Posts Tagged ‘Malta’

  • Take me to church

    “ ‘They have hit our church!’ cried a man as he stumbled down in the tunnel which was located under the Mall Garden. We were huddling in there for shelter together with many other people as the bombs came down over Floriana,” reminisced Pawlu Piscopo who was eight at the time.

    Bombed St Publius' church (Photo provided by Pawlu Piscopo)“At this horrible news, my father grabbed me and my brother by the hand and took us out of the tunnel and over to the granaries where a very sad spectacle awaited us. St Publius’ Church had suffered a direct hit. Its dome was gone and the area was surrounded in rubble. Thirteen people who were taking cover in the church’s crypt were killed and eleven more were injured. That was the blackest moment in the history of the parish church of Floriana: April 28, 1942 at 7:50am.”

    After their house had been bombed, Pawlu’s family were allowed to take some respite in a large residence which today houses the Floriana Local Council. Yet for four years, they lived mostly underground in this tunnel which probably saved their lives. They took with them only a few belongings and the most cherished items, including a statue of St Publius which dated back to 1928 and used to adorn the model altar that his father had constructed at home.

    “Most families in Malta had a model of an altar or a miniature church at home at the time.  Unfortunately, many of these had to be abandoned during the war and a good number of them were destroyed when the houses were bombed.”

    The craft of church model-making had been introduced to our islands by the Knights of St John back in the 16th century, and therefore its knowledge was a distinct tradition. However the adversity of war ravaged even this precious memory until eventually this craft was almost completely forgotten.

    The entrance to Pawlu's model of St Publius' chucrh (Photo provided by Pawlu Piscopo)“After the war, people tried to get on with their lives as best as they could. Shops started to open again but those that used to sell miniature items with which to decorate our religious models, dwindled down to almost none. Nevertheless, the passion for model-making was much engrained in our family and when I bought a miniature structure made of four columns and a dome from a man who was leaving Malta to go to live in Australia, my father Carmelo was inspired to use it as the foundation for a model of St Publius’ church,” explained Pawlu.

    Carmelo was a very skilled carpenter. He would go from time to time to have a look at the church and then go back to his model and construct an exact copy of the section that he had seen.

    “He used the material which was handy at the time, mostly cardboard, wood and gypsum. I helped him out too in order to build the whole church which included ten altars. Eventually, this model reached a huge size of three by four metres and we could walk in it and look above at the beautiful dome,” Pawlu said proudly.

    Once his father grew old, Pawlu continued with the work on this church which they had started back in the early 1960s. As he embellished this model, the wish to set up a group for model-makers in order to share this passion with them, burnt within him.

    Pawlu Piscopo at the exhibition (Photo - Fiona Vella)“On February 26, 1986 which happenned to be the tenth anniversary of my father’s demise, I discussed this idea with two of my friends, Raphael Micallef and Tony Terribile, who were very interested in this sector. We all agreed to do something in order to revive this craft and we sent out adverts in the newspapers to announce the set up of this group which we called Għaqda Dilettanti Mudelli ta’ Knejjes (Church Modelling Society). We were very happy when we received a great response from enthusiastic individuals all over Malta. Soon, a commitee was formed and on March 1986, we organized the first exhibition during the first two weeks of Lent wherein the members displayed the works that they had.”

    It was certainly a great satisfaction to see this society thrive and grow along the years, always adding up new members of various ages. Today, around 400 members form part of this group which operates from its premises at 37, East Street, Valletta.

    John Paul Buhagiar Smith, one of the youngest members of the society, decorating his model-altar (Photo - Fiona Vella)“This year we are delighted to celebrate the 30th anniversary from the establishment of this society,” Pawlu said. “The annual exhibition has been taking place each year. Besides offering the opportunity to showcase our members’ works, this event has served to help our members and the public which visits it, to meditate during the Lent period and to prepare for the Easter celebrations.”

    A bi-monthly magazine, Il-Knisja Tiegħi (My Church), which was also initiated by Pawlu, is marking its 30th anniversary too. Members have been writing features in it related to different aspects of religious folklore, thereby kindling even further interest in model-making.

    Once again this year, the society has organized this exhibition which saw the participation of several of its members. Exhibits varied and included small to large statues of the passion of Christ and Easter, statues of Blessed Mary and several saints, models of altars, church facades and whole churches made of different materials.

    Detail from Pawlu's model dome (1) (Photo provided by Pawlu Piscopo)“I hope that I’ll have enough strength to exhibit my large model of St Publius’ church,” revealed Pawlu at one point. “It takes me four weeks to set it up on a large platform and to connect the miniature chandeliers and light fittings to electricity. I am getting old now and such work is very tiring.”

    Pawlu has been exhibiting this model in a building besides the Floriana Cathecism Museum for many years now, during the feast of St Publius which takes place two weeks after Easter.

    “Many people come to visit my model and they are fascinated with it. Tourists take photos besides it and they ask me how I managed to construct it section by section and yet making it look as a whole. I tell them that there are lifetimes of passion invested within it and that it is imbued with a blend of religious meaning and local traditional skills and creativity.”

