Chapels at the root of life

April 20, 2012


Many small churches and chapels dot villages in Malta and the surrounding countryside and visitors to our islands will probably equate them with religious pastoral care only.

But a closer look at the buildings and their beginnings reveals that they mirror the roots of the present Maltese European culture and are a pointer to how our society has developed over the years.

Eddie and Tony Aquilina, of Miranda Publishers, continue their tireless efforts to record this Maltese history in print and have just come out with the second volume of The Historic Chapels of Malta and Gozo 360.

The text and research on the chapels has been left in the hands of Joe Grima while the photography was once again entrusted to Enrico Formica.

Eddie Aquilina spent a lot of time scouting the areas and making contact with the people responsible for the chapels so that, once the photo­grapher arrived in Malta, no time would be lost.

Most of the images are animated with people and the photo­graphs were taken at different times of the year to make the best not only of the seasons but also of the liturgical feasts, natural light and cloud formations.

“This is not digitial photography,”said Mr Aquilina. “It is not a case of stitching images together digitally. These are slides, some of which measure up to 30 centimetres, in one complete shot.

“This is art photography at its best.”

In the same breath, he acknowledged all the help and support he got not just from his sponsors but also from the villagers and residents without whose participation “the production of the book would have been an impossible task”.
The series’ third volume is expected to hit the shelves later this year.


Malta becomes biggest ship registry in Europe

January 23, 2012


For the first time in its maritime history, Malta has been confirmed as the country with the largest ship register in Europe.

Following a 16 per cent increase in tonnage, the island surpassed Greece
By the end of the year, 5,830 vessels – a total of 45.6 million tonnes – were registered under the Maltese flag, Transport Minister Austin Gatt has said.

“Following a 16 per cent increase in tonnage, the island surpassed Greece for the first time. Although it’s the smallest European country, Malta has the seventh largest ship register in the world,” he said.

Dr Gatt said that during 2011, the Maltese shipping register generated over €12 million in revenue for Transport Malta alone.

This significant achievement was mainly attributed to the register’s high-service quality which attracted reputable companies, Dr Gatt added. Applicants had to pass through a rigorous selection process and not every owner who expressed interest in joining the register was accepted.

The condition and the age of prospective members are a major factor in the determination of whether they would make it to the register.

Malta’s register listed various types of vessels, including cruise liners like the Royal Caribbean, and super yachts, which registered an increase of 18.6 per cent over the previous year.

Malta has the lowest inflation in eurozone – Times of Malta

January 23, 2012


Malta registered the lowest rate of inflation in the euro area in December, according to data issued by Eurostat.

The EU’s statistics office said the island’s inflation stood at 1.3 per cent, 1.4 per cent below the average in the 17-member eurozone.

The rate of inflation in December was, in fact, the lowest registered in Malta for the year, after the island registered a significant four per cent inflation in 2010.

Across the EU, the lowest annual rate of inflation last month was seen in Sweden (0.4 per cent) and Malta and Bulgaria (two per cent), while the highest was in Slovakia (4.6 per cent), Poland (4.5 per cent) and Cyprus (4.2 per cent).

Fuel used for transport, heating oil and gas and electricity once again had the largest upwards impact on the EU’s inflation rate.

Record-breaking 80 entries registered Previous best was 77 in 2008

October 13, 2011

A record has been broken even before the start of the Rolex Middle Sea Race on October 22, it was announced yesterday.

Days before final registration for this year’s event, entries have risen to a record-breaking 80 and there are still a few days to go before the last entry can be accepted.

New entries from Italy, Serbia, Slovenia and the UK have pushed the numbers up to 80, three more than the previous record of 77 in 2008.

“We can accept late entries up until October 17 and we do expect one or two more, said Georges Bonello Dupuis, Commodore of the Royal Malta Yacht Club.

“As it is, entries for this year are incredible and we are really looking forward to seeing them all berthed outside our headquarters… the place will be buzzing,” he added.

A handful of boats are here, including previous RMSR line honours and overall winner, Alegre together with back-to-back Rolex Fastnet winner Ran 2.

Other arrivals include the UK Swan 57 Yellowdrama, who’ll be fighting for the new Nautor Swan Cup, Echo, Doppelbock (Germany and UK) and Filando and Tyke from Italy.

