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.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

I’ll Meet You By The Wembley

If you live in Malta you will, at some point in your life, have met someone by the Wembley Store. This store has probably seen more meetings than any other place on the island. Its location on a corner between Republic and South streets in Valletta, and opposite the old opera house, seems to make it an ideal venue where to meet someone in the city. It’s not that Valletta lacks landmarks. I think it’s just that its location is ideal as it is just a few metres away from the entrance to the city.

The store itself was opened in 1924 by Emanuel Gauci. Its name was inspired by the British Empire Exhibition held at Wembley (London) that same year. During the second World War the bombs that destroyed the opera house also damaged the store but it still continued to serve customers and, once the war was over, it was renovated and enlarged. Recently the store has again been refurbished and the fa├žade embellished to give the shop a turn-of-the-century feel. I think it looks great and that it will continue to be a meeting place for many years to come.

Valletta on a Sunday (3)-1

The Wembley Store

305 Republic Street

Valletta

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Girna And A Moment That Took My Breath Away

There is a saying which goes something like this:

Life is not counted by the number of breaths you take but by those moments that take your breath away.

I thought that there was not much left on this little island that could take my breath away. I felt I had seen all there was to see. But sometimes I come across something which, in its sheer simplicity, is so pretty that it literally does leave me breathless for a moment or two.

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This humble girna did just that and so much more. I suppose it all had to do with the fact that it was so unexpected – the contrast of the hash stone and the hundreds of vibrant yellow flowers. It seemed like the perfect place to be alone and write or read a good book. Or to just close my eyes and let myself be deafened by the silence. While the structure itself does not look like much more than a hovel, yet the view and its surroundings are fit for a king or, in my case, for a queen. And I would not mind being a queen of all this for a day, or even for an hour …

Fawwara 292

Note

A girna is a small hut built of stones often found in fields or in the countryside. They were used by farmers to store their tools, as shelter for livestock or as a short term dwelling when work in the fields became particularly intensive. These small buildings come in a variety of shapes but the most common shape is circular or oval. The interior is always domed and the roofs are flat.

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While these corbelled stone huts are quite a common sight all over the countryside this girna at Fawwara is one of the most picturesque that I have seen.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Marsaxlokk & A Tale Of An Ancient Harbour

In the southern part of our island there is a fishing village called Marsaxlokk. Its name is derived from the Arabic word for harbour (marsa) and the Maltese word for the south-east wind (xlokk). It is a picturesque little place – a village by the sea; the water of its bay dotted with boats. A sleepy little place, ideal for a family stroll. A harbour whose limpid waters have,since ancient times, provided sanctuary to countless ships and boats.

Marsaxlokk (4)

Around 3000 years ago the Phoenicians sailed into this harbour, bringing with them their cargo of precious purple dye and superstitions that have lived on to this day. Traditional Maltese boats are painted in vibrant colours and usually, on the bow, you will find the Eyes of Horus (or the Eyes of Osiris) for protection and good luck. It is a common tradition that these eyes have been painted on Maltese boats since that time.

Darin's 158

The fact that these ancient mariners settled in the area can be confirmed by the temple they built to Astarte, their goddess of love, on the top of a hill overlooking this natural harbour.

Marsaxlokk (2)

 

Although Marsaxlokk is a typical Mediterranean village, where nothing much seems to happen except for the excitement of the daily catch, it has played its own role in the turbulent history of this island. In 1565 it witnessed an attack on the island by the Ottoman Turks, an attack which later turned into the Great Siege of 1565.

Marsaxlokk (7)

It was also the harbour used by Napoleon in 1798, when he took over the island from the Knights of St John and launched his attack on Egypt.

Marsaxlokk (5)

In 1989, Marsaxlokk was the venue for a summit held between George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev onboard the Russian cruiser Maxim Gorky – a summit which effectively ended the cold war.

Marsaxlokk (8)

Yet I doubt whether most of us give a second thought to these events as we stroll along the sleepy promenade, watching the boats bobbing peacefully in the water. Because, on the land there is no reminder of the embattled past and, as the fishermen will tell you, the sea very rarely gives up its secrets.

Marsaxlokk (1)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fields of Scarlet, Fields of Gold

There’s a certain magic afoot at this time of year – the magic of nature, the magic of spring.

Bingemma, Gnejna & Dwejra (109)

It seems to happen overnight, what once 3was a field of green grass is now carpeted in vibrant hues of red and yellow – crimson and gold.

Bingemma, Gnejna & Dwejra (106)

Because as April’s warm winds reach our shores, a period of rapid growth occurs. It seems as if Nature explodes and the countryside dons its party clothes before the climbing temperatures withers everything that isn’t watered.

I don’t know whether it’s by chance or by design, but very often, these fields of crimson and fields of gold are found almost adjacent to each other.

Bingemma, Gnejna & Dwejra (110)

The flowers which cause this pretty spectacle are the clover and the crown daisy: red and yellow; crimson and gold.

Fawwara 242

Bingemma, Gnejna & Dwejra (103)

 

Photographed on the hills of Dwejra

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fawwara – a Hidden Gem Beneath The Cliffs

Have you ever visited a place in your childhood that you never went to again but that lived on in your  memory as a place of spectacular beauty? Well, Fawwara was that place for me. Over the years I would hear  people talk about its uniqueness and its pretty views and I always longed to go back. But somehow, the time and opportunity never seemed to arise. But last Saturday we took the narrow, winding road to this little hamlet situated beneath Dingli cliffs.

Fawwara 300

The Chapel Of The Annunciation

So we followed the road that brought us first to the chapel of the Annunciation – above us the steep cliffs and below us the blue, blue sea. We headed on a bit more till the road just became a dirt path. At the end of the road was the chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Carmel (more about these two chapels in a future post). The view was magnificent: fields, the garigue, wild flowers, the sea and, in the distance, the little islet of Filfla.

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Fawwara 243

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And all around us, the sound of silence – broken only by the chirping and twittering of birds. In this place, time had stood still, nothing had changed and memories from my first visit so many years ago came flooding back. The view, the cliffs, the scattered farmhouses, the caves – the very same caves that had sheltered Bronze Age men and women – I could feel the place working its magic on me.

Fawwara 257

Fawwara 287

I had found a place which seemed untouched by the outside world and I felt that, like Rip van Winkle, I could stay there for an hour and a day only to return to the outside world and find out that 20 years had flown by while I was just gazing in rapture at nature’s wild beauty.

 

Fawwara 283

Note

I could not fund much historical information about Fawwara. The name Fawwara is derived from the Maltese word for a spring of natural water. The area of Fawwara known as Gebel Ciantar seems to have been settled since Bronze Age times when the inhabitants made use of the many caves that dot the cliffs as their dwellings. The cliffs themselves provided an impregnable fortress against any would-be marauders. In the 13th century it is said that the Arab overlord Ali Sid killed and tortured a number of young girls from Fawwara for refusing to convert to the Islamic faith. I could find no historical data to back this story. But then, what place would be complete without its legends?

Fawwara 284

The Chapel of Our Lady of Carmel

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