Entries tagged with “Malta”.


The last episode of the Maltese travel notes is dedicated to the former capital of Malta – Mdina and the adjoining village of Rabat. We visited them in our last full day on the island.

the old city of Mdina

Mdina was populated as early as the year 700 BC and may have been founded by the Phoenicians. It was the capital of the island until after the Grand Siege, when the knights moved their principal institutions in the fortified city of Valletta.

Mdina Main Gate

The city today has no more than 300 inhabitants, but the surrounding Rabat has a population of 11,000. The entrance to the city is made through a spectacular gate, more beautiful than the access gate in Valletta.

in the streets of the old city of Mdina

The old city offers the traditional views of narrow streets in former medieval city. A tourist accustomed with the old city of Jerusalem will not feel displaced here at all.

knights are still walking the streets

There is a lot of tourist exploitation going on in the old city. Photo opportunities with armored knights is one of them.

St. Paul's Cathedral

The most important building in the city is the imposing Cathedral of the Conversion of Saint Paul. Saint Paul is the patron of Malta. Arrested in Jerusalem in the year 60 for preaching the new Christian faith through the Eastern part of the Roman empire he was sent to trial to Rome, but on its way to the capital of the world at that time the ship was wrecked and Paul saved himself on the island, living according to the legend in a grotto in Rabat. He converted the governor and thus introduced Christianity to the island, but later was captured again and sent to Rome to be killed during the reign of Nero.

interior of the St. Paul's cathedral

The current impressing building was built in Baroque style by the end of the 17th century, after an earthquake destroyed a previous church built by the Normans on the same place. Here took place the inauguration ceremonies of the Grand Masters of the knights Order of Saint John.

floor of the St. Paul Cathedral

We had the last opportunity to admire here the tombs on the floor of the cathedral, specific to the religious art of Malta.

dome of Saint Paul's Cathedral

The decoration of the church is due to a large extent to the Calabrese painter Mattia Preti, among other beautiful frescoes depicting episodes from the life of Saint Paul.

Madonna and Child icon (13th century)

An old icon of Madonna and Child is one of the beautiful objects of art saved from the previous church destroyed in the quake.

Mosaic in the Roman Domus

another Mosaic in the Roman Domus

Out of the city of Mdina we visited the principal objectives in Rabat, the adjoining village. One of them is the Roman Domus, actually a 20th century reconstruction of a Roman villa, hosting a beautiful museum on the ruins of a 1st century townhouse built during the Roman epoch. The mosaics are exquisite, with both decorative motives as well as figurative symbolic representations.

statue of Claudius - Roman Domus

Among the statues a splendid statue of emperor Claudius.

theatrical masks - Roman Domus

Theatrical masks remind one of the favorite pastimes of the Roman inhabitants of the place.

Saint Paul's Catacombs

Saint Paul's Catacombs - 2

One almost mandatory stop in Rabat are the Roman catacombs, named somehow inaccurately Saint Paul Catacombs. They do not have too much with Saint Paul, in reality they were the burial places of the city of Mdina for a few centuries, as Roman law forbid burial inside the city. Today they are well within the streets of Rabat, but then they were safely remote from the walls of Mdina.  The underground labyrinth of corridors and burial chambers may have some macabre fascination, but it’s not my preferred kind of visiting objective.

the train does not come today

We did not miss the touristic minicar train ride of the city, which took us around the whole Mdina and Rabat and allowed us a few spectacular photo angles. One of the interesting objectives was the deserted train station. There is no train service today in Malta, and no need for one on an island whose diameter is 40 or 50 kilometers at most. Yet the British tried to build one during their rule, but it proved to be totally uneconomic and was abandoned after the second world was.

That was our last day in Malta. Early next morning Mr. David, the hotel driver took us back to the airport, to start our way home via Athens. It was the end of a visit in an interesting place, very much worth visiting once, probably not more than once.

