Ninu’s Cave – Xagħra, Malta - Atlas Obscura

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Ninu’s Cave

In 1888, a resident of Xagħra, Malta, discovered a small underground chamber filled with stalactites and stalagmites when digging a well. 


Malta’s geology is known for its layers of limestone that may contain many naturally-forming caves. This is because limestone is primarily composed of calcium carbonate that is relatively easily dissolved by groundwater passing through the rock. When an underground cave forms within a layer of limestone, water dripping through the cave may leave behind some of its dissolved calcium carbonate, and over time, this can lead to the formation of stalactites and stalagmites.

Such a cave was found by chance in 1888 when Joseph Rapa was digging a well at the back of his home and accidentally broke into the middle of a small chamber. The cave is sufficiently small that, had he dug a few meters in any other direction, he would have either missed the cave or destroyed a significant fraction of the stalactites and stalagmites surrounding the periphery of the cave. Following this discovery, Rapa decided to exhibit the cave to the general public.

Today, the cave is still owned by the descendants of Joseph Rata and is still open for visitors. The tour involves walking briefly through the home of Rata’s great-granddaughter to a small exhibition room where she briefly explains the history of the cave. This room also contains a rather impressive nativity crib depicting Jesus, Mary, and Joseph within the cave. The cave is then accessed via a spiral staircase in a small courtyard at the rear of the house. While the cave itself is rather small, the formations within it are still spectacular.

Know Before You Go

Ninu’s Cave is open Monday through Saturday from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. As described above, the cave is accessed through the personal home of the great-granddaughter of the person who discovered the cave, who will conduct a brief, personal tour that should take less than half an hour. Ring the doorbell if the door is closed.

No admission is charged, but donations to charity are accepted. Access to the cave is via a short but narrow spiral staircase, so people with limited mobility may have problems getting into the cave.

The cave is located on a side street very close to Xagħra’s main square. This location can be reached by bus from Victoria, Mgarr, or other locations on the east side of the island of Gozo. Street parking is available, but space may be limited.

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