The extensive remains discovered at San Pawl Milqi constitute the largest agricultural villa to be found on the Maltese Islands to date. It is not clear whether the villa was known when the first church was built on it, in the mid 1400s, but the remains started being associated to the house of Publius, Governor of Malta at the time of St. Paul's alleged shipwreck, when the latter was replaced by a second church in the mid 1600s. It is in fact most probable that the name of San Pawl Milqi (which can be literally translated as "St. Paul Welcomed") was given to the church because of the remains themselves, thus helping to establish a stronger tradition. Although a portion of the remains was probably somewhat visible much earlier, the first recorded exploration dates back to June 1879 when some foundations and fragments of pavements, stucco implements where discovered. The site was then extensively investigated by the Missione Archeologica Italiana (Missione) in the late 1960s and early 1970s, exposing the full extent of a large villa agraria with evidence of a considerably large industrial area connected to the production of olive oil.
Although the site is better known for its close connections with the Pauline cult than for its archaeology, the villa remains one of the most interesting and important villa sites to be found on the Maltese Islands to date. The first utilisation of the site dates to the prehistoric Żebbug Phase (approx. c. 4,100-3,800BC) as attested by a number of burials, while pottery scatters of the Borġ in-Nadur Phase (c. 1,500-700BC) show that the area was also occupied in the Bronze Age. At a later date, just like most of the other rural villas on the island, the Roman site evolved from an earlier Punico-Hellenistic establishment. The site grew exponentially over the terraced slopes of the hill all through the Republican period, but the most drastic architectural changes were carried out during the Imperial period when oil production machinery was transferred to an area previously intended as a residential area and the complex was reduced in size and surrounded by a fortification wall.
The Temporary Balcony
The temporary balcony gives a good view of the villa establishment. From here one can see why the villa was built on this location, as apart from commanding the Burmarrad valley beneath it, it was very close to an important harbour that extended at least up to where the present Burmarrad church is. On the left hand side one case see the industrial area with its oil-making equipment. The most striking of these is the circular trapetum (olive crusher), the two stone wheels which were used to separate the pip from the olive. The resulting mixture was placed on the flat stone (next to which are 3 steps) which was the pressing bed. On this the oil was pressed out of the mixture and taken to settling vats by means of channels. On the right you can see a series of 5 rooms that were probably intended as the residential area. The floors are of the same type as the industrial area but the walls still bear traces of elaborately painted plasters.
Below the Chapel
Down below the chapel is a continuation of the villa. Here one can find two rooms or enclosures with a large well (on the left) and a series of channels and settling vats meant to collect and clean the water on its way to the various cisterns. Facing the stairs, on the right, one can see a large broken block with two holes on the floor. This is the sill of the 15th century chapel that stood here before the Church of San Pawl Milqi was built in the 17th century.
Source: Heritage Malta