WELCOME

This blog is dedicated to Malta - my island home. My aim is not to bore you with history but to share my thoughts and a few facts together with a photo or two. For a more in -depth background of the island please go here. The purpose of this blog is not to point out the short-comings of the island. There are plenty that do that already. My wish is to show you the beauty of an island at the cross roads of the Mediterranean, a melting pot of history; a place where fact and fiction are sometimes fused to create unique myths and legends; a country that has been conquered so many times that our culture is a mish mesh of the lands that surround us and of lands far away. I confess that my greatest desire is to make you fall in love with this tiny enchanting island.

Friday, December 2, 2011

What’s On In Malta In December

I have been feeling the need to change things a little bit around here. I do not want this blog to just end up being a historical archive. As a result, at the beginning of every month, I will pick a few events taking place here in Malta that I think will be of interest to those that live here or plan to visit in the coming weeks.

December 3rd: Frock Swap

A frock swap in aid of The Island Sanctuary will take place to coincide with the official opening of SoapCafé. Details of the Frock Swap may be found here. SoapCafé  produce totally natural and virtually edible beauty products for all ages and skin types. The official programme of this event may  be found here.

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                Soap Café

               46 St Mary Street

                Sliema

 

Dec 4th: Malta Artisans Market

If you are looking for a unique  hand made gift to give to your loved ones this Christmas (or if you would like to indulge in a little something for yourselves) an Artisans Market is taking place at the Grand Ballroom of the Phoenicia Hotel. There will be 60 stalls selling arts, crafts and artisan food products.

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                The Phoenicia Hotel

                The Mall

                Floriana

 

December 2011 – April 2012: Metal Magic

This exhibition which was inaugurated on 7th November 2011 will continue until the end of April 2012. The Spanish treasure from the Khalili collections  consists of works of art of  Spanish damascene metal. The preservation of the art of damascening in Spain was almost entirely due to the efforts of a single family: the Zuloagas. A number of the works of art on display were created by Placido Zuloaga, the supreme artisan of the family. A number of artefacts from Malta’s National Collection will also be on exhibit.

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December 1st – December 18th: The MFCC Christmas Park

This year the Malta Fairs and Convention Centre in Ta’ Qali has brought to Malta a unique Christmas crib made from 8 tons of salt from the Patraia Soprana mine in Italkali near Palermo (Sicily).  The crib has an area of 60 square metres and is adorned with terracotta figures.

Other attractions include a chocolate village, a 17 metre high Christmas tree, a light show and a Christmas shopping mall.

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December 4th-December 25th: Live Crib

From 04/12 to 25/12 the streets of the village of Lija will come alive as about 100 locals re-create the traditional nativity scenes.

 

December 22nd: Winter Solstice

Heritage Malta is again inviting members of the public to attend a guided tour of Mnajdra Temples and to participate in the winter solstice. This is the perfect opportunity to learn more about our prehistory and the ancient fertility cult practiced by the first inhabitants of these islands. The Mnajdra temples are situated in a unique location close to the edge of cliffs that rise sharply out of the sea. On the day of the solstice, due to the special alignment of the temple, the first rays of the rising sun will fall on a megalith to the right of the central doorway of the main temple. Whether this alignment is coincidental or planned is still a matter of debate although most archaeologists think that it was the latter.

The number of tickets for this event, which starts at 6am, are limited so as to enhance the experience of all those that attend.

Image via The Times of Malta

Mnajdra Temple Complex

Qrendi

 

December 26th-January 8th: Ali Baba-A Christmas Panto

FM Productions present Ali Baba at the Manoel Theatre in Valletta. Tickets may be booked here.

December 22nd-January 8th: The Princess and the Pea-A Christmas  Panto

MADC present The Princess and the Pea at the MFCC theatre in Ta’ Qali. Directed by Nanette Brimmer, the part of the Dame will be played by Alan Montanaro. Tickets for this production may be booked here.

The Christmas pantomime is one of the most well-established events of the local Christmas season and is enjoyed by young and old alike.

For more events taking place during December go to my What’s On tab at the top of this page.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Wildflowers of Malta: Asphodel

Asphodel (Asphodelus aestivus) known in  Maltese as berwieq is a lily-like plant with very small roots. It is a common sight on cliff tops and in areas of garigue.  In fact the plant prefers rocky areas with very little soil. The plants grow to a height of between 50 and 150cm and flower between January and April. The flowers are white with reddish-brown vertical stripes. This plant is native to Africa and most of the Mediterranean coasts. The name asphodel is derived from Greek. Although no longer employed in modern medicine, asphodel was used by the Greeks and the Romans as a diuretic, antispasmodic and as a treatment for sun burns. Asphodel tubers are highly resistant to fire.

