Category Archives: Malta

Malta, The Boats Have Eyes

luzzo-eyes-2

Maltese fishing boats are called Luzzus and are are brightly painted in shades of yellow, red, green and blue and the bow is normally pointed with a pair of eyes.

The most popularly accepted legend is that the eyes date back to Phoenician times, from around two thousand two hundred years ago, when those great seafarers and traders from the Eastern Mediterranean established a trading-post on Malta.

The eye is believed to protect the fishermen from any harm when they’re at sea. On either side of the prow will be the carved and painted eye of Osiris, the Phoenician god of protection against evil – an example of ancient myth in modern times.

In his book, ‘Voices of the Old Sea’, Norman Lewis recounts how the Guardia Civil in Spain took a dim view of the eye of Osiris…

He (the policeman) called over another fisherman. ‘What purpose do you imagine those eyes on the boat serve?’.

‘We regard them as a sign against evil’

‘The evil eye, as you call it, doesn’t exist’ the captain said, ‘Paint them out'”

An alternative version is that the eyes of the boat which generally look down will guide the men to the best fishing waters.

Eyes like this were once common on fishing boats in Greece but the practice has all but died out there.  Eighty years ago fishing boats in Mediterranean Spain and the Algarve in Portugal also used the symbol of the eye but, apart from Malta, the only place to be sure of finding them now are on traditional boats called Jabega in the port of Malaga, which was also once a Phoenician trading city.

Malta Luzzo Eyes

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Malta, Doors of Mellieha

Mellieha Door 02Mellieha Door 03Mellieha Door 01Malta Door and Balcony MelliehaMellieha Iron Balcony and Door

More Picture Posts of Malta…

 

Malta, Fishing Boats

Malta, Door Knobs and Knockers

Malta, Cathedrals and Churches

Malta, Balconies

Malta, Washing Lines

Entrance Tickets, The Red Tower at Mellieha, Malta

red-tower-mellieha-malta

The Red Tower, or to give it its proper name St Agatha’s Tower, is a large imposing watchtower in Mellieħa,  the sixth and most important of a coastal defence system of fortifications and small castles built by the Knights of St John during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

St. Agatha’s Tower turns out to be the last large bastioned tower to be built in Malta to provide early warning of attack and to alert the defence of the city of Valletta.

Knights of St John

The city of Valletta was built by the Knights of St John who were granted the island in 1530, seven years after being expelled from Rhodes by the Ottoman Turks.  Trouble with Turks however continued to follow the Knights and in 1565 the Ottomans laid siege to their new home on Malta with the intention of establishing a base from where they could conveniently advance into Europe.

But as in Rhodes and at Bodrum the Knights proved a tough nut to crack and the Great Siege of Malta which lasted from May until September ended with the defeat and retreat of the Turkish army.

The rest of Europe was so grateful for this stoic resistance that it began to provide funding for the Grand Master of the Order, Jean Parisot de Valette, to plan and construct a new fortified city that was to be called Valletta in his honour.  Although it was designed principally as a fortress city with great battlements and armed bastions the architects also found time and paid attention to good design and within the walls they built a Baroque style city with churches, palaces and fine mansions, laid down gardens and designed grand plazas at the intersections of the grid pattern of the streets.  It was certainly worth protecting.

Mellieha Malta Red Tower

Saint Agatha’s Tower was built between November 1647 and April 1649 and consists of a square castle with four corner towers.  Cannon ports in the turrets gave interlocking fields of fire commanding the base of the walls and the gateway, with other large artillery ports in the faces of the main tower.

The tower is situated in a commanding position on the crest of Marfa Ridge at the north west end of Malta, overlooking the natural harbour and potential enemy landing site of Mellieħa Bay, with clear views over to Comino and Gozo, and also eastward to the line of watchtowers along the north shore of Malta that linked it with the Knights headquarters in Valletta. It was the primary stronghold in the west of Malta, and was manned by a garrison of thirty men, with ammunition and supplies to withstand a siege of forty days.

