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, May 9, 2016

Wayside Chapels: St Michael 'is-Sancier'

Is-Sancir & Migra Ferha (8)-001

The chapel of St Michael  nicknamed 'is-Sancier' (the sincere) is located on the outskirts of the town of  Rabat. It is one of the oldest chapels still standing in its original form. Low and squat, it is partly built of rough-hewn stones, blending in with the rural landscape that surrounds it. The chapel of St Michael is located in a zone that has yielded many shreds of Punic, Roman and medieval pottery.

Is-Sancir & Migra Ferha (9)

Is-Sancir & Migra Ferha (11)

St Michael's was probably constructed during the middle of the fifteenth century. In 1678 it was deconsecrated and the titular painting of St Michael was transferred to the parish church of St Paul, in Rabat. For many years the chapel was used by farmers as a store for tools and as a cow-shed.

Is-Sancir & Migra Ferha (12)

Is-Sancir & Migra Ferha (14)

In 1981 the chapel was cleaned and restored by a group of volunteers but, since that time, it has fallen into disrepair, with all sorts of weeds and other types of small plants growing on the façade, together with an insidious type of wild ivy, whose roots and tendrils are wreaking havoc on the crumbling, centuries-old stone-work. The side-entrance is almost completely obstructed by bamboo and the interior of the chapel is ravaged by rising damp.

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Is-Sancir & Migra Ferha (18)-001

Is-Sancir & Migra Ferha (17)-001

It is a pity that one of the few surviving structures from the medieval period in Malta is rotting away with no foreseeable plans in the near future to carry out the professional restoration that it so badly deserves.

Further reading:

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Lazzaretto on Manoel Island


Valletta (47)

A lazzaretto is a quarantine station for maritime travellers. Passengers arriving on board ships from infected countries had to spend a number of days (usually around forty) in quarantine before being allowed to mingle with the inhabitants. This was done  so as to ensure that any symptoms of the disease would be manifested and, as a result of this  preventive measure, the infection would not be spread to the rest of the population.

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The first lazzaretto was set up on Manoel Island in 1592 during an  outbreak of the plague. At that time,  temprary wooden huts were set up. These were later demolished. In 1643, Grand Master Lascaris, built a permanent structure in the same place to control the periodic outbreaks of plague and cholera on board visiting ships. The building consists of two floors with eight rooms on each floor surrounding a central courtyard. A series of arches runs along the facade facing the sea. Persons who died in the lazzaretto were buried on Manoel Island in one of six cemeteries that existed there at different times.

Harbour cruise (8)

Additional buldings were added from time to time, depending on the exigencies of the moment. In 1670, Grand Master Nicholas Cotoner made some improvements on the building constructed by Lascaris. Stores and warehosues were erected to house  merchandise from infected ports, together with facilities for disinfection and fumigation. The lazzaretto was enlarged further between 1837-38 under the governship of Sir Henry Frederick Bouverie.

Some famous visitors kept in isolation in the lazzaretto on Manoel Island were Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott, William Thackeray, the Reverend (later Cardinal) John Henry Newman and a young Benjamin Disraeli.

Harbour cruise (7)

The lazzaretto on Manoel island was used as recently as 1937 when there was an outbreak of the plague. During WW2 it was damaged and eventually fell into a state of disrepair. In spite of plans to restore it, it is still an abandoned shell, slowly crumbling into the sea.

Related links:

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Grandmaster's Palace

This palace, originally built in 1569, was purchased in the 1570s by Grand Master Jean de la Cassiere and subsequently enlarged by Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar. Situated in the heart of Valletta, opposite St George's Square, it is the capital city's  largest palace. The facade, designed in a rather severe Mannerist style, belies the richness of the interior.

The palace and the armoury (1)The palace and the armoury (9)

From the 16th century, until the Knights left Malta in 1798, the palace served as the official residence of the Grand Master of the order of St John and was known as the Magisterial Palace. During the British period it became the Governor's Palace. It currently hosues the offices of the President of Malta. The palace was also the seat of Malta's first constitutional parliament in 1921.

