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, 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 fa├žade 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)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

San Teodoro – Abandoned and Forgotten

Winter countryside (60)-2

Somewhere on a country road between the towns of Rabat and Siggiewi there is an old abandoned cemetery. Popularly known as Tal-Brija cemetery, it is in fact dedicated to San Teodoro – and that is all I know or was able to find  out. The fact that it is situated in the middle of  nowhere (or as in-the-middle-of-nowhere as you can get on a small island) would have me surmise that it was used to bury people who died of an infectious disease, most likely the plague. After years of living with my curiosity, last winter I decided to take a look inside, hoping to find a gravestone or a plaque somewhere that would help me date the place. Unfortunately, the grounds and graves are covered with weeds and a forest of wild sumac trees.

Winter countryside (61)-1

Who lies beneath will remain a mystery. Their names forgotten. Their memory obliterated by time and nature.

Winter countryside (62)-1Winter countryside (66)-1

San Teodoro Cemetery (Tal-Brija)

Girgenti

l/o Siggiewi

February 2011.

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