Bahrija Valley (33)

In Greek legend, asphodel is closely associated with the dead and Persephone is often depicted wearing a garland of asphodel flowers. Asphodel was also planted on graves and the Asphodel Meadows was thought to be the place where the souls of those who had done an equal measure of good and evil in their lives rested.

Winter countryside (35)

Bahrija Valley (35)

It will soon be time for these tenacious perennials to bloom on rocky outcrops and on cliffs and areas with shallow pockets of soil. Asphodel is just one of the many pretty blooms that flower and thrive during our short winters.  It is a plant perfectly adapted to our Mediterranean climate. As soon as the heat becomes intense, the plant and flowers wither and die, but under ground, the tuber will live on until the autumn rains cause it to sprout once more.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

St Paul’s Catacombs–An Underground Necropolis

I recently re-visited the catacombs of St Paul. The last time I was in this underground necropolis I was just a child. Visiting the place as an adult felt vastly different. The tombs are empty but I could not help thinking about the lives of the people who had lain here. It’s easy to become morbid in a place like this so let’s move on to the historical facts.

Rabat and the Catacombs (15)

The catacombs of St Paul are situated in the town of Rabat. In the past, when Melite (modern day Mdina) was much larger, this area would have been just outside the gates of the city. The catacombs in  Malta were used solely for burial purposes since there is no record of any type of religious persecution during this era. These catacombs were the last resting place of Christians, pagans and Jews. St Paul’s catacombs were used up to the 4th century AD. The complex covers an area of 2000 square metres. One enters the catacombs by going down a flight of steep steps which lead into a main hall. This hall was used for the various activities associated with funerary rites.Two reclining tables, known as agape tables, were probably used for commemorative meals. 

Rabat and the Catacombs (3)

It is thought that in the 13th century this hall may have served as a shrine during the re-Christianising of the island. Doorways in the main hall lead to various passages, carved out from the limestone, which are lined with a numerous array of tombs.

Rabat and the Catacombs (24)

Rabat and the Catacombs (27)

Some of the tombs were closed up with blocking stones, some of which had carvings on them. This one is decorated with surgical tools of the time which suggests that it is the burial place of a surgeon and his family or, possibly, a group of surgeons.

Rabat and the Catacombs (8)

Rabat and the Catacombs (9)

Rabat and the Catacombs (10)

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of these catacombs is the large number of tombs known as ‘luculus tombs’. These small tombs were the final resting place of children and babies and the large number that can be seen hewn in the rock is a poignant reminder of the high infant mortality rate that existed at the time.

Rabat and the Catacombs (19)

In the past these catacombs were lit by oil lamps that were placed in small nooks in the passage-way walls. Vents in the ceiling provided fresh air and some light during the daylight.

Rabat and the Catacombs (29)

At present, St Paul’s catacombs are being monitored for temperature and humidity levels. It is expected that full restoration of the catacombs will be complete by 2013.

Rabat and the Catacombs (16)

The catacombs of St Paul are on UNESCO’s tentative World Heritage List. It is, indeed, important that sites such as this are studied and maintained for future generations. They not only provide us with a glimpse of the past but, on a human level, a link to our ancestors.

This link from Heritage Malta should enable you to see the catacombs in 360.

Rabat and the Catacombs (23)Rabat and the Catacombs (25)

 

St Paul’s Catacombs

St Agatha Street

Rabat

October 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wayside Chapels – St Martin at Bahrija

Bahrija (1)

This small chapel in the tiny (but rapidly expanding) village of Bahrija is dedicated to St Martin, Bishop of Tours. No one knows exactly when this chapel was built, however it is likely that it was constructed some time during the 15th century. According to the pastoral records of Bishop Molina the chapel was rebuilt in 1684. This very simple chapel is rectangular in shape with one small round window providing light for the interior. The belfry was built in 1946.

Bahrija (2)Bahrija (3)Bahrija (4)

According to Christian tradition, Martin converted to Christianity against his parents wishes. While serving as a Roman soldier in Gaul he came across a scantily dressed beggar at the gates of Amiens. It is said that Martin cut his military cloak in half and shared it with the beggar who later revealed himself to be Jesus. The feast  of St Martin is celebrated on November 11.

