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, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas

I am realising that, the more time passes, the harder it is becoming to find the time to write both here and at Stories and Scribbles. I would like to maintain both blogs, but this one may have to be on the back-burner for a while and I may have to post here even less often than I am already. I will try to work things out. In the meantime, I would like to wish my regular readers and all my occasional visitors a very Merry Christmas.

The Barracca Bridge and Castille (34)-001

Mdina Glass Christmas Tree at Auberge de Castille, December 2012

I will leave you with a traditional Christmas carol from Malta. It’s called ‘Ninni La Tibkix Izjed’ which roughly translates to ‘hush, don’t cry and go to sleep’. It was written in 1846 and is one of the best-loved Maltese carols. More about its origins here.

Keep warm, keep safe and enjoy this beautiful time.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Bingemma Gap and The Victoria Lines

Picnic at Dwejra (117)

Situated on the edge of the Great Fault that runs across the entire breadth of the island, the Church of Our Lady of Itrea is surrounded by some of the most picturesque scenery that Malta has to offer. It almost looks as if one gust of wind will send this little chapel crashing down into the valley. But is has withstood the test of time.

Picnic at Dwejra (119)

Its unique location ensures that it takes my breath away every time I pass by. Although this area is rich in archeological discoveries, perhaps it is most well-known for the line of defenses that was built by the British in the late 19th century.

Picnic at Dwejra (118)

On this island that possesses few natural barriers, man-made fortifications abound. The eastern coastline, where the main harbour is situated, has been heavily protected with castles, forts and high bastion walls for hundreds of years. In other areas, impenetrable walls of upper coralline limestone rise majestically from the blue sea. But the sandy beaches of the northern part of the island provided an easy landing place for any marauding pirates or corsairs; and where pirates could land, so could an army. In 1870 the British decided to make the most of a natural fault, running from Madliena in the east to Bingemma in the west, and built the Victoria Lines. The Victoria Lines, which stretch for 12km, are further strengthened by 4 forts and a number of gun batteries. Originally called the North West Front, the wall was re-named the Victoria Lines to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897.

Picnic at Dwejra (122)

Bingemma, Gnejna & Dwejra (13)

Nowadays, the Victoria Lines are very  popular with hikers. The route is quite easy as you simply follow the Great Fault Line. Walk guides for the different sections of the route may be found here.

Location: Bingemma

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Merchants’ Street On An Autumn Afternoon

Valletta on a Sunday (103)

An all but deserted Merchant’s Street on a Sunday afternoon. To the left of the picture, Palazzo Parisio (where Napoleon resided for seven tumultuous days in 1798), now the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Auberge de Castille (the office of the Prime Minister). To the right, Auberge d’Italie which currently houses the Malta Tourism Authority. In the foreground, St James Cavalier, Centre for Creativity. I just love how the camera caught the rays of the sun and turned them into orbs of light, giving a different dimension to the photo. A typical autumn day in Malta – blue skies with just a hint of clouds.

Location: Merchants Street, Valletta

November 2012

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Les Gavroches

Museum of Fine Arts (44)

Les Gavroches - three Parisian urchins, immortalised forever by Antonio Sciortino, are the subject of this sculpture in bronze. Antonio Sciortino is one of Malta’s foremost sculptors. He was born in the village of Zebbug in 1879 and studied at the Istituto Reale di Belle Arti in Rome. He died in Rome  in 1947. His work is said to be influenced by Auguste Rodin and by the artistic movements of Realism and Futurism.

Les Gavroches was completed in 1904 and was placed in the Upper Barracca Gardens. In 2000 the sculpture was removed to be cleaned and restored. It now resides in the Museum of Fine Arts.

Museum of Fine Arts (45)-001

Of all the statues and sculptures in Malta this is probably my favourite. There is a sense of movement and vitality in the faces of the three gavroches that is quite engaging. It almost feels as if, like Pinocchio, they will turn into flesh and blood little boys right before our eyes. And perhaps that is why this sculpture enjoys such universal appeal – because Sciortino has captured to perfection the impish look that so often comes into little boys’ eyes.

Les Gavroches

Museum of Fine Arts, South Street, Valletta

Opening Hours

Monday to Sunday: 9.00-17.00
Last admission: 16.30
Closed: 24, 25 & 31 December, 1 January, Good Friday

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Wayside Chapels: Santa Maria at Tal-Virtu’

This chapel forms part of my earliest memories. It is located at the edge of a promontory on which the town of Rabat is situated, on a lonely stretch of road with stunning views . When I was a little child, my Nanna would take me for a walk, almost every day, to the boundary wall of the chapel and back. We would walk, hand in hand, and she would feed me a banana, piece by little piece – I was not much of an eater back then.