It continued to have a military purpose throughout the British period, and was manned during both World Wars. From the British period it continued its military function being used as a radar station by the Armed Forces of Malta.

The Red Tower Mellieha Malta

Although the children would have preferred to stay at the hotel and spend all day in the swimming pool I thought it was important for them to get out a little and learn something about Malta.  The girls weren’t too keen and Patsy (the clever one) feigned a stomach ache to get out of it, Molly (not so clever) didn’t think fast enough to find an excuse but William is rather fond of forts and castles so luckily he was enthusiastic about the visit.  Molly was dragged along complaining.

St Agatha’s Tower on a previous visit to Malta in 1997…

Red Tower 1991

It was just a short walk but it was all uphill so, in the heat, it did become rather a drag by the time we reached the steep flight of steps which took us to the entrance.

There are some good displays inside and some imaginative reconstructions but the best bit is the climb to the roof and the reward of sweeping views in all directions as far as Victoria on Gozo to the north and Valletta to the south and it was easy to understand why they chose this spot for the tower – no one was going to slip in unnoticed that’s for sure.

It didn’t take long to see all that there was to see and with the promise of an ice cream down at the beach after the stroll back there were a lot less complaints on the return walk.

The children celebrate the end of the walk and return to the swimming pool…

Celebrating Mellieha Malta

Entrance Tickets, Malta to Gozo Ferry

gozo-ferry

“Gozo remained an utterly private place and lucky the man who could find the key, turn the lock and vanish inside.” – Nicholas Monserrat

We had debated what to do today and we finally decided that we would visit the neighbouring island of Gozo.

Just to be clear, this is the island of Gozo and not Gozer the Gozerain from the film ‘Ghostbusters

This is Gozer…

gozer

This is Gozo…

Gozo Postcard

Getting there should have been straight forward but this morning we had our first experience of the inefficient bus service.  There was a stop at the end of the hotel drive and we arrived there at about nine forty-five which should have given us plenty of time to reach the ferry port about two and a half miles away for the eleven o’clock crossing.

We saw the first bus approach and we saw the first bus pass by without stopping – it was full.  A second bus came and passed without stopping and then a third, it seemed as though everyone was going to Gozo this morning.

Malta Bus Chaos

By this time it was almost ten o’clock and Kim made the decision that we should walk.  I said that we wouldn’t make it in time, Kim said that she was confident that we would, I said we wouldn’t, she said we would and so we set off at a brisk pace.

Well, just in time, we made it and that took care of all of the breakfast calories and eventually we calmed down, cooled down and enjoyed a thirty minute ferry journey to our destination, passing as we went the third of the Maltese islands, Comino.

For our day on Gozo we had booked one of those open topped tourist buses.  I don’t usually like these because they seem to spend a lot of wasted time going to places that you don’t want to go but the man at the hotel reception had persuaded me that this was a good option because we could be sure of seeing all of the places of interest in one day which could not be guaranteed if relying on the privatised bus service.  We found the bus, made our way to the top deck and waited for it to fill up with passengers and leave.

Xewkija Gozo Parish Church

The first really noticeable thing about Gozo was how less busy the place was compared to Malta and we drove through villages and open fields on practically empty roads.  First we came to the village of Xewkija which was a modest place but has an enormous church with what is claimed to be the third largest unsupported church dome in the World.

To put that into some sort of perspective the largest is St Peter’s in Rome (fourth largest city in Western Europe) and the second largest is St Paul’s in London (population 7.5 million, give or take a thousand) Xewkija is a village in Gozo with a population of about three thousand, three hundred people.

Our plan was to stay on board the bus and complete the route to the very far side of the island at a place called Dwejra where there is a natural rock formation called the azure window which attracts people like bees to a honey pot mostly it seems on account of the fact that it was used as a location for the TV show ‘Game of Thrones’ although I cannot confirm this because I have never watched it.