Filando’s 14-man crew are here for the first time to take part in a race that they consider “the best offshore regatta in the Mediterranean.”

Many of the entries will arrive this weekend, including the brand new 85-foot Nautor Swan Berenice, from Italy.

While good weather over the weekend will ease the passage of arriving yachts, Bonello Dupuis cautioned: “I expect one or two might have problems but fingers crossed that everyone arrives here safely… they will certainly receive a warm welcome.”

The Rolex Middle Sea Race is organised in association with the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) and has been sponsored by Rolex since 2002.

75 Attractions in One Night

October 2, 2011


The usually quiet evening streets of Valletta were turned into a vibrant festival of the arts, history and culture on Saturday, as Notte Bianca went through its sixth edition.

The capital’s streets and buildings were illuminated especially for the occasion, with 75 attractions and places of interest to choose from and about 500 people taking part.

Theatre lovers got a sneak peak into Renzo Piano’s as yet unfinished roofless theatre and were able to watch performances in the opera house ruins.

On the musical front, the sounds of rock, blues, indie, jazz and traditional music coming from several squares and gardens mingled with marching bands and orchestras.

A number of museums were also open to the public free of charge.

At the Lascaris War Rooms, which are currently undergoing renovation, the Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna tour guides joked about how they rarely saw Maltese people down in the underground chambers during the rest of the year but were overwhelmed by the number of locals on the night. Numerous bars and restaurants took advantage of the hungry crowds and stayed open beyond their normal hours.

While the organisers had appealed to visitors to enter Valletta through different routes other than Republic Street due to the ongoing construction works, it seems that not everyone followed their advice, with large crowds attempting to make their way through the narrowed passage that used to lead to the capital from City Gate.

The bottleneck proved too much for some, with one elderly woman seen whacking her way through the crowd with her walking stick.

Meanwhile, an Arriva spokesman said the company ferried more than 30,000 passengers on its special services between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. during Saturday’s event.

While there were large crowds, Arriva and Transport Malta had staff on hand to direct those wanting to take the bus to the relevant stops and mobile ticket sellers to help make boarding quicker.

Special routes labelled A to K were put on for the evening to make sure all passengers could make the journey home.

Birgu’s medieval Collachio – a historical cornucopia

October 2, 2011


The Inner Harbour city of Birgu (Vittoriosa), protected by the impregnable Castrum Maris (Fort St Angelo), and on the land-front by one of the most impressive lines of late Renaissance and Baroque fortifications in Europe, has along the years been a leading protagonist in the gradual westernisation of Malta, particularly in the late Middle Ages.

This ancient zone is packed with history and memories; wander along its beguiling winding streets and the layering of different cultures unfold
– Lino Bugeja
Its thriving population, engaged in maritime activities, was further enhanced by a cosmopolitan admixture of Venetians, Pisans, Genoese and Catalan merchants and seafarers who made Birgu their home.

The ancient part of this city, known as the Collachio, portrayed in microcosm a broad swathe of the influences of an active prosperous port city of the period with its taverns, courtesans, slaves and brothels running parallel with a proliferation of churches, chapels and holy relics.

Its narrow winding streets have witnessed moments of rowdy mirth, as in the frivolities of the first Carnival, as well as scintillating glories, as in the celebrations marking the end of the Great Siege of 1565, alternating with episodes of great poverty and epidemics. Many of these localities have survived to tell the tale.

On their arrival in Birgu in 1530 the Knights of St John concentrated their main buildings in a particular area on the pattern of their Rhodes sojourn; however it was impossible to have exclusive access to this zone which became known as the Collachio.

At the time Birgu was bursting at the seams with a population of over 3,500, and an accelerated building programme was initiated following the contours and alignments of the medieval building scheme. In this zone the Knights erected the auberges, a state-of-the-art hospital on the outskirts of the Collachio facing Kalkara, and magnificent palaces.

Behind St James Cavalier they built an impressive armoury as well as the vast fortifications of the Post of Castille, also known as l’Altare della Patria in view of the scenes of bitter fighting in the Great Siege, vividly described by Francesco Balbi di Correggio in his diary of the Siege of Malta and further immortalised by Matteo Perez d’Aleccio’s paintings at the Grand Masters’ Palace in Valletta.