Jason Rides his Bike 009

On the way, we would stop at a little farm. A big billy-goat with an impressively long beard lived there and I never missed the chance to stop and say hello.  The chapel itself is a mysterious place with a history that goes back to Punic times.

Jason Rides his Bike 015

Beneath the chapel are a number of tombs that date back to Punic and late Roman times, together with paleo-christian (early Christian) catacombs. Also underneath the current church is a crypt which used to be the ante-chamber to the catacombs. The crypt was  used as a troglodytic (cave) place of worship in medieval times.  The first church on this site was built in 1438 but the existing domed structure was built between 1717 and 1723 after the original church suffered extensive damage during the earthquake of 1693. (The earthquake of 1693 is rather famous in Malta. It was caused by a violent eruption of Mt Etna – just 70 miles away – and caused extensive damage to a number of buildings).

Jason Rides his Bike 033

In 1923, another earthquake caused several fissures to appear in the domed roof and the church was closed to the public. With the passing of the years, the church fell into dis-repair and was abandoned for many years. It was finally restored in 2009 but, due to the fact that it is now situated on private land, it is not open to the public except for private functions.

Jason Rides his Bike 023

Perhaps not too surprisingly, the church is reputed to be haunted*. At least three people (two farmers and a British soldier), on different occasions, claim to have entered the church and saw a priest saying Mass in the empty building. To their horror, they realised that the  priest had no flesh on his skeletal hands. Some also claim to have seen the ghost of a young woman, accompanied by her guardian angel, walking towards the church. Local legend has is that  this young woman was the sister of the famous Maltese architects Lorenzo and Melchiorre Gafa. During her life, she loved to come to pray in this lonely chapel …

(*All of these sightings happened prior to the chapel’s restoration.)

Jason Rides his Bike 033_edit

I have been in the vicinity of this chapel many, many times and I have seen nothing unusual (unless you count the billy-goat’s beard). As kids, we were warned not to get too close to the building because it was in a heavily dilapidated state and it was thought that the roof was in imminent danger of collapse. However, one day, in our early teens, we disobeyed and went and looked in through the broken, decayed door. I cannot vouch for the others that were with me, but I was overcome by a very spooky and sinister feeling – and I had not yet heard about the ghost stories at that point in my life.

Jason Rides his Bike 027

Location: Santa Maria Chapel (Tal-Virtu), Virtu Road, Rabat

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Maltese Recipes: Tuna & Spinach Pie

I thought it would be fun to occasionally share  a local recipe. Whether this one is one hundred per cent local, or whether it is an adaptation of a recipe from nearby Sicily, I cannot tell you. What I can tell you is that the recipe below is my own version of the traditional one. It has become a family favourite and is even easy enough for this lazy cook.

Ingredients

  • Short-crust pastry (enough to cover the top and bottom of a 9-inch pie-pan)
  • 2 large cans  tuna(app. 160g each) , drained
  • 500g - 700g spinach (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 100g olives
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried mint
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • salt, to taste
  • pepper, to taste
  • olive oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Method

  1. Boil the spinach in boiling water until cooked. Drain water carefully. (I use a potato  masher to squeeze out as much water as possible).
  2. Fry the diced onion in olive oil.
  3. Add the herbs, olives, tuna, spinach and capers and cook for a few minutes.
  4. Add the tomato paste and mix well.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Cover the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan with pastry.
  7. Pour in the tuna and spinach mixture.
  8. Cover the top of the pie with another layer of pastry and scatter the sesame seeds.
  9. Prick the top layer of pastry with a fork.
  10. Bake in an oven at 200C for 30  minutes.

I am sorry that I have no pie pictures to share but we were in too much of a hurry to eat it.

It’s been raining and the weather has cooled down a bit (perfect weather for pies, in my opinion). Octobers have a tendency to be rather warm here but, in spite of everything, change is coming. What remains to be seen is whether the change will be slow or fast.  I find that I am spending a lot of time thinking and reminiscing and some of that is going to spill over  into my posts, both here and on Stories and Scribbles. You will also be noticing a few subtle changes, in content and in layout, on this blog as had promised a few weeks ago.