I have heard for the first time about Gozo when I bought on Amazon one of the tour guides in preparation for the trip. The title was ‘Malta and Gozo’. What in the world is Gozo, I asked myself. The answer is of course that Malta is an archipelago, and Gozo is the second island in size (67 square kilometers) and a population of 31,000 inhabitants out of the about 400,000 total population of Malta. The third one in size if you ask has a population of six (one is a policeman, crime rate must be high).

the ferryboat to Gozo

The connection between the island of Malta and Gozo is by means of ferryboat. It’s not necessarily my preferred travel experience, although the ferry between the two Maltese islands seems well run and maintained, I was lucky to see Polanski‘s Ghost Writer only after this trip.

the harbor of Mgarr

We took a organized trip, which is probably best to see Gozo, and one day is more than sufficient. The minibus waited for us at the harbor of Mgarr, which has a spectacular location, very Mediterranean in style.

the dome of Xewkija

The first stop was in the village of Xewkija, where the driver and guide of our tour was living. The village has a population of 3000 and a Rotunda church with a dome larger in size than the one of St. Paul’s in London.

admire God's creation

A welcome sign at the entry of the church invited us inside.

inside the Rotunda church of Xewkija

It is in fact man’s creation dedicated to God, rather than God’s creation. I have already written about the deep catholic feelings of the Maltese, and the church in Xewkija is a good exemplification. It was built during 20 years, between 1951 and 1971 and was all funded from money coming from the Catholic community of the village. All 3000 inhabitants have room in the church at the big events of the Catholic calendar.

stained-glass window in Xewkija

Not only its size, but also many of the interior decoration and pieces of religious art are remarkable. Of course, it is not the first church on this place, several other preceded it in the history, and part of the art objects previously used in these churches are preserved in the small museum of the church.

from the roof of the Rotunda church in Xewkija

One can climb the stairs or take the elevator to the roof of the church. The viewer is rewarded with the 360 degrees landscape of a large part of the island.

Gharb folklore museum

Our next stop was in the folklore museum in Gharb. It is quite a typical museum of ethnography, hosted by a 18th century house. The visitor will find here the typical sections in such museums about local crafts and costumes, some interesting, but presented in quite a dusty style.

Gozo wine

We did not have unfortunately the occasion to taste the wines of Gozo, just to photo the stand in a place where they were sold.

Ggigantija

I already wrote in another episode about the megalithic temples of Ggigantija. The island is populated for 5000 years.

Dwejra Bay, Azure window

Our next stop was in the spectacular Dweira bay with the Azure window and the interior lagoon carved in the limestone rock that dominates the geology of the island (as of the whole Malta). It is beautiful, reminding the Rosh HaNikra cave in the North of Israel.

Calypso's Boutique

The island of Gozo is also known as the island of Calypso, so the tour included the place where the legend says the nymph imprisoned Ulysses for seven years. Not too much can be seen there, just the entrance of a cave in a hill by the sea, so I preferred to put here a picture of … Calypso’s Boutique.

John Paul II greets us in Victoria

The capital of Gozo is Victoria, or Rabat as it was known during the Arab rule. The Citadel which is an old city fortification is the tourist center of interest, and this was our last stop on the island.

inside the Gozo Cathedral of Assumption

The Cathedral of Assumption dominates the Citadel. It was built in 1697-1703, by Lorenzo Gafa, and it’s another wonderful piece of religious architecture and includes many of the characteristics of the other churches in Malta, including the elaborated tombs on the floor.

Gozo cathedral - ceiling and trompe-vue

The art of the ceiling with a spectacular trompe-vue impressed me.

good-bye, Gozo

The way back was by ferry-boat again, a 20 minutes trip which brought us back to the main island.

I love to visit art museums. Big ones and small ones. Famous and anonymous. In the big metropolis of the world or in remote places. Visiting an art museum (at least 0ne) is an almost mandatory part of a trip, of my exploration of a new place. When I am in a lesser known museum I look for the local artists, I try to learn as much as I can about the history of the institution, and about the role of art in the life of the place.