    At 82 years, Pawlu is serene and thankful to see the society which he has founded together with his friends strengthen itself and adding members to it.

    “I just wish that it will continue to flourish for very long,” smiled Pawlu as he looked contentedly around him in order to appreciate the beautiful displayed works of the society’s members.

    (This article was published in the Easter Supplement which was issued with The Times of Malta dated 21st March 2016)

    2016.03.21 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • To die for a piece of bread

    Although Carnival is generally associated with fun, exuberance and colour, it was sadness, tragedy and darkness which marked this festive season on 11th February 1823, after more than a hundred children died in Valletta. Details of this terrible tragedy are immortalized in black and white in the Malta Government Gazette of Friday, 14th February 1823 which is archived at the National Library of Malta in Valletta.

    Initially, news of this tragedy was recorded as a Government Notice in the Malta Government Gazette (No. 557) by Richard Plasket, Chief Secretary to Government, wherein he declared that an investigation was taking place in order to obtain any possible evidence regarding this fatal accident. A published report of these findings was later annexed as a Supplement (pp. 3391-2) to the same journal of 14th February 1823.

    In this long report, Plasket includes information that was provided to him by the Archbishop of Malta, persons examined before the Magistrates of Police which comprised both relatives of the victims and other individuals who were present during this incident, and also a medical report related to this case.

    The story in the journal (Photo - Fiona Vella)At the beginning of this statement, he furnishes a context for this mishap wherein he mentions that in those years, during the last days of the Carnival celebrations, it had become a tradition to gather a group of boys aged from 8 to 15, who came from the lower classes of Valletta and the Three Cities, to participate in a particular activity. In this event, children who opted to join were taken in a procession to Floriana or elsewhere, and after attending mass, they received some bread which was financed by the Government and other beneficiaries. The main aim of this activity was to protect the children by keeping them out of the riot and confusion of the Carnival that took place in the streets of these cities. The arrangement of this procession was under the responsibility of the Ecclesiastical Directors who taught Cathecism.

    Indeed, according to this tradition, on the 10th February 1823, some children were taken to attend mass at Floriana and were then accompanied to the Convent of the Minori Osservanti in Valletta (today known as the Convent of the Franciscans of St Mary of Jesus or Ta’ Ġieżu) where they were given bread without any difficulty or trouble. The same ritual was intended to take place the day after. Yet no one had any idea that a series of errors would eventually lead to such a great tragedy.

    Ta' Giezu Church in Valletta (Photo - Fiona Vella)Everything started according to plan on 11th February 1823. The children were gathered in a group and were taken to mass at Floriana. However, when the ceremony lasted an hour longer than usual, the children’s procession to the Convent in Valletta coincided with the end of the Carnival celebrations, when a great number of jubilant people were returning home. This led to the next blunder, as a number of adults and children who were passing by and who knew of this tradition, secretely mixed in with the other boys in order to share the bread which would be distributed.

    In line with the usual arrangement, these boys were to enter into a corridor of the Convent from the door of the vestry of the Church, and were to be let out through the opposite door of the Convent in St Ursula Street, where the bread was to be distributed. In order to prevent the boys who received their share from reentering to take a second helping of bread, it became customary to lock the door of the vestry. Yet this time, since the children were late, this door was left open for a longer time so that they could enter. As the sun was setting and darkness crept in, nobody realized that other men and boys who did not form part of the original group were entering too.

    Soon, the boys who were queuing in the corridor found themselves being pushed by these trespassers as they forced themselves in. The situation worsened when eventually the vestry door was closed as usual and the children were shoved further at the end of the corridor where a door stood half open so that no one could get back in a second time.

    That day was certainly ill-fated when further mistakes continued to occur. In fact, a lamp which was usually lit in the corridor was somehow put out, leaving the overcrowded area in total darkness. This confused the people even more and as they tried to push themselves forward in order to get out, the boys who were at the front fell down a flight of eight steps on top of each other, thereby blocking further the door which happenned to open inwards.

    Suddenly, both those who were distributing the bread and the Convent’s neighbours began to hear children shrieking out. They ran to give their assistance but a lot of time was wasted as they tried to open the two doors which led to the corridor in order to reach the people inside.

    Eventually, many children were taken out fainting but recovered soon. Others appeared lifeless but were brought to their senses some time afterwards. Regretfully, 110 boys from 8 to 15 years of age perished from suffocation when they were pressed together in such a small place or because they were trampled upon.

    Colonel Marquis Giuseppe De Piro (Photo provided by Marquis Nicholas De Piro)After investigating this accident, the Lieutenant Governor concluded that this was an unfortunate accident caused by the succession of errors mentioned above. Consequently, no one was accused for the death of these children since these acts were not done on purpose to harm them. In fact, Plasket commented that everyone had collaborated to assist these poor boys and even the victims’ relatives had allowed the police and the soldiers to work speedily and diligently in order to save as many children as possible. He insisted that were it not for this, the tragedy could have been much worse.