The palace and the armoury (10)

Although the Grandmaster's Palace occupies a whole city block, it is nowhere near as grand, or on as large a scale, as European palaces like Versailles, the Schonbrunn or any other palace built for royalty - after all, even though the Knights were members of some of the most prominent aristocratic families of Europe, they were a religious order. Which does not mean they lived in misery because the palace has its own innate charm and architectural grandeur.

The palace and the armoury (26)

A unique and intact set of Gobelin tapesteries named “Les Teintures des Indes”, a gift to the Order from Grand Master Ramon Perellos in 1710, decorate the Council Chamber (sorry no photos allowed but you may take a virtual tour by going to the link at the bottom of this post). The ceilings and corridors are lavishly decorated with frescoes of naval battles, coats of arms and allegorical scenes. Portraits of the Grand Masters hang on the walls and suits of armour line the corridors.

The palace and the armoury (12)The palace and the armoury (25)

Five State rooms are open to the public, including the Red and Yellow State Rooms, the Hall  of the Supreme Council and the State Dining Room.

The palace and the armoury (16)The palace and the armoury (17)The palace and the armoury (29)The palace and the armoury (31)

The palace is built around two courtyards  - one of which is dominated by a bronze statue of Neptune. The palace armoury is located on the ground floor, in what used to be the palace stables (more on the armoury some other time).

The palace and the armoury (14)

The Grandmaster's Palace, Palace Square, Valletta

Opening hours:

Monday to Sunday: 09.00 - 17.00hrs
Last admission: 16.30hrs

Closed on 24, 25 & 31 December, 1 January & Good Friday. The Palace and Armoury may be also closed on other days due to state functions and activities.

The palace and the armoury (39)

Useful links:

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Snapshots of … More shop-fronts of Valletta

I don’t know whether you agree with me but I find the old shop-fronts of Valletta endlessly fascinating. Without knowing it, it seems that I’ve taken it upon myself to photograph all the ones I can find before they disappear forever.

Valletta (79)Valletta (81)

May (36)May (39)May (41)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The New {and improved} National War Museum

The National War Museum has moved from the old Drill Hall of lower Fort St Elmo to the actual Fort itself. The entrance ticket is valid for both which means that you can tour the fort while visiting the museum. Fort St Elmo played a crucial role during the siege of 1565. The Knights defended it to the last  man and, when it fell on June 23 1565, no defenders were left alive. But it cost the invading Turks many men and a lot of ammunition. I don’t know whether it was a coincidence or a strange twist of fate, but t he first casualties of World War 2 occurred at Fort St Elmo in June of 1940. Due to its long and varied history, Fort St Elmo deserves a post all to itself so I will leave that to another time.

Saint Elmo 036

The National War Museum houses a collection of items that date back to prehistoric times. The items are displayed in chronological order and span over four thousand years of history. There is a section dedicated to the Great Siege of 1565 but the biggest, and best, part of the museum is dedicated to the Second World War and the crucial role that  Malta played during those turbulent times.

Great Siege

The exhibits vary from anti-aircraft guns, period uniforms of the British forces and items made by German POWs to the Gloster Gladiator nicknamed ‘Faith’ that I had written about here, the George cross (Malta’s award for gallantry) and President Roosevelt’s jeep ‘Husky’. 

WW2 uniforms

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Saint Elmo 087

My favourite part of the exhibits was the hall dedicated to the SS Ohio and Operation Pedestal. Computer generated images projected onto the ground show the progress of the convoy of ships that left Gibraltar en route to Malta. It really puts into perspective the amount of men and ships that paid the ultimate price to save the island.

Saint Elmo 082Saint Elmo 084Saint Elmo 085

The new National War Museum is a vast improvement on the old one. There is ample space for all the exhibits, which are all clearly labelled, and information is readily available through photographic panels and audio visual presentations. It is definitely worth a visit.

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The National War Museum, St. Elmo Place, Valletta VLT 1741

Opening Hours

Monday to Sunday: 09.00 - 17.00hrs
Last admission at 16.30hrs
Closed on 24, 25 & 31 December, 1 January & Good Friday


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