The National Museum of Fine Arts

The National Museum of Fine Arts in Valletta is located not far from the gate of the city, in a beautiful baroque palace located on South Street. It is one of the oldest mansions of the city, built in 1571. During the years of the British rule it hosted the Admiralty House and Winston Churchill is said to have been its guest.  It became home of the most important art institution in Malta in 1974.

(video by PhoeniciaHotel)

The Museum of Valletta was founded in 1903, and its fine arts section became the National Museum of Fine Arts and moved in the location on South Street in 1974. It was the dream and deed Vincenzo Bonello who built the collection and led the fine arts section for much of the century. Unfortunately he did not live to see it in the beautiful home today. A short film about the man and the museum he created is available on YouTube.

inside the museum

The collection of the museum is strong in works that are inspired by Caravaggio, although no work of the master who spent two years in Malta (1607 to 1609) can be found here. We can however see works of Guido Reni or Mattia Preti -  the latest with an impressive gathering of Bible inspired art which can be seen at http://www.maltaart.com/pretismall/html/list_of_works.html

Maltese Prie-Dieu

Before getting to the paintings that seemed to be more interesting although out of the beaten path here is a beautiful piece of religious furniture from the 17th century, called a ‘prie-Dieu’ – you can imagine the knight or the noble man or lady kneeling in prayer and keeping his Bible (and maybe other artifacts) in its drawers.

the crystal sword

Two beautiful pieces of arms that could never be used in war are exposed at the first floor of the museum, near the superb spiral staircase. These are a sword and a dagger made of crystal, with exquisite ornaments that were a present by king Philip the 5th of Spain to the Knights of St. John, in sign of the special relation of friendship and protection between the kingdom of Spain and the island of the knights.

Le Valentin - Judith and Holofornes

One of the most caravaggian works in the museum belongs to Valentin de Boulogne (Le Valentin) is ‘Judith and Holofornes’ which matches the painting of Caravaggio which I had seen in Rome a few days earlier at the retrospective at Quirinale.

Jusepe de Ribera - St. Francis of Paola

Jusepe de Ribera also known as Lo Spagnoletto is also considered a disciple of Caravaggio. I like his style sometimes called ‘Tenebrist’ and works who seem to me to be a balancing act between the darkness of the Inquisition-haunted Spain he came from and the ideals of Renaissance of the Italy he lived and created much of his life. The portrait of St. Francis of Paola that can be found in the museum in Valletta is fascinating.

Venetian School - Flowers in a Vase

I am no big fan of floral arrangements paintings, but this painting from a 18th century Venetian school master drew my attention.

Louis Ducros - View of the Great Harbor

Local landscapes take a deserved place in the collection. Above is a painting of the Great Harbour of Valletta as painted by the Swiss Louis Ducros at the beginning of the 20th century.

Eugenio Maccagnani - Leah

Out of the more recent collection of art here is a piece by Italian sculptor Eugenio Maccagnani from the beginning of the 20th century.

The relative isolation of Malta as an island in the center of the Mediterranean, while still accessible to navigation allowed for the early development of a civilization that built an impressive number of monuments comparable to the Stonehenge megalithic structures, as well as to their preservation in time, relatively better kept ways from the invasions and conquests that overturned the earth of Europe.

Hagar Qim

There are 17 such sites on the islands of Malta and Gozo, five of them are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage sites, and considered among the oldest religious sites on the surface of Earth. The period when they were built extends from 3600 BC in the stone age to 2500 BC in the bronze age. The population that built the temples came around 4500 BC from Sicily. By 2500 the Temple Culture disappears, and the reasons are not clear – natural catastrophe, disease, or social unrest. What is known is that after that date the settlements start to look very similar to other neighboring bronze age structures, and the usage of the temples is completely abandoned. The ruins are rediscovered in the 18th and 19th century, when they begin to be studied scientifically.

altar at Hagar Qim

The first site that we visited was Hagar Qim, located on a hill near the Southern coast of the island. The structure is nowadays protected from rain and winds by a metallic tent-like structure. A visitors center is yet to be built with European funds, actually we encountered this type of announcement in several other places, it looks like investments were made, work started, but not completed at least until the time we visited there. There are three separate structure grouped in a flower-like shape, with utility rooms, and other enclosures whose destination can only be supposed nowadays.

