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.


Thursday 24 November 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 17 November 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


October 2011

Thursday 10 November 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


Photographed August 2011

Friday 4 November 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


Photographed June 2011

The Azure Window: the end of an icon

The Azure Window was a natural limestone arch that rose majestically out of the blue Mediterranean sea to a height of 28 metres (92 fee...