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.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Count Roger of Normandy and the Legend of Migra Ferha

Migra l-Ferha (5)

According to a local legend, Count Roger the Norman landed here in 1091 with an army of men and freed the island from the hated Moors.

Is-Sancir & Migra Ferha (24)

This is supposedly the exact spot where the hoof of the Count’s horse touched the ground as soon as he disembarked from his ship. Legends – you just have to love them.

Is-Sancir & Migra Ferha (28)

Of course, no commander worth his salt would anchor his ships beneath such inhospitable cliffs and then lead an army of men and horses up the steep slopes. So although we know that Count Roger did come to Malta in 1091 he must have landed in a much safer place. The story goes that the locals greeted him with the shouts of Kyrie Eleison, that he freed all the Christian slaves from the clutches of the Moors and sent them (the Moors) packing and that everyone was so grateful to him that they adopted the colours of his coat-of-arms as our national flag.

Migra l-Ferha (19)

The truth is that the Moors stayed here until 1123 and paid Count Roger a yearly tribute and our national flag came into being much later (although no one knows precisely when).

You will find a brief history of this period here.

Migra l-Ferha (23)

This should give you a better perspective of how far down the ‘hoof mark’ is and - yes, those men are fishing.

Is-Sancir & Migra Ferha (23)

(These photos were taken on two different days in March – one that was rather stormy and the other on a sunny day).

Location: Migra Ferha, March 2014

Monday, March 24, 2014

Ta’ Qali Farmer’s Market

By the looks of it, I have neglected this blog for quite some time. The thing is, what I write here is usually factual and I seem to prefer a more narrative, personal approach. Maybe one day I will find the right balance.

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Mdina Ditch 006

For today, I just wanted to share some photos of local produce at the  main Farmer’s Market that is held in Ta’ Qali. It is the best place to buy fruit and vegetables – which is what the majority of stalls sell. Interspersed amongst them are a few flower and meat sellers.

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I would love to see some more variety – maybe a few stalls selling home-baked goods or jams and there is definitely a need for a couple of booths selling bread. But all in all, it is a pleasant shopping experience and it is nice to be able to walk around and then go back to purchase the freshest and best-looking wares.

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Nature’s palette is so vibrant, isn’t it?

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Ta’ Qali Farmer’s Market

Opening hours: Tuesdays 16.00 – 19.00 and Saturdays 09.00 – 17.00

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Yellow House, Birgu

The Inquisitor's Palace (12)

I still remember the time when the exterior of most town-houses would be painted in all sorts of different colours. Nowadays, the trend is to peel off the paint and expose the limestone blocks out of which our houses are built. Since I am not a student of architecture, I won’t go into the merits, or otherwise, of this practice. But let’s just say that in the blazing heat  of the mid-day summer sun, the pastel and rainbow hues were easier on the eyes than stark-white. I am glad to see that the practice of painting the facades of houses has not completely died out. This lemony, hue reminiscent of sorbet, brightens up the whole street.

Location: Birgu, June 2013

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Churchill’s Cigar and Eisenhower’s Walking Stick

These are just two of the many artifacts that may be seen at the National War Museum in Valletta. Through its collection of personal memorabilia, original footage, digital displays and numerous photographic panels, the museum aims at highlighting the role that Malta played during the two World Wars with special focus on the second world war. Perhaps the most poignant items on display are the fuselage of the Gloster Gladiator “Faith” and remnants from the ships that formed part of Operation Pedestal – the convoy that saved Malta in 1942. The museum honours the fallen, salutes the heroes and provides a glimpse at what daily life in Malta was like during World War 2.

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The National War Museum, Old Drill Hall, Lower Fort St Elmo, Spur Street, Valletta VLT 1741
Tel: +356 21 222 430

Opening hours: 

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

 

Notwithstanding the high level of the exhibits, it is difficult to understand the complexity of this particular period in the island’s history just be visiting the museum. For those interested in learning more, here are a few recommendations:

More Places To Visit

- Lascaris War Rooms: an underground complex of tunnels and chambers that housed the War Headquarters and from where the defence of Malta was conducted during WW2.

- Malta at War  Museum: apart from the exhibits and the screening of an original wartime documentary ‘Malta G.C’, a visit to a war-time air-raid shelter is included.

Documentaries

On Discovery Channel: Heroes of Hell Island – The Men Who Saved Malta

A  National Geographic Production: World War 2: Battle for Malta

 

 

Books

                  

 

                     

Fiction

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).

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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

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