Mnajdra

temple entrance at Mnajdra

walls at Mnajdra

At a distance of 500 meters from Hagar Qin stands the temple of Mnajdra. It is built actually earlier than Hagar Qin, but the stronger coraline limestone used allowed for better preservation. There seem to be three temple structures in Mnajdra as well, but they are arranged in line. The form of the entrance and the remains of the pillars indicate that a vaulted roof covered the whole complex.

goddess at Tarxien

sarcophagus at Tarxien

The Tarxien temples that we visited the next day as part of our guided tour are located in the village, so there is no good perspective of the original emplacement. We can find here again three temples, the most recent of the ones we visited, well, relatively recent, built between 3200 and 2800 BC in the bronze age. Many of the objects that were found here at the begining of the 20th century were taken to the Museum of Archeology in Valletta and museums in the US, but a few interesting ones are left – like the legs of a statue of the goddess of fertility, and a sarcophagus that indicates that the place was also a burial place. Other artifacts indicate that animal sacrifices were practiced in the temple, probably part of the religious rituals.

Ggantija walls

The last impressive site we visited was Ggantija, on the island of Gozo, where we arrived in the sixth day of our trip. That site is maybe the most spectacular that we have seen, and also the one that reminds mostly Stonehenge, with one massive round structure. It was built between 3600 and 3000, and it is being said to have hosted oracles, and considered to be a magic temple, with healing powers. A sacred permanent fired was maintained in the altars.

the altars inside the Ggantija temples

Unfortunately, we missed the Hypogeum site, which is an underground site which is said to be very impressive. A limited number of visitors can enter that site each day, and bookings must be made days in advance. However, we have seen a number of beautiful pieces of art and cult at the Museum of Archeology in Valletta, which will be the subject of a future episode.

Venus Restaurant in Bugibba

Let me start with the top. The best dinner we had during our Maltese week was in the Venus restaurant in Bugibba, the sea resort next to Qawra where we stayed, located by the St. Paul’s Bay, in the area where the man who is said to have given up kosher food for sea food shipwrecked around the year 60AD.  The menu is classical with a local twist, and it comes at very reasonable prices.

Venus - Minestra (vegetable stew)

Venus - Spinotta (bass fillet)

Venus - the desert

Maltese food is not spectacularly inventive. The local specialties seem to be at the intersection between closely geographic Italy and British imperial (and bad food) influence, using Mediterranean ingredients. You will get an olive-based spread with your bread as an appetizer, the Minestra (vegetable stew), Aljotta (the local version of bouillabaisse) or the rabbit stew if you ar adventurous as soups or main course. Fish is good (bass, grouper, red mullet) and probably preferable to the tourist level steaks. Pies or pastries filled with spinach, ham, anchovy, tuna, olives offer an alternative. The best deserts are based on dates and honey.

The Plum Tree

Le Beaujolais Noveau Est Arrive

A couple of other places were quite nice, the food was at least reasonable and the owners or waiters amiable and friendly. The fact that we visited the island out of season helped, none of the places was crowded, and the owners seemed happy to welcome customers. The Plum Tree in Qawra is one of these places, owned by a British couple, and decorated with stylish booze posters including classical Noveau Beujolais announcements from the previous century.

The Overflow

inside The Overflow

‘The Overflow’ is another such place, owned by a Brit named Clancy, who receives appreciation letters from customers and proudly displays them.

the La Valette red

I always try to explore the local wines, and I was guessing that Malta’s climate offers little excuse for local wine to be other than good. I was fortunate to have my hopes confirmed and to discover in the first or second evening a local brand called (what else?) La Valette, consistent, aromatic, and not too heavy, which made everybody at the table happy (even our beer drinker friends).

