubes 'tesserae' embedded in it, similar to the one at the Tas-Silġ sanctuary, while the room further to the west is paved with lozenge-shaped clay tiles.
The first time these ancient remains were mentioned was in 1922 when Temi Zammit was called to examine the site by the owner of the land. Zammit already recognised that the two upright megaliths had been recycled from some prehistoric structure. The room with the clay tile floor had just been exposed. He also noted the cistern. The numerous sherds of ‘household pottery’ scattered in the area made him propose 'a numerous settlement'.
The site was further investigated in 1961-62 when it was hastily and awkwardly dug up by a team of officers from the Royal Navy. It is clear that all the diggers did was to trace and uncover walls, heaping up the excavated earth on both sides of the walls. Captain D. Scott, the leader of the team gave an account of the 'dig' in a typewritten report addressed to the Curator of Archaeology at the Valletta Museum.
Among the finds, the most remarkable ones are: an ivory plaque with a crouching boar in low relief, whose pedigree has been traced in fifth century Etruria; two clay satyr masks (probably handles); several terracotta figurines, among which two of a nude male and one of a draped female holding a pyxis. Another figurine showed a male, probably Hercules, with a lion skin tied in a knot round his waist. Coins ranged from Sicilian Punic (Republican period) to a late Roman one of Constantius II (AD 337-361).
The purpose of the ancient building is still debated. Some have suggested a religious site, the sanctuary of Hercules to boot; others find evidence for a country house...
Author: Anthony Bonanno