Posts Tagged ‘Id-Dar tal-Bebbux’

  • Out of its shell

    No one can really say what inspired Indrí Dimech known as Il-Mikk in 1898 to start decorating the façade of his property in Għaxaq with hundreds of snails and seashells which he collected from local and foreign beaches. However, some suggest that he might have seen such decorations when he was living abroad.

    Massi il-Mikk (Photo provided by Dr Mario Rizzo Naudi)2Known to be able to do whatever came up to his mind, within two years, Indrí turned the two upper sides of the walls of his property in a huge canvas as he craftly designed them with religious symbols made out of snails and seashells. He embellished this artwork further by adding also three niches, a statue, and some writing which included his surname. Soon this property became renowned as Id-Dar tal-Bebbux (the house of snails).

    More than a century later, much of this unique artistic work has somehow succeeded to withstand the test of time. Yet considerable sections of it have been lost and what remains is in dire need of preservation and restoration. For many years, the Local Council of Għaxaq has been trying to obtain the necessary funds to save this singular property in St Mary Street but no one seems to be interested to protect this national cultural heritage.

    “A recent application for funds in a scheme that was dedicated to the restoration of historical sites was disqualified since the work to restore Id-Dar Tal-Bebbux was going to take more than six months. Moreover, we were informed that there were no workers available in the Restoration Section who could do the type of work required for this property,” said Darren Abela, Mayor of the Għaxaq Local Council.

    “We were all very disappointed to receive this news. It is deplorable to notice that it is always the same Local Councils who receive the funds to do restoration projects in their localities whilst our locality always ends up with nothing! Although we are in favour of such works, we find it difficult to understand why similar sites obtain the funds to be restored, whereas this property in Għaxaq which is unique, continues to be ignored.”

    Dar tal-bebbux 1 (Photo - Fiona Vella)Abela insisted that about fifty years ago, this house was considered to be his village’s jewel while today, it is regarded as the village’s sorrow as it is painful to look at its pitiful state.

    “Everyone who sees this house or who hears about it recommends us to restore its old decorations before we lose them once and for all. And yet, nobody has ever came forward with any solid action to commence these works.”

    No estimate of the value of the work required has ever been done because such a project requires particular expertise which till now was not located.

    “At the moment, there are three different families living in this property and they have all agreed that this work should be done. I hope it won’t be too late if we’ll ever have the funds to start this project. It is already doubtful whether the snails and seashells which have fallen out could ever be replaced.”

    It would definitely be a pity to allow further deterioration of this place. Indeed, Indrì Dimech’s work was deemed significant enough to be included in the National Inventory of the Cultural Property of the Maltese Islands where there is detailed information about the niches and the statues which form part of Id-Dar tal-Bebbux.

    Dar tal-bebbux - main facade (Photo - Fiona Vella)High up on the main facade which bears the date 1901, a small stone statue of the Virgin Mary, the patron saint of Għaxaq, stands triumphantly on a large sphere of clouds. Below it, on the left hand side, one can observe a niche with a stone statue of St Joseph holding baby Jesus; a saint which is also very cherished in this village and for whom a secondary feast is dedicated. On the right, another niche was constructed to contain the stone statue of St Andrew; the saint which has the same name as Indrì. Both these niches have been lavishly decorated with beautiful patterns made with snails and seashells and coloured with paint in between. Only the first three letters of the surname Dimech remain intact on the aperture of the left balcony, the middle balcony displays the letters C. Asciak, whilst the word Malta is still in one piece on the right balcony.

    Another niche with three stone statues showing a crucified figure of Christ accompanied by the Virgin Mary and St John the Evangelist claims the attention at the center of the other facade. Unfortunately, many of the shells which composed the intricate designs around this niche are now lost.

    Several other designs which include religious symbols, particularly those connected to the Passion of the Christ, can also be recognized. A number of other forms show angels, crosses, palm trees, lions, unicorns, fountains, churches, Għaxaq’s coat of arms, and many others.

    One of the niches loacted on a wall of Dar il-BebbuxRelatives of Indrì Dimech who often worked as a sailor in the Middle East narrated how he used to return from his voyages carrying numerous shells. Once back home in Għaxaq, he would cover the facade of his property with bedsheets and continue working on his masterpiece. It is not known whether these sheets served as a protection against the sun or whether he intended to surprise his neighbours once he was finished with his work.

    At the time, Indri’s property functioned as a bar wherein men gathered to have a drink and to socialize after a hard day’s work. In there, those who were devoted and passionate about the feast of St Mary met to discuss the events which had to be organized. Meanwhile, this place served also as the hub which sparked the idea of the establishment of the first social club in Għaxaq that was to be dedicated to the titular of the Assumption of Mary.

    Even Indrì gave a helping hand to decorate the square that was located in front of his property during the feast. Numerous oil lamps and coloured paper turned the surrounding environment in a surreal atmosphere, especially with his bizarre property in the background.

    Today, this property stands in the core of the village, just a few metres away from Għaxaq’s parish church. Although Indrì is gone, his aptitude to mesmerize still lingers on as passers by are captivated by the strange designs that he created. Hopefully, as soon as possible, the authorities would appreciate this gem for its uniqueness and would take the necessary actions to restore back its beauty and allure of bygone days.

    (This article was published in the ‘Homes’ Supplement issued with The Sunday Times of Malta dated 3rd April 2016)

    2016.04.03 / no responses / Category: The Sunday Times - Articles

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