La Sorpresa

No surprise that the food at La Sorpresa was Italian. I do not remember much about it, but what I do remember was that they had TV sets all around and we could see Messi’s best game ever and Barcelona beating Arsenal 4-1.

The Golden Shell

Yes, we even had a Chinese dinner in Malta. The Golden Shell was located near our hotel, and the food was quite reasonable, as all the staff was genuinely Chinese.

Caffe Cordina - the chocolates stand

inside Caffe Cordina

Caffe Cordina

Located on Triq Ir-Republika (Republican Road) – the main street and topological axis of Valletta, the Caffe Cordina is one of the institutions of the principal city of Malta. While the street restaurant is routine tourist level, when entering the old building you get into a very different atmosphere – classy and elegant. The style and the chocolates stand reminded me Capsa in Bucharest.

food stand

No description of local food is complete without talking about the street food. This is however quite uninspired in Malta, and there is nothing special to talk about, no Belgian waffles, or Arabic falafel, or Greek gyro – maybe a variant of these here or there. The good looking sweet stands attract the tourists, which end by trying the local specialties which are variants of dates pastries, and Helwa tat-Tork which looks lesser than its Arabic halwa cousin and more like a sweet sugary mixture and sesame seeds that can come in various colors and flavors. I was not enthusiastic.

Kinnie

And yet, there is one local treat that I discovered only in the final days of the trip, and whose memory I took with me. Believe me or not – it’s a soft drink! It’s called Kinnie, looks like coke and tastes like a non-alcoholic Campari – a mix of herbs and orange flavors, absolutely charming. This is for me the taste of Malta.

Let us start with a short lesson in Maltese pronunciation. ‘x’ is read as ‘sh’ – so the name of the fishermen village I will tell about in this episode reads approximately as ‘Marsashlock’.

panoramic view of Marsaxlokk from the Delimara Point

Marsaxlokk is the biggest and most picturesque fishing village in Malta. It is located on the South-Eastern extremity of the island, in the Delimara Bay. We reached it twice, one during our car rental touring trip, and the second time when we stopped there for lunch (well, most people had lunch …) during the organized bus day trip we took to see the principal objectives in the Southern half of the island. It is in the first day when we took the panoramic picture you can see above, with most of the city and the gulf, infamously known in the Maltese history as the place where the Turkish fleet anchored during the 1565 war and debarked on the island.

church on the side of the road near the village

A beautiful church on the side of the road, near the city raises as a testimony to the religious feelings of the inhabitants and their passion for building churches. It’s a fishermen village, people are not very rich, yet this church is imposing, and it’s not even the principal church of the village.

house by the harbor

The streets are narrow, as you would expect in a Mediterranean fishermen village, but some of the houses are imposing, and interesting in the mix of styles. Look above at the house that I photographed near the harbor – limestone, ‘classical’ columns, Arabic style archs, the Maltese closed balcony.

Maltese Labour Party Flag

The front-line by the harbor is very typical to all the Mediterranean area, and reminds strikingly the harbor areas in Jaffo or in Akko. What was special was a HUGE flag of the Maltese Labor Party, I have no clue why there and why on that Sunday, but its dimensions would have made Ehud Barak dream.

fishing boats in the harbor

The fishing boats in the harbor were freshly painted in strong colors, it may be a local custom to paint them around Easter, in any case they were looking good.

fresh catch in the market

The first day we got there was a Sunday, and the local market was open and crowded working at maximum capacity. It is first of all a fish market, and the catch of the day is available in the market to buy, or in the restaurants on the sidewalk.

carpets in the Sunday market

But then it’s a general market as well, not different from a Turkish bazar, or from an Arabic or Israeli shoukh, and not very original either. We could by a few souvenirs and we did not buy any of the carpets above.

Malta Chardonnay

The next day Marsaxlokk was the stop for lunch. You will need however to ask our friends how was lunch in the village, as we chose to eat at the fish restaurant recommended by the tour guide (worst guide we ever had in a guided tour, did I say this? if now I say it now). It started all well with a fish soup and nice bottle of local Chardonnay, but then the fried fish platter never came until the time to leave. The kitchen of the restaurant was simply overflown by the group and could not keep the pace. We had a better dinner that night, and I will tell more about it in the episode dedicated to food in Malta.