In this zone, located on the right of the processional route (starting from the Three-Gate Entrance down Main Gate Street to the piazza) that bisects Birgu, one may include the Inquisitor’s Palace, a unique structure of great architectural and historical importance, the Bishop’s Palace, as well as the seat of the Birgu Università.

In spite of the intensive bombing during World War Two most of these historical edifices remained almost untouched.

Down the years, the Collachio has known the tread of outstanding personalities and scholars, poets and troubadours, great artists and military engineers as various as De Valette, L’Isle Adam, and Europe’s most celebrated military engineer, Bartolomeo Genga, who designed the still extant Auberge de France.

The Collachio presented the flowering spirit of the young Girolamo Cassar the opportunity to absorb the architectural idiom of the early Knights’ period to replicate it in the new city of Valletta.

The list of prominent people is endless – young ecclesiastical dignitaries who later became popes loitered here, as well as the renowned medieval troubadour Pietro Vidal.

The exceptionally brilliant Mattia Preti regaled the area with one of his late masterpieces in the magnificent main altarpiece of The Holy Family in the Benedictine church adjoining the erstwhile Holy Infirmary. It was here that the Birgu-born artistic geniuses Melchiorre Gafà, who made a name for himself in the Eternal City, and his brother Lorenzo, the greatest Maltese exponent of the Maltese Baroque, had their botteghe.

This ancient zone is packed with history and memories; wander along its beguiling winding streets and the layering of different cultures unfolds, stretching from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and the Baroque, with visible remains that gave Malta its typical domestic architecture. As you stroll through this labyrinth, memories of its past haunt you, contributing to a unique experience of when the now silent palaces hosted the nobility of Europe.

Exercising its various roles throughout history, the Collachio has retained its unique characteristics, making Birgu a city of substance. To wander across the battlements of the Post of Castille at the far end of this area, soon to be restored to their former glory, is an unforgettable experience as historic moments are evoked, engulfing the visitor in bitter-sweet melancholia.

If the Collachio could speak, which historical events would it relate? Would it explain the sophistication of the Siculo-Aragonese house with its still extant exquisite two-light window? Would it recount the vicissitudes of the English knights during the Reformation at the still standing Auberge d’Angleterre, built before 1534?

Would it reveal the inhumanity of the slave trade when Ancient Street and Strada Vecchia Albergia di Castiglia teemed with young slaves ready to be auctioned on the main square in the shadow of the historic tower? Would it remind us of the frequent outbursts of savagery and deaths in duels?

Would it extol the mysterious chant and the fragrance of incense of the Byzantine rites at the Greek church of St Nicholas in the area?

Or would the Collachio reverberate once again with the pious prayers when on August 12, 1565, De Valette exhibited at the Auberge de France the document from Pope Pius IV assuring all defenders of forgiveness of their sins and immediate access to heaven if they died defending the Faith? Would it reveal the first attempt in Malta at an incipient social service when the Knights in Birgu set up a Housing Commission and a Commission for the Needy with excellent medical facilities at the nearby Holy Infirmary built at L-Ghawejna ( Little spring) in 1533?

Undoubtedly, the Collachio had its moments of glory when Fort St Angelo and its suburb of Birgu entered the mainstream of European art and culture.

With their cosmopolitan appearance, customs and traditions, the families living in Birgu at the time contrasted sharply with the rest of the island which, with the notable exception of the inland town of Mdina, was still in many respects more North African than European.

As I recently explored this historic district with Tim Willocks, author of the bestseller The Religion, a kaleidoscope of colourful memories rushed to my mind as I felt the radical temper and vitality of this vibrant city and its humble populace still rooted in its extraordinary past.

A treasure trove awaits the discerning visitor on a pilgrimage to Birgu not least to discover and pay homage to our European roots.

That such a small walled-up city can offer so much history reveals the richness of its past when on many occasions Birgu was the main protagonist in the turbulent history of our islands.

The annual Birgufest is being held on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, featuring Birgu by Candlelight, traditional Maltese games, and Maltese and foreign musicians and an art exhibition by C.S. Lawrence at the Auberge de France (part of the proceeds from the sale of works will be donated to the Community Chest Fund).

