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.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Maltese Traditions (2): L-Imnarja

The feast of Mnarja (pronounced imnarya) held annually on June 29 traditionally celebrates the martyrdom of saints Peter and Paul. However, this feast has its roots in antiquity, to the time when Malta formed part of the Roman Empire and the feast of Luminaria was celebrated around this time. This short night in early summer was celebrated by lighting torches and bonfires. Gradually the feast became Christianised and continued to be celebrated, especially by farmers, since in essence it is a type of harvest festival. Mnarja is celebrated in Buskett, a wooded area on the outskirts of the town of Rabat. When the Knights ruled Malta they built a castle in Buskett (Verdala Palace) and used it as a summer residence and hunting lodge.

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The Maltese were not allowed to enter or hunt in the wooded grounds of the castle except on one day of the year: June 29. During British rule, governor William Reid introduced an agricultural show which is held to this day. The celebration of  Mnarja starts on the evening  prior to the feast with traditional singing, known as ghana (pnounced aana), and the cooking of food in Buskett. The dishes most commonly associated with Mnarja are rabbit stew and pork cooked on a spit, followed by imqaret (a concoction of dates enclosed in dough and deep fried) for dessert. Nowadays, foreign influence can be seen in the stalls selling burgers and fries, ice-cream cones and candy floss (or cotton candy for my American readers Smile).

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On the day of the feast, produce and livestock participating in the agricultural show are judged and prizes awarded.

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The religious aspect of the feast is celebrated at the Cathedral of St Paul in Mdina. In the past, it was considered good luck for a husband to take his newly-wed wife to Buskett for Mnarja during their first year of marriage. This tradition has long since died out.

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The atmosphere at  Buskett has naturally changed over the years. The amount of animals on show keeps decreasing year by year as less and less people are earning their livelihood by farming and also because many of our open spaces are dwindling as permits continue to be granted to so called ‘entrepreneurs’ who persist in building flats and houses that seem to take ages to sell. With respect to Buskett itself, environmentalists complain that the crowds that flock to the area do not show enough respect to their surroundings since they trample and uproot vegetation in the whole area including the surrounding valley known as Wied il-Luq.

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It has been many years since I ventured to Buskett for this feast but, this year two things made me decide to go. The first is this blog since I felt that I should introduce my readers to some local traditions and it would also be a good photo-taking opportunity for me. Secondly, now that my son is 5 years old, I thought he might enjoy an outing that would include animals together with traditions that date back thousands of years. Unfortunately we arrived too late in the day to see the livestock since their owners take them back home before the day heats up too much but we were able to enjoy the smaller animals like rabbits, geese, ducks, hens and other birds as these are kept in a shaded area.

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In a country where wooded areas are very scarce, Buskett is definitely a treasure that needs to be preserved for future generations to enjoy. Although today I was more intent on capturing some shots of the Mnarja festival, I will return in future to take more photos of this lovely place – when there are no crowds and I can enjoy the buzzing bees and the cicadas and watch the lizards and geckos lap up the sun; when peace and tranquility reign, I promise I will be back.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Triton Fountain and The End Of An Era

Valletta (2)

Triton Fountain at Sunset

This is Triton Fountain – currently situated at the main bus terminus just outside the walls of Valletta. It is a sculpture in bronze by Maltese sculptor Vincent Apap. Erected in 1959, it soon became a much-loved landmark. Indeed its wide marble basin has always been a favourite meeting place with local teenagers. On warm summer evenings the sound of its splashing water has accompanied many a hasty teen-age kiss and its circular basin has provided the perfect platform for  many private dramas and outbursts of youthful angst.

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Triton Fountain at Sunset

Originally, the bowl held up by the tritons was much larger and the central column (which you can just  make out in the photos) did not exist. However, after the surface of the bowl was controversially used as a performance stage in the late 1970s, the structure was damaged. For many years it was in disrepair but it still continued to be a popular meeting place. It was repaired  in the late 1980s (when the smaller bowl and central column were included) and the cheerful sound of its jets of water continued to delight new  generations.