Whoever knows me well also knows about my passion for visiting and photographing lighthouses whenever and wherever I have the occasion. I could not miss the opportunity during my vacation in Malta, a place which I suspected may have some beautiful such constructions, related to the naval history of this island located at the crossroads of the Mediterranean.

St. Elmo and Ricasoli

The first relevant place that I encountered was in the city of Valletta. A couple of lighthouses mark the entrance in the harbor on the East side of the peninsula. One is located on extremity of Fort St. Elmo. The present structure dates from 1908 according to http://www.unc.edu/~rowlett/lighthouse/mlt.htm, but I suspect that there may have been a lighthouse there for quite long time before, maybe since the 16th century when the city was built. Oposite to it, at the extremity of the breakwater on the Three Cities side one can see the lighthouse of Ricasoli, built the same year. Both are active, and can be admired and photographed from almost any place on the East side of Valletta.

Delimara Point

In order to see the other two lighthouses we had to rent a car which was an experience by itself in a place where they drive on the correct side of the road. Delimara Point is located on the South East extremity of the island, and in order to reach it you need to cross the small fishing and touristic village of Marsaxlokk, and engage on a country road. The result is rewarding, as the lighthouse location offers a beautiful view of the gulf where the village is located and of the open sea. Built in 1855 it is inactive since 1990, but a restoration project is under way and may lead to the site being open for visiting.

Cirkewva

In order to reach the third point of interest we had to cross the whole island, as Cirkewva is located on the North-West extremity of Malta, close to the embarking for the ferry-boat that crosses the straight to the island of Gozo. The drive is about 40km, by the way. Unfortunately, not too much is left from the original shape of the lighthouse which is inactive and was transformed in a platform which does offer splendid views and photo opportunities to the sea and to Gozo, but does not seem to care much about authenticity or history. At least I took a few beautiful pictures of the sea.

the sea from Cirkewva

S-a-mbracat în zale lucii cavalerii de la Malta,
Papa cu-a lui trei coroane, puse una peste alta,
Fulgerele adunat-au contra fulgerului care
În turbarea-i furtunoasa a cuprins pamânt si mare.

The Maltese Knights dressed themselves in shining armors …

Such retells Mihai Eminescu, the Romanian national poet an episode in the heroic resistance of the Romanian prince Mircea (the Elder) against the Turkish expansion, and this verses learned by heart by any Romanian pupil are stuck in the common memory. Yet, mentioning the Malta Knights or the Knights of St. John in a poem about a battle that happened in 1395 is just a poetical license. Actually it’s only more than one century later, after 1531 that the knights arrive in Malta!

historical fresco in the State Rooms - the Siege of Malta

The Knights Hospitaller is one of the religious orders founded in Jerusalem during the period of the Crusades, more exactly in 1023, with the principal goal of taking care of the pilgrims in the Holy Land. It became a military order (as the Templar or the Teutonic knights) in the centuries to come. With the defeat of the Crusaders the St. John Knights had to abandon the Holy Land and settled in Rhodes but two centuries later that island fell under the Turks, so by 1531 there was no other new home for them in an Europe caught in the conflicts of the Reformation, but to resettle them in Malta. The Turks came after them, but the famous siege in 1565 put a stop to the Ottoman expansion in the Mediterranean, in a military event event that marked and remained as milestone in the history of the island.

Grand Master de la Valette

The knights now completely ruled over the island for more than two centuries. They built the fortified city of Valletta with its historical buildings, impressive churches and picturesque streets. They managed the economy and ruled the island based upon the support of the pope and of the Spanish kings, until Europe and the church itself ran into social crisis in the 18th century culminating with the French Revolution and the ascension of Napoleon.  When the French army occupied the island in 1798 they encountered almost no resistance. Part of the knights found refuge in Russia electing for a short time the Czar as Grand Master, the rest found refuge in Rome where the order is headquartered until today, focusing on welfare and hospital activities. Their presence in Malta nowadays is just symbolic.