Air show booms despite bus driver strike – Times of Malta

September 26, 2011

The aerobatic teams from two countries – the Swiss Airforce PC7 and the Italy’s famed Frecce Tricolori – gave spectacular displays as part of the 19th Malta International Airshow over the weekend. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

The aerobatic teams from two countries – the Swiss Airforce PC7 and the Italy’s famed Frecce Tricolori – gave spectacular displays as part of the 19th Malta International Airshow over the weekend. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

The last day of the Malta International Airshow welcomed as many visitors as it had in previous years despite the fact that public transport between Valletta and the event was stopped due to industrial action.

Joe Ciliberti, president of the Malta Aviation Society, which organises the yearly weekend airshow, said it had its own transport arrangements from the capital city and was never banking on Arriva.

The General Workers’ Union said its industrial action was due to the company’s “intransigence”, calling on Arriva to continue discussions to find a solution so it would not have to resort to further action. It apologised for any inconvenience caused to the public, while thanking the workers for their solidarity and for following its directive.

Meanwhile, cars streamed to the airshow, where visitors could enjoy a wide variety of aircraft, including helicopters, business jets and a World War II vintage Dakota DC-3. The static display at Malta International Airport included anything from diminutive microlights to Hercules transport behemoths.

But one of the main attractions remained the Libyan participation, with its air force’s Mirage F1, flown to Malta by a defecting pilot in February, the BAe 146 and Antonov 26 – civilian aircraft that played crucial, behind-the-scenes, military roles during the Libya uprising.

The 19th edition also saw several firsts, including the aerobatic teams from not one, but two countries.

Next year’s air show celebrates its 20th anniversary, as well as the 70th of the end of Malta’s involvement in World War II, so it is intended to be a special event.

For further information, kindly contact 77 Great Estates on (00356) 2721 7777; (00356) 9944 7444; skype: info.77GreatEstates or

Zucchero scores a hat-trick – Times of Malta

August 1, 2011

It may have been Zucchero’s third concert in Malta last Saturday but neither Italy’s best-selling artiste nor his audience seems to have tired of his performances.

The 55-year-old Italian singer, whose career spans three decades and more than one generation, energetically took to the open-air stage at the Malta Fairs and Convention Centre in Ta’ Qali as part of Chocabeck World Tour 2011.

In his trademark gritty and textured voice, he belted out songs from his latest album by the same name and also a number of timeless hits that are still as popular and arousing as they were when released years back.

Zucchero and his 13-piece live band thrilled the audience and seemed equally pleased to be back, returning on stage with an encore that included an extra, unplanned song.

He completed his concert, organised by Stand Out Events, with his international hit, Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime, and one of his greatest, chart-topping tracks, Senza una donna, both sang in English, as well as a tribute to his friend, the late tenor, Luciano Pavarotti, with Miserere.

The concert was a mixture of his soft and sensitive songs and the more upbeat and boisterous tracks, all performed with emotion, getting the audience to sit in silence, or stand up and dance, depending on the mood he aptly conveyed.

For further information, kindly contact 77 Great Estates on (00356) 2125 2455; (00356) 9944 7444; skype: info.77GreatEstates or

Santana entertains – The Times of Malta

July 26, 2011

Photo: Matthew Mirabelli­­

Mexican guitarist Carlos Santana – rock, salsa and jazz fusion pioneer – last night gave a concert to a packed audience at MFCC in Ta’Qali, previously scheduled for the Granaries in Floriana.

Forecast near-gale winds caused a last-minute change of concert venue.

Santana gave an excellent performance, which was very well received by the packed crowd.

The only sore note in the concert was when a section of the crowd started booing when TV personality Lou Bondi’ was shown on the big screen. Santana, who had been speaking at the time, looked shocked, thinking the booing was against him.

For further information, kindly contact 77 Great Estates on (00356) 2125 2455; (00356) 9944 7444; skype: info.77GreatEstates or

$200 million yacht in Comino – Times of Malta

July 15, 2011

For further information, kindly contact 77 Great Estates on (00356) 2125 2455; (00356) 9944 7444; skype: info.77GreatEstates or