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.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Legend Of Ghar Hasan

The Caves 006

There is a cave on the southern cliffs, situated on a narrow precipice and commanding a spectacular view of sheer rock-faces and miles and miles of deep blue sea. It is known as Ghar Hasan (the gh in ghar is completely silent) – Hasan’s cave.

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Like many such places there is a legend tied to this cave. In fact there a number of different versions of this legend but the central figure in all of them is a Saracen named Hasan. In the most popular version of the legend it is said that Hasan abducted a beautiful Maltese farm-girl and held her captive in this cave. This raised the ire of the locals who proceeded to attack the cave. Rather than be captured, Hasan flung the girl into the sea below and then committed suicide by jumping over the edge of the precipice.

The Caves 008

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You may find another version of Hasan’s legend here.

Whether there is any truth to these legends is hard to tell. There is no written record to suggest that  these stories are based on facts. However I would speculate that a person named Hasan did live in this cave at some point in time and, seeing the treacherous path that leads to the cave, it is highly possible that there was someone who fell to their death from this spot. Separating the truth from the legend at this point in time is impossible and unnecessary. All true legends are shrouded in mystery and the legend of Ghar Hasan is no exception.

For a view of the cave from the sea below please visit Malta Daily Photo here.

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Note to prospective visitors

Officially, the cave is closed to the public and surrounded by a tall metal fence – so we will leave the particulars of how I managed to get in a mystery (but any other blogger worth their salt would have done what I did). The guard rail is rusted and corroded and  in most places the ground just drops vertiginously into the sea without warning. In all honesty (and perhaps because I was there all by myself) the place gave me the creeps and I did not venture inside at all but took a quick photo from the mouth of the cave. That ghostly chair that you can see in the picture above totally freaked me out until I remembered that when the cave was open to the public there used to be a man renting out torches for a few cents. I suppose that when the place was closed down he left his chair behind and no one has removed it since. Or perhaps Hasan comes back from time to time to reminisce and enjoy the solitude and the view.

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For those of interested in the cave itself, there is a short  description on this site.

Photographed at

Ghar Hasan

l/o Birzebbuga

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ruby Tuesday–The Valletta Waterfront

The Waterfront (15)

Pops of red (and yellow and blue…) at the Valletta Waterfront. Formerly these were warehouses built by Grand Master Pinto 250 years ago. The area has now been developed as a cruise liner terminal and the warehouses have been converted into shops and restaurants.

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The Waterfront is a nice place for an evening stroll and provides unobstructed views of  Grand Harbour.

The Waterfront (8)

Some may find the colours of the doors, windows and wooden balconies to be gaudy and definitely not in keeping with the former character of this place. Personally I think the colours are fun, even though not historically accurate, and they worked just fine for me, providing me with enough red to participate in this week’s Ruby Tuesday.

Photographed at

The Valletta Waterfront

Valletta

For more  Ruby Tuesday posts visit Mary at Work Of The  Poet.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

St Mark’s Priory

St Mark’s priory is situated in a narrow street in the hear of the town of Rabat – just a stone’s throw from Mdina. The first priory which existed in the area was demolished in 1551 during an attack by the Turks since its proximity to Mdina was deemed as a security risk. A new priory was built and completed in 1558 by architect Girolamo Cassar. Parts of the priory were later re-modelled by Tommaso Dingli in 1652. In 1740 the priory was largely rebuilt, since the original structure was almost completely dilapidated, this time according to the plan of Andrea Belli. The Baroque façade of the building we see today is probably one of the most elaborate in Rabat. During the French occupation of Malta by Napoleon and his troops, the friars were ordered to leave the priory and it was stripped of all decoration. The French also removed the emblems on the portico.

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During WW2 the priory served as a school for boys and also as a home for male refugees from the Cottonera area (most people who lived in the Cottonera area were evacuated to towns further inland due to the proximity of the dockyard which was a prime war-time target).

 Rabat (4)

The priory did not sustain any damage during the war and as a result has remained unchanged for over 250 years. I have walked past this priory hundreds of times but what lies inside is a mystery to me. The heavy wooden door is nearly always closed and it is only on very few occasions that it has been left ajar and I was able to catch a glimpse of the interior which, in contrast to the façade, appears to be very simple – long white-washed corridors surrounding an internal courtyard; glimpses of another world, of an almost forgotten way of life.

You may view a complete history of the priory here.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

They Called Me Maleth

… and so many other names over the years … but I need to start at the beginning. It was many, many years ago that my foundations were laid on this inland hill, far from the sea and safe from enemy attacks. I cannot remember the exact date when I came into being, but it was probably around 700BC. It was those ancient mariners known as Phoenicians who first built dwellings on this hill. They came from afar, those mariners of old, from Tyre and Sidon, in what is now Lebanon. They named me Maleth*, meaning ‘safe harbour’ in their tongue. The Phoenicians were traders, famous for the purple dye which they extracted from the shells of sea snails – a dye which in antiquity was highly coveted by emperors and kings. Over time this sea-faring nation established colonies all over the Mediterranean, the most famous one being Carthage (in modern day Tunisia).

But I digress. What happened across the sea did not affect me until  many years later. Soon I fell under the direct jurisdiction of Carthage. Trade flourished and so did I. Walls were erected, streets were laid and buildings were built – houses, a temple maybe? I cannot recall. It was so long ago and so much has crumbled or been destroyed. All that remains are fragments – a foundation wall here, a piece of pottery there -  from which they try to piece my story together.

Image via Malta Geografika

The years passed and I heard that a new power had risen to the North, eager for lands and conquest, eager for glory. Its legions marched and fought under the sign of the eagle. Soon I heard rumours of wars that were fought in the surrounding sea – the Punic Wars, historians later called them. News of the battles reached me slowly but, over the years and after many battles and various shifts in the dominant power that ruled the Mediterranean sea, the legions of the eagle emerged victorious and the power of the city called Rome held sway over the Mediterranean and beyond for hundreds of years. As for me, I too changed hands and fell under control of the mighty Roman empire. But that is a tale for some other day …

*Maleth was also the name given to Malta during this time.

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This is the first in a series of posts about the chequered history of the town we now call Mdina. I hope you will enjoy them and that they will give you a clearer picture of the truth beneath all the flowery words and mystery with which I have shrouded Mdina up to now. Perhaps once her story is revealed you will prefer the mysterious seductress of the night to the brick and mortar city brought forth into the  harsh scrutiny of the world. But I really do believe, that no matter how deep we will delve, Mdina will keep some secrets to herself.

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