Grand Master's Palace

A good place to learn about the history of the knights and the relation with Malta is the Grand Master’s Palace in Valletta. It is located on the main street of Valletta, not an imposing building seen from the exterior, but with quite an interesting interior. It was one of the first palaces built in the city in the year 1571 by the Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valette. The building houses today the office of the President and the House of Representatives of Malta in the State Apartments, and the Palace Armoury in the separate wing. The very impressive corridors are decorated with frescoes and portraits of the Grand Masters, as well as with elaborated ceilings with the symbols of Malta as they evolved in history.

ceiling of the State Rooms

office of the President

interior court of the Grand Master's Palace

The Armoury hosts an impressive collection of weapons and military equipment from the period of the knights. There are some impressive pieces acquired by the knights from the best manufactures of the Western Europe of the period, or captured from the battles with the Ottoman archenemies. The gathering of metallic pieces of armoury or helmets sometimes give the impression of the remains of an ancient field of battle cast in metal or maybe testimony to the visit of an alien race in these places. This is maybe what the knight of St. John were in their passing on the island.

Palace Armoury

helmet

'alien' helmets

This episode  should have been about a place that I did not get to visit – the Mediterranean Film Studios. Resource-challenged Malta offers locations, studios, ans a special effect studios for sea scenes with two sets – one out in the sea, and one in the studios which provided just in the last decade the sets for making films like Munich, Troy, Gladiator, or Pirates of the Caribbean. A special government agency – the Malta Film Commission – is charged with supporting the local film services for the international film industry.

(video source filmmalta)

If we did not get to see the studios I could at least take some pictures in the coffee shop in Mosta of posters of classical films that were filmed on the island – witness to the fact that the history of film making here did not start in the last decade. So I decided to make of this episode a review of the milestones of the Filmed-In-Malta history of cinema.

Malta Story

(video source MaltaflyVideos)

Inspired from the history of the Maltese heroism during World War II, Malta Story made in 1953 and staring Alec Guiness brought up the island – then under British rule – to the attention of movie fans and especially of film makers all over the world. Locations, mild and predictable weather, inexpensive and English and Italian speaking crews made of Malta a location of preference especially for the genre of historical super-productions then emerging in the industry.

Il Colosso di Rodos / Ursus

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMVon3ULHV8

(video source MsNickym1)

I do remember having seen Il Colosso di Rodi when I was a kind, it may have been at the Patria cinema where the first cinemascope screen in Bucharest was installed around 1960, and this may have been the first time I heard about and saw a fim of Sergio Leone, later to become the king of the spaghetti westerns.

The Robe

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sZcL1ooHK0

(video source HistoryOfWidescreen)

I do not remember however The Robe, the first in a series of films inspired by the Roman antiquity and filmed in Malta. It was starring young star Richard Burton, and was made in the year I was born.

Spartacus

(video source cinemaart)

But then I could not miss Spartacus – the Stanley Kubrick deep dive in the history of the antiquity starring Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov. What a feast it was.

The Fall of the Roman Empire

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f68U_Ift5No&feature=related

(video source MsNickym1)

As we all know the Roman empire fell eventually, the last great film of the historical super-production era marked the event – Antony Mann’s Fall of the Roman Empire. Alec Guinness was back, and staring by him were Sophia Loren, James Mason and Christopher Plummer. The year was 1964, the year Malta became an independent country, and the year the Mediterranean Film Studios were founded.

If anybody is wondering – no, John Huston’s Maltese Falcon was not filmed in Malta.

——

May 19, 2011

I probably need to make a correction here. It seems that none of ‘The Robe’, ‘Spartacus’, or ‘The Fall of the Roman Empire’ was filmed in Malta. The information was based on the posters on the walls of the coffee-shop in Mosta which I assumed (or maybe was told by the local people, I cannot remember exactly) that they describe movies that were filmed at least in part on the island. However, according to IMDB, Malta was not a filming location for any of these films, neither are they mentioned at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_films_shot_in_Malta.