Azure Window Gozo Malta

It was an interesting little stop and we clambered over the erosion scarred limestone rocks, rock pools where nothing lived and the salt pans which was the reason why.  It was very busy so we made our way back to the shabby little ring of tourist trap shops and bars, had a beer and then on account of the number of people who might be competing to get on the bus made our way in good time back to the stop ready to move on to Victoria.

Victoria is the capital of Gozo.  It used to be called Rabat but in 1887 the British renamed it to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria.  I can’t help thinking that it is rather arrogant to go around changing place names in such a superior way.  A lot of people on Gozo still call the place Rabat – Good For Them!

The bus dropped us off and we made our way to the centre of the city, to St George’s Square and the Basilica of the same Saint.  As it was 23rd April there was a lot of bell ringing and celebration but the disappointment was that the square resembled a construction site as it was in the process of restoration and improvement.

Victoria Gozo Malta

We tend to think of St George as an English Saint but a lot of the rest of Europe has claimed him as well because St. George is also the Patron Saint of Aragon, Catalonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Palestine, Portugal, and Russia and I wouldn’t mind betting that all of them will do an awful lot more to celebrate 23rdApril every year than we do!

We moved on from St George’s building site and made our way to the Citadel at the very top of the city which as the name suggests is a medieval fortress city in the most defensible position on the island.  This also turned out to be rather a disappointment because this was another construction site.  The Citadella is on the UNESCO World Heritage tentative list and it looks as though the Gozians are putting in a bit of extra effort (courtesy of EU heritage funding) to give the application a boost.

saint-george

The time was passing quickly now and there was still more of the island to see so we returned to the bus station, stopping briefly to buy a Maltese cheese pie for lunch (very tasty by-the-way) before rejoining the tour bus for the remainder of the trip.

First we went to the fishing village of  Xlendi where due to the fact that I was confused by the schedule we forgot to get off and so we stayed on and went back to Victoria and then to the other side of the island to the holiday village of Marsalforn where we stopped for forty-five minutes and walked around the sandy beach and the pretty harbour.

Rejoining the bus we went next to the UNESCO site megalithic temples at Nadur and the directly back to the port to catch the six o’clock ferry back to Malta.  Twenty years ago the ferry used to arrive and drop passengers off directly on the quay side but now there is a posh (EU funded) ferry terminal with ticket desks, lounges and rules and regulations. I preferred it the old way.

Mgarr Gozo

 

Malta, A Walk Around Mellieha and Beach Bartering

Street Art Mellieha MaltaMalta Boat MelliehaMalta Mellieha StatueMalta Statue MelliehaMellieha Malta Balcony

One day we took a walk around Mellieha and on the way back to the hotel stopped at a beach bar for a break.  A Looky-Looky man approached and showed us the rubbish that he was hoping to sell.  I would never buy from a Looky-Looky man and I told him to go away.  He packed up and moved on but my five year old granddaughter called him back.

Sardinia Beach Trader

Sensing a sale he started all over again, she liked a carved elephant and he said it was five euro. my reaction was ‘no way‘, my daughter said ‘offer him four’, Patsy thought about this for a while and then looked him directly in the eye and said ‘Three’.  I choked on my beer, Sally almost fell off her chair, the Looky-Looky man just laughed and agreed the deal!

The next time I go to Morocco and go shopping in the Souks or go to buy a new car I am taking my granddaughter with me to do the negotiating…

Bargain Hunter

Entrance Tickets, Malta and the Mellieha WW2 Shelters

mellieha-shelters-malta

In Spring 2015 we spent a few days on the island of Malta.  This was a bit of an experiment on my part because I wanted to see if Kim liked it there as much as I do.  It is sometimes said that you either love Malta or you hate it, it is like Marmite, there are no half measures, there is no sitting on the fence.  As it turned out Kim loved it and eighteen months later we returned to the same place this time with grandchildren.

This was to be a family holiday, sightseeing would not be a priority but there were one or two things that we wanted to do all the same.  One of them was to go to the village of Mellieha and visit the Second-World-War air-raid shelters which were closed the last time that we had visited.

