Free entrance to St Paul’s catacombs on Sunday

European Commissioner Corina Creţu inaugurates €9.2 million St Paul’s catacombs’ visitors centre

St Paul’s catacombs and the newly inaugurated visitors centre will be open all day tomorrow, accessible to all for free.

The €9.2 million centre – 85% of which was co-financed by the EU – was inaugurated yesterday by European Commissioner Corina Creţu and Cabinet members Owen Bonnici and Ian Borg.

St Paul’s Catacombs are on the tentative list for future inscription as a World Heritage Site.

The new extended site includes a visitor centre incorporating all amenities and interpretation facilities and a walkway which provides access around the site.

The project also incorporated a number of scientific studies, including archaeological research, environmental studies and ground penetrating radar scans, the construction of new visitor facilities, 3D navigation through parts of the site, new interpretation of the site and its different phases, and access to previously inaccessible areas and to a number of catacombs.

The site’s interpretation includes a number of audio-visuals with information on various aspects of the site.

Heritage Malta has also implemented an interactive immersive experience of the Catacombs through a setup of virtual reality goggles and 3D navigation systems using the Oculus Rift technology.

While this technology is still a prototype, the experience is “one of a kind”. This system has been implemented in conjunction with St Martin’s Institute of IT and is intended to give an experience of the St Paul’s catacombs, especially to those who cannot physically visit the tombs.

“The European Union’s funding programme has proved to be essential for the conservation and rehabilitation of cultural heritage in Malta,” Culture Minister Owen Bonnici said.

“One such prime example is definitely this project which will give a new life to St Paul’s Catacombs and the appreciation of this beautiful example of Malta's cultural heritage.”

Bonnici said the whole project went beyond the physical and material conservation of the site. In line with the Cultural Heritage Strategy, and indeed with the mission of Heritage Malta, it is a tool that helps everyone understand better the intrinsic cultural fabric and seeks to render it accessible to all possible audiences.

“The visitor centre, technological tools, interactive 3D experience and interpretations are in line with Government’s vision to make such sites accessible and available for public enjoyment. Although there are accessibility issues to the site, alternative facilities are made available to compensate for physical limitations and restrictions,” he said.

The minist said the project was also relevant for the National Tourism Policy, in that it delivers a quality product for the cultural tourist and for the general visitor.

Inevitably, this also positively impacts the generation of economic activity.

“These are initiatives which above all open up the cultural fabric to the local visitor and neighbouring communities. These monuments cannot be separated from the socio-economic and political context of the surrounding communities,” Bonnici added.

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