    As I followed further this narrative by focusing on the names mentioned in Plasket’s report, I succeeded to trace the Captain of the Malta Fencibles who led the soldiers during this tragic moment. It was his descendant, Marquis Nicholas De Piro who led me to see Colonel Marquis Giuseppe De Piro’s portrait which is located at Casa Rocca Piccola in Valletta.

    Sir George Whitmore's illustrationAn interesting discussion ensued between us during which the present Marquis informed me also about General Sir George Whitmore who headed the Royal Engineers’ detachment on Malta as its Colonel Commandant between 1811 and 1829. Whitmore had written about his experiences in Malta and had also produced some illustrations related to our islands. Interestingly, Marquis Nicholas De Piro was in possession of a copy of one of these ancient illustrations in the form of a very small slide, which showed some individuals being trampled upon by a group of other people. He wondered whether this slide could be portraying this misfortunate accident of the Carnival of 1823. Yet no children are included in this representation and so it is not clear whether it actually depicts this narrative.

    My research ended at Ta’ Ġieżu Church and I watched in silence the area where these children lost their lives. Sadness engulfed me when I climbed up the steps on my way back while pondering how these children could end in this way for a piece of bread.

    (This article was published in the Carnival Supplement issued with the Times of Malta dated 3rd February 2016)

    2016.02.03 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • East meets West

    For many Western societies, the idea of health is the absence of disease.Yet this is not the case in China, where the aspect of health embodies a comprehensive system that focuses on a balanced lifestyle which is in harmony with nature. Evolving along thousands of years of experimentation and studies about health and longevity, the philosophy of traditional Chinese medicine is today imbued with an ancient wisdom that aims to heal and regenerate not only the body but also the mind and soul.

    From 1994, this ideology is being fostered locally by means of The Mediterranean Regional Centre for Traditional Chinese Medicine which is located in Kordin, Paola. Run by a Chinese medical team which changes every two years, this centre has been regularly registering a remarkable increase in Maltese people who attend to receive treatment.

    Dr Xu Jinhua“We are very satisfied with the Maltese people’s response to our services,” remarked Dr Xu Jinhua, the present director of the centre. “In fact, last week, we treated 100 patients.”

    Dr Xu is no new face in this centre since this is the second time that he has joined the Chinese medical team to work in Malta. He was here four years ago and yet he had to undergo again an eight-month preparation programme in Nanjing before coming to our country.

    His interpreter, Xiaoyan Sun, described how the team of four Chinese doctors, a chef and herself were required to attend to this outward training in order to be able to provide the best service in Malta.

    training“Apart from physical training, our preparation was concentrated on strengthening our ability to communicate in English and learning basic details about Maltese culture and religion. Moreover, all members of the group were familiarized with some general fundamental knowhow to enable us collaborate better. This included learning rudimental information about traditional Chinese medicine in order to be able to co-operate with the doctors, and also getting used to cook so that we could relieve our chef from time to time. Meanwhile, we were also prohibited from visiting home in order to get adjusted to the experience of living in another country, whilst at the same time the group became more like a family.”

    teamGenuine dedication and commitment is the order of the day as these four Chinese doctors, who are specialized in acupuncture, provide their services at this centre in Paola, at Mater Dei Hospital, and at Gozo General Hospital. Additionally, as Dr Xu revealed, this team was sent with a further task to set up a Chinese clinic at St Luke’s hospital.

    Diagnosis of traditional Chinese medicine practitioners vary considerably from that of Western doctors.

    “From our first glance at the patient, we get a good indication of what the client might be suffering from,” explained Dr Xu. “Immediate tell tale signs are evident in the way one walks, in one’s facial expression and posture, in the colour of the skin, and whether one is thin or fat. Furthermore, a person’s vitality shows through the brightness of the eyes, the colour of the lips, and the state of the hair.”

    acuIt was interesting to discover that much information is also obtained by looking closely at a person’s tongue since its colour, shape and coating reflects the condition of the internal organs.

    “Our investigation includes also auscultation which is done by listening to the patients’ voice, sounds of breathing, and coughing. In the old days, the diagnosis concerned also olfaction; that is smelling the odour of the patient. However today this is somewhat difficult since people use many perfumes and this hides the personal odour of individuals.”

    Even pulse-taking is different since the Chinese physician uses three fingers: the index finger to check the heart and lungs, the middle finger to listen to the liver, and the ring finger to test the kidney.

    “During this time, the doctor also discusses with the patient about his lifestyle, his diet, whether he practices some form of exercise and if he has any stressful atmosphere at home or at work. This practice takes place in order to see whether the patient is suffering from any sort of imbalance which is resulting in pain. For the treatment to be effective, it is very important that a good relationship is created between the patient and the doctor.”

    gardenAlong these twenty-one years, the treatments at this clinic were mainly focused on acupuncture and massage. Yet this year, Dr Xu is keen to introduce