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Triton Fountain at Sunset

Triton Fountain is now back on everyone’s lips. The entrance to our capital city is being given a much needed face-lift. The plans were drawn by world-renowned architect Renzo Piano. Unfortunately, Piano’s plans include the removal of the fountain from its current location to another location 50 metres away where it will, most likely, no longer function as a fountain. This plan has not really gone done well with the general population since many feel that the fountain has earned its place at the entrance to Valletta not only because of its artistic value but because of the affectionate hold it has on the national psyche. Those, like me, who have gown up with this landmark, have met countless friends at its base and who have have sat on its warm stones on many lazy summer nights, are loathe to see it go. But the powers-that-be have spoken and Piano’s plans  have won over national nostalgia and Apap’s artistry.

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Triton Fountain at Night

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ruby Tuesday: Another Post Box

Mail boxes are red here and the older ones bear the insignia of  the British monarch who was on the throne when the mail box was put up. You may read more about this in my post  Red and  Regal. This particular post box bears the insignia of King Edward VII. Edward VII was king between 1901 and 1910, which makes this post box over 100 years old.

I never thought post boxes could be fascinating but these older ones, bearing the royal cyphers, are very intriguing. I must admit that it has become a bit of an obsession to hunt out the very old post boxes and snap some shots. It is a great way of getting back in touch with our past. In reality a post box is just an everyday object which serves an important function but just stop and think of all the letters and messages that have been mailed inside this box. Letters of hope, of love, of encouragement. Letters from loved ones in foreign lands. Happy messages, sad messages. So many secrets in one little  post box.

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Photographed in

Main Gate Street

Birgu

This is my entry for this week’s Ruby Tuesday. For more Ruby Tuesday posts visit Mary at Work Of The Poet.

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Ruby Tuesday: Red Balconies in Birgu

After a long absence I am back participating in Ruby Tuesday. I hope that by now I have accumulated enough images with red in them to be able to link up to this fun meme on a weekly basis.

For this week’s entry I have chosen a photo of some red balconies in the medieval maritime city* of Birgu (aka Vittoriosa). Balconies, of course, are the quintessential adornments of most of the older houses in the Mediterranean and can be covered or uncovered and made of wood or stone. Covered wooden balconies, like the ones in the photo, are perfect for a spot of eavesdropping, if you are so inclined, and also provide an ideal perch above the street from where you can watch the daily neighborhood drama being enacted. I think that the current fad of painting local balconies in bold reds, greens and blues contrasts well with the honey-coloured limestone that makes up Maltese houses.

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Photographed in

Main Gate Street

Birgu

Like any medieval town or village in Malta, Birgu is made up of narrow winding streets flanked on each side by buildings which are 2 to 3 storeys high. Being a harbor town, Birgu has a long history of maritime, mercantile and military activities. Following the heavy bombardment it sustained during WW2, Birgu experienced a sharp decline in its population (which was almost halved when compared to pre-war years). For a large number of years, many of the remaining buildings went in decline and the population continued to dwindle. In the past decade the government, together with a number of private entrepreneurs, started to invest in the area and many of the older buildings are being renovated and restored. A Yacht Marina was built and the buildings and palaces on the waterfront at St Lawrence Wharf have been leased to house restaurants and cafeterias.

I have already written about Birgu another time and you  may read the post here. New readers may also read more about the chequered history of this town at the official portal of the Birgu Local Council.

Major attractions in Birgu include Fort St Angelo, the Maritime Museum (housed in the former Royal Navy Bakery), the church of St Lawrence, the Inquisitor’s Palace, the Couvre Port and the extensive fortifications (to name just a few).

*Please note that the word city here in Malta is used very loosely and does not refer to modern metropolises such as London or New York. In fact, some of our ‘cities’ (like Mdina) are inhabited by not more than 500 people.

RubyTuesdaybadgebydriller[1]

For more posts with pops of red, visit Mary at Work of the Poet.

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