Here in Malta it is customary for children to be given a cloth bag filled with nuts, autumn fruits such as apples and oranges, dried figs and a type of sweet bread topped with an anise-tasting sweet  (il-hobza ta San Martin or the bread of St Martin) for this feast.

This weekend the village of Bahrija will celebrate the  feast of Saint Martin with an agricultural fair which will include a show for farm animals. I have yet to make it Bahrija for this feast mainly because the village is inundated by visitors who upset the usual peace and tranquility of this picturesque spot.

Bahrija (6)

View from a small clearing next to the chapel of St Martin

St Martin’s Chapel

Bahrija

Photographed August 2011

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Lighthouse At Delimara

Delimara (1)

This lighthouse, which is situated in the southernmost tip of Malta, was built by the British in 1854. Its light served as a beacon for all maritime traffic approaching Malta. Until 1896, the lighthouse had a static red lantern but this was replaced by a more powerful gasoline lamp which was operated by a hand-wound mechanism. This lamp gave off alternating beams of red and white light every 30 seconds.

Delimara (2)

In 2006 the Malta Maritime Authority entrusted the restoration and upkeep of the lighthouse to Din l-Art Helwa, an NGO founded in 1965 to safeguard the historic, artistic and natural heritage of Malta. Restoration on the lighthouse should be complete by the summer of 2012 when Din l-Art Helwa hope to offer the lighthouse as holiday accommodation to those visitors wishing to experience something different from an impersonal hotel room. I would not mind renting the place out for a weekend myself when it becomes available. It would surely be a unique experience and, given the isolated location of the lighthouse at Delimara Point, possibly a romantic one too. I would certainly love to stay there on a stormy winter night with lightning flashing all around me, rain lashing the wide windows and a gale-force wind rattling the weather-vane and spinning it around and around.

Delimara (20)

It’s a scene which is causing shivers to run down my spine but definitely something I would love to do at least once in my  life. And the view from the top will, naturally, be nothing less than magnificent. I can feel myself getting excited about this. Din l-Art Helwa can rest assured that they will have at least one visitor as soon as the restoration is complete and bookings are accepted.

Delimara (13)

Delimara Lighthouse

Delimara Point

Marsaxlokk

Photographed June 2011

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

And Then Melite

Life changed under the Romans, but not much and  not for me – I was just known by a new name: Melite (or Melita). Roman rule ushered in an era of prosperity. I was larger in those days, my outer walls extended to the nearby town that is now called Rabat. It was a time of conquest and the Caesars were hungry for new lands and riches, the legions were constantly marching and there was war in many places much further north – places like Gaul and Brittania – but those events did not affect life here in the Mediterranean. Over here there was no question as to who was the Mistress of the Seas. Rome’s power held sway with a vice-like grip but with it came the Pax  Romana, long years of peace during which trade flourished and the population increased.

Ruins of a Roman domus just outside the walls of Mdina (which can be seen in the background).Howard Gardens 002

It was during this time that Paul, a preacher from  Tarsus, was shipwrecked on these shores while on his way to Rome to be tried for treason against the emperor. They brought him to a cave within my walls and held him prisoner here for 3 months. Paul used his time here to preach the words of Jesus to the inhabitants and the Roman governor Publius was one of the first converts to this new faith.

Life here continued peacefully, for the most part, interrupted every now and then by raids from Cilician pirates. In 117AD, emperor Hadrian granted the Island the status of Municipium. This meant that the inhabitants had the same rights as the citizens of Rome except for the right to vote.

Ruins of a Roman domus just outside the walls of Mdina Howard Gardens 003

While generations lived and died within my walls and in the communities scattered around the island, the winds of war were gathering over the mighty empire that Rome had become.The empire was divided into two and the islands were placed under the jurisdiction of the Eastern empire. During this period of turmoil the island fell to the Vandals only to be re-conquered for the eastern empire by general Belisarius in 535AD. So once again I had a new ruler. The Byzantines fortified my walls and made me secure but that was not enough to prevent the next wave of  invaders from conquering this land. In 870AD Melita fell to new invaders from the east – the Arabs.