Merci, Jean Pierre, for reading and commenting on this.

In the car that took us from the airport to our hotel at the arrival in Malta we saw from the highway a huge structure that was visible from distance and dominated the landscape. Mr. David, the driver explained that this is the third dome in dimensions in Europe.  Frommer’s guide says it’s the fourth in the word. The information was not confirmed from other sources, and I actually heard a similar claim about another church in the island of Gozo, but later in the afternoon, when we arrived in the city of Mosta to watch the Good Friday procession as recommended by Mr. Albert the knowledgeable receptionist at the resort, we all agreed it is BIG.

on the streets of Mosta

As we were warned the city was closed to cars for the event and we had to walk about two kilometers from the margin of the town to the church in the center. We encountered for the first time the feeling of familiarity we then experienced for the rest of the trip. The landscape and the style of building is very similar to the one in the Arab towns and villages in Israel, spoken Maltese sounds close to Arab, and with the silhouette of the church in the sky the city looked like a flat replica of Nazareth.

Mosta Dome or Rotunda of St Marija Assunta

The impressive church dedicated to St. Mary – Rotunda of St Marija Assunta in Maltese – was built between 1833 and 1860, and the plans were based on the model of the Pantheon in Rome. On April 9, 1942 a German bomb fell inside the dome but never exploded, event which is remembered as the April 9 Miracle.

the Dome

The Dome is impressive also in the interior. The ceiling is painted in an abstract patter, and enhances the feelings of dimension. The internal diameter is 37.1 meters, and the walls are 9.1 meters thick.

inside the church

The church was overcrowded, as it was the time of the Good Friday liturgy before the procession started to parade in the streets. We could not move freely in the church and admired the art, but we could see the allegoric cars, the statues and the relics that were prepared to participate in the event. It was quite obvious that in this deeply religious country many people had worked for days and weeks in preparation.

preparing the chains

When we exit we saw another kind of preparation on the stairs of the church. Heavy metal chains were waiting for people to carry them on their legs during the procession, as a symbol of the suffering of Christ. The folks who were to carry the chains had their feet protected with bandages.

waiting for the procession

It was already late afternoon and the streets began to fill with people waiting for the procession to start. The path of the walk in the streets was well marked, it started from the church and ended at the edge of one of the main streets in the city. Some chairs were sold for a few Euros, other people gathered in the balconies in expectation. We were inspired and lucky to find a coffee shop (with a cinema theme – more about this in the next episode!) at the second floor of a building in the corner of the square near the church. We took some beers and waited for the event that started around 5PM.

dignitiaries and local band

The first to walk in the procession were the dignitaries of the city followed by the local band. All seemed to walk on slow motion, and stopped several times so there was plenty of time to take photos from all angles.

Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane

Statues, paintings, icons from the church followed carried on allegoric cars. The logic became evident, as each one of the cars and groups of people were described and the story of Christ’s Passion told on loudspeakers first in Maltese and then in English.

carrying the chains

Our friends carrying the chains followed. They were in full costume – looking a little bit like Ku-Klux-Klan, but we were not that shcked as we have already seen these costumes at a similar procession in the South of Spain a few years ago. Some of them were barefoot, some were wearing sneakers, all carried the real and heavy metal chains. Slow motion was fully justified for them.

Jewish and Roman characters

Costumes reflecting the local vision of how the Bible drama characters looked like were carried by participants in the parade, as in a grave carnival. The comment advanced slowly through the Bible story. It was already 7PM, we were watching the procession for a couple of hours and it became evident that it will last until late in the evening or even in the night. When the commentary reached the episode in which Barabbas was pardoned by the Jews instead of the innocent Christ we decided that we watched enough and started to head back to our place.

the food booth

On the way back we could not miss the food booths with magnificent cakes and pastries. Easter follows a period of feasting for Christians, and this was probably only one of the elements of diet-breaking of the holiday.