Mellieha Shelters Malta

As it was a hot day and the children preferred to stay at the hotel swimming pool so we spared them the ordeal of the walk.  It was a steep climb to the village with a long sweeping road and baking tarmac that looped around in teasing bends and we were glad when we reached the top and the huge Parish Church because although this was October it was still very hot.

Everyone was keen to tell us that Malta was suffering a drought and there had been no real rain for eighteen months or so.  We sympathised with them of course but secretly hoped that the drought and the hot weather would last just a few more days!

Every village in Malta and Gozo has a church the size of a medieval cathedral and all have a story of how it was paid for and built by the residents of the village and Mellieha is no exception.  It is indeed a grand structure standing in the most prominent place in the village with glorious views in all directions.

This time we were pleased to find that the shelter was open for business so purchased our good value tickets at only €2.40 and went through the entrance and immediately underground.

These shelters were cut into the rock all over Mellieha and the rest of Malta during the war because the island has the unenviable record for being the most bombed place in all of Europe.  To be specific and before someone picks me up on this point,  I am talking about the longest sustained bombing campaign and not the most destructive.

Valletta Malta Bombed

This was because of its strategic importance to both the Allies and the Axis powers.  The capital of Valletta and its important harbour was of high strategic value, for the British to protect their Mediterranean fleet and a much valued prize for Germany as an important place to support the supply chain to the overstretched army in North Africa.

In two years from June 1940 the Luftwaffe flew three-thousand bombing raids over Malta, nine thousand buildings were destroyed and seventeen-thousand more severely damaged.  In March and April 1942, more explosives were dropped on the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta – smaller than the Isle of Wight – than on the whole of Britain during the first year of the Blitz.

People needed somewhere safe to shelter and two-thousand miners and stonemasons were recruited to build public shelters and began to tunnel into the limestone rock of the island.

The shelter at Mellieha was one of them and it took us into a labyrinth of passages nearly half a mile long with a decent amount of displays and reconstructions to tell the story of the shelters and the daily life of the people who like Hobbits, had no option but to use them.  Most people sheltered in the crowded communal tunnels but some were fortunate to have their own private rooms and there was a confessional shelter and a two room maternity wing.

By June 1941 the digging workforce had increased to over five-thousand and nearly five-hundred public rock shelters had been finished and another four-hundred were in progress.  In all they could house over two-hundred thousand Maltese civilians which was just about enough but also thoroughly uncomfortable.

Mellieha air raid shelter

By February 1942, with raids often continuous throughout the night, shelters became congested with chairs and bedding brought in for comfort and rest.  The four square feet per head originally allowed was reduced to two and was hopelessly insufficient.  Anticipating a night of raids, people began to rush to shelters straight after dinner every evening.  Spaces were often over-subscribed and crowded. Conditions were said to be dirty, cramped and noisy but at least provided safety from the raids above.

It reminded me of when I was a boy of about ten and I had a friend called Dave (Daddy) Elson who had dug an underground camp in his back garden – we used to go to his camp and sit in it by candle-light and wonder why?

On the way out we spotted a sign which said…”Life during the enemy blitz is not an experience we wish to relive, hence the Mellieha World War II shelters stand as a testimony to those who endured the adversity of war until victory was won.”  – I think that just about says it all!

To be honest, apart from a visit to the war time air raid shelter there isn’t a great deal more to see in Mellieha.  Even though it has been included in the EU list of ‘European Destinations of Excellence’ it isn’t really a tourist attraction and it is all the better for that, so after a while exploring the streets and the tiny working harbour we made our way back down to the holiday bay and selected a bar for a beer and a snack of a Maltese platter and a reflection on life under ground and what life might have been like during the siege.

Mellieha Malta Sunset

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Other Cave Stories:

Drogarati Cave and Blue Lagoon, Kephalonia

Blue Lagoon, Capri

Cueva El Guerro, Castilla y Leon, Spain

Altamira Caves Santillana del Mar

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Postcards of 2016

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