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This is the second chapter in Mdina’s story – the  Roman chapter. Remains from that era have been found and historians are always trying to piece together the story of an island whose only importance was its strategic  position in the centre of the Mediterranean. A lot of evidence from this period now lies buried under the Mdina and Rabat that we know today. Land is scarce here and, in ages past, remains of an old Roman city would have been deemed of little or no importance. So these remains would filled in and new buildings built on top of them. About 10 years ago, while road works were being carried out in various streets in Mdina, Roman ruins were found beneath the level of the current street. Work had to stop while historians and archeologists did their thing. Then the trenches were filled and Melite continued to dream uninterruptedly, as she had for so many centuries in the past.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wayside Chapels – Our Lady Of Itria

Bingemma, Gnejna & Dwejra (35)

This chapel is situated in the picturesque location of Bingemma (pron. Binjemma) right at the edge of a rock-face overlooking a valley. The first chapel in this area was built in 1600 by the Noble Giovanni Maria Xara. By 1658 the chapel was pretty much in ruins but in 1680 Baron Stanislaw Xara demolished the church and had it rebuilt, using the same stones, in its current location.

Bingemma, Gnejna & Dwejra (2)

Like the majority of wayside chapels, the façade of this chapel is very simple – the only decoration is the coat of arms of Baron Stanislaw Xara above the circular window together with a small belfry with a cross on top.

Bingemma, Gnejna & Dwejra (4)

Bingemma, Gnejna & Dwejra (30)

A number of caves in the limestone rock-face were used as dwellings during the Bronza Age period. Also in this area are a small number of Punic tombs and shards of Roman  pottery have also been unearthed by farmers working in their fields in Bingemma valley. Not far from this chapel the British had built a fort (Fort Bingemma) together with a line of fortifications known as the Victoria Lines. These defenses stretch for 12km from Madliena in the east to Bingemma in the west.

Bingemma, Gnejna & Dwejra (11)

Bingemma, Gnejna & Dwejra (14)

The view from the back of the chapel is quite magnificent with terraced fields, rolling hills and the sea stretching out as far as the eye can see.

Bingemma, Gnejna & Dwejra (29)

Bingemma, Gnejna & Dwejra (5)

Bingemma, Gnejna & Dwejra (19)

Bingemma, Gnejna & Dwejra (8)

In the distance, the island of Gozo is clearly visible.

Bingemma, Gnejna & Dwejra (9)

Bingemma is a wonderful place for a family outing and there are many paths in the area along which one can take a peaceful walk disturbed only by the drone of bees and chirping  birds.

Note

The title ‘of itria’ is an abbreviation of the Greek word ‘hodigitria’ – she who shows the way. The word ‘itria’ was corrupted by the Maltese to ‘ittra’ which is the Maltese word for letter. Thus, sometimes, this chapel is mistakenly referred to as Our Lady of the Letter.

The Chapel of Our Lady  of Itria is open every Sunday at 7.00am and during the last weekend of October when the feast is celebrated.

Photographed at

Bingemma

March 2011

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Upper Barrakka Gardens

These garden were built in 1661 by Knight Gran Prior Flaminio Baldani specifically as  private gardens for the Italian Knights of the Order of St John. They are situated on top of a demi-bastion dedicated to St Peter and St Paul and command unobstructed views of Grand Harbour and of the area known as the Three Cities.  The gardens were opened to the public in 1824.

Barracca and Patches (13)

Barracca and Patches (15)

Barracca and Patches (31)

The gardens are adorned by a number of statues and monuments in stone and in bronze. There is a lovely arcaded section with a massive column at one end. This area used to be covered but the roof was removed in 1775 after a group of knights had met there to conspire against the Grand Master of the time.

Barracca and Patches (8)

Barracca and Patches (21)

Barracca and Patches (22)

A lower terrace served as a Saluting Battery until 1973. Nowadays the gun is fired daily at noon by re-enactors dressed in period costume.

Barracca and Patches (9)

The Upper Barrakka Gardens are a favourite haunt of both locals and tourists. In summer these gardens host a number of outdoor activities including the Delicata Wine Festival, Patches – The Special  Market and also private functions such as weddings.

Barracca and Patches (10)

Barracca and Patches (24)

When I was still a student I worked in Valletta for two summers and most mornings I would walk to the Upper Barrakka to see the sun rising over Grand Harbour. It was truly a wonderful sight especially on humid September mornings when wisps of mist still lay on the surface of the sea, dissipating slowly as the heat increased, to reveal solid bastion walls, ramparts and fortresses tinged with a rosy pink hue.

Barracca and Patches (25)Barracca and Patches (27)Barracca and Patches (36)

The Upper Barrakka Gardens are not large, by any means, but the spectacular view they offer more than makes up for this. I would have to conclude that those Italian Knights knew what they were doing when they chose this site as their private garden.

Photographed at

The Upper Barrakka Gardens

Valletta

July 2011

(during the Patches  Market)

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