Rabat and the Catacombs (36)

Speaking of rain … I have nearly always shared photos taken on sunny days. However, today I would like you to take a short walk with me through the rainy streets of my home-town. These narrow, winding streets and alleys form part of the old town core.

Rabat and the Catacombs (37)

Hundreds of years ago (before 800AD) this area fell within the walls of Mdina. It is highly likely that  beneath the streets we walk on today are the remains of houses from that far-off time. The current buildings, although not as ancient, still date back to the late 1400s. This is especially true of the ground-floor level. Typically, upper levels were added at a later period.

Rabat and the Catacombs (38)

Not all of these houses are in their original condition. But, thankfully, many have been preserved allowing us a glimpse into the way people lived so many years ago.

Rabat and the Catacombs (42)

Location: Rabat

Monday, September 30, 2013

Of Angels And Saints

 

Mdina Ditch 053

They are not easy to miss – though many of us walk beneath their frozen gazes every single day without so much as a second glance. More than anything else, they are a testament to our past. To a blind, almost irrational, faith. Maybe they make us uncomfortable, those piercing, agonised stares. Time has taken its toll on most of them: faded colours, weather-worn faces, missing limbs … These are the angels and saints that our fore-fathers evoked – for a boon; for protection; for a cure.

St Agatha & Hal-Bajjada (21)

Valletta 124

St Agatha & Hal-Bajjada (40)

In towns and villages and half-forgotten country lanes, they built niches to house them or just set them atop their houses – their arms outstretched in endless benediction. Our ancestors carved them from the soft limestone or simply painted them on walls – maybe because they wanted to bring Heaven just a little bit closer to earth.

Attard (12)

Birgu (30)Bingemma, Gnejna & Dwejra (42)

Salib tal-Gholja, Delimara, Marsaxlokk (55)

They look strangely weary, our angels and saints, as if they have been battling demons for way too long. Or maybe they are just feeling lonely, standing in their dusty alcoves, dejected and forlorn. But sometimes, someone may light a candle or leave a token bunch of flowers at their weary feet. And somewhere, in a faraway Heaven, a tired saint smiles.

Mdina Ditch 080

This is a predominantly Catholic country. Churches and chapels abound, as do images of angels and saints. In 1569, Grand Master Pinto del Monte, issued a law that people who owned a corner site in the new city of Valletta had to embellish it with some ornament. This idea soon spread to the other towns and villages and it is one of the reasons that so many effigies of saints can be found in the old village cores.

Bormla 010

Valletta 152

Monday, September 23, 2013

Laundry Day in Valletta

It was a bright day in March. The sky was as blue as the local borage with only the wispiest of clouds.  I had read in a guidebook somewhere to always look up. What I saw made me smile.

Valletta 118

It was such a typically Mediterranean scene. All over the residential quarter of Valletta, laundry was hanging out to dry. It seems like the housewives of the city had been busy.

Valletta 142

(We do have dryers, of course, but most people hang their clothes to dry in the sun. The majority of houses have a roof or a yard for this activity but, in these old apartments with lots of stairs and, usually, no elevators, it is easier to hang the laundry out of the balcony.)

Valletta 149

These are the types of changes I was talking about in my last post – nothing too major. History will be interspersed with the reality of life on this small island.  Perhaps you can say that you will be seeing more of the ‘real’ Malta – blemishes and all.

Location: the streets of Valletta

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Expect Some Changes

As you may have noticed, this blog has been on vacation. A very long vacation. But I had some thinking to do; some decisions to take – about this blog. I came close to deciding that I would no longer write here. Then I thought about it some more and I felt that a slight change  in direction might do the trick. You see, I felt that my posts were becoming a bit bland; a bit too factual and serious. It’s time for occasional doses of quirkiness; for less of the past and more of the present. So expect a few changes around here. I just hope you’ll like them.

Incidentally, I’ve been getting between three to four hundred hits a day on this blog.  I haven’t attracted any new readers nor have I noticed an increase in comments. It’s quite strange as I cannot trace the source of all this traffic. I’m not complaining, of course and hopefully, it’s a positive thing. Have any of you experienced anything similar?

That’s all for today from a very windy island.

Salib tal-Gholja, Delimara, Marsaxlokk (81)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Wayside Chapels: The Immaculate Conception at Wied Gerzuma

Kuncizzjoni & Gnejna 015

The chapel of the Immaculate Conception is in the middle of nowhere – or as in-the-middle-of-nowhere are you can be on this little island. I love it because of its isolated location and its simple interior. It was built in 1736 by Grand Master de Vilhena on land acquired in 1621 by Grand Master de Paule. The chapel is located on high ground in a rural setting and, on a clear day, the view is magnificent. Unfortunately, it was very hazy the day we visited so I could not really get a good photo of the scenery. This spot reminds me of childhood picnics and teenage hikes. It is certainly a place where you can get away from it all and enjoy nature at its pristine best.

Kuncizzjoni & Gnejna 001

Kuncizzjoni & Gnejna 009

Kuncizzjoni & Gnejna 006

Kuncizzjoni & Gnejna 011

Location: Chapel of the  Immaculate Conception, Wied Gerzuma, l/o Rabat

 

Due to an upcoming vacation, I will not be posting on this blog for a while. I would, however, appreciate your feedback to the following question: what would you like to see more of on this page?

I hope you all enjoy the rest of your summer. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Inquisitor’s Palace

The Inquisitor's Palace (16)

This grand palace in the heart of Birgu was initially built to serve as Law Courts during the Norman domination. The vaulted internal courtyard was built by the Knights of St John in the 1530s. In 1571 the Knights moved the Law Courts to the new city of Valletta. For three years the building remained vacant until the first Inquisitor, Pietro Dusina, took up residence. The Inquisitors remained in residence in this building until the French Occupation in 1798. The current faƧade was constructed in 1658.

The Inquisitor's Palace (25)

Off of the courtyard is the palace kitchen, which boasts a very well-preserved wood-burning stove. A well in one corner of the room provided water for all the kitchen’s needs.

The Inquisitor's Palace (33)

The Inquisitor's Palace (36)

The Inquisitor's Palace (38)

Also on the ground floor is a small walled garden that was designed by Inquisitor Fabio Chigi in 1634.

The Inquisitor's Palace (46)

An imposing staircase (that I failed to get a photo of but which you can see here) takes you up to the piano nobile, a richly decorated room that runs the entire length of the building; the Inquisitor’s apartments and his private chapel.

The Inquisitor's Palace (53)

The Inquisitor's Palace (57)

The Inquisitor's Palace (60)

Also on this floor is the Tribunal – the place were people were brought for trial after being reported, and sentences were pronounced. A much less grand staircase leads to the prison warden’s room, the torture room and the prisons. Another internal courtyard off of the prisons was used by the prisoners.

The Inquisitor's Palace (69)

The Inquisitor's Palace (62)

The Inquisitor's Palace (67)

The Inquisitor's Palace (74)

A total of sixty-two Inquisitors resided in this building until the last one left, together with the Knights of St John, following their expulsion by Napoleon in 1798. During the two years of French rule the palace was used as the official residence of the commander of the Cottonera district. When the British governed Malta, the palace was first used as a military hospital and then as a mess-house for officers of the army. In 1995 it was converted into a museum of folklore.

The Inquisitor's Palace (65)

The Inquisitor’s Palace is a fascinating place. It served both as the official residence of the Inquisitor and also as an ecclesiastic tribunal and prison. The prisoners’ cells, with occasional graffiti carved into the soft limestone, are, perhaps, the most poignant reminders of this bygone era. Like the town of Birgu in which it is situated, the Inquisitor’s Palace has had a chequered history. But it has withstood the test of time very well and it continues to intrigue those of us with a natural curiosity about our heritage.

The Inquisitor's Palace (71)

A NOTE ABOUT THE INQUISITION IN MALTA

The Maltese Islands fell under the jurisdiction of the Roman Inquisition, and not the more notorious Spanish Inquisition. The Inquisition acted mostly as a watch-dog to guard against heretical beliefs. The majority of sentences were of a spiritual  nature (e.g. fasting and prayer), although physical punishment (like public flogging or rowing on the galleys) was sometimes resorted to. Torture was rarely used and was usually much less severe than methods used by the civil authorities. I do not propose to go into a debate about this sore subject. All I will say is that the Inquisition was a product of its times – an era when almost none of the civil liberties that we take for granted today existed.The Inquisitor's Palace (21)

Location: The Inquisitor’s Palace, Main Gate Street,  Birgu

Opening Hours
Monday to Sunday: 9.00-17.00
Last admission: 16.30
Closed: 24, 25 & 31 December, 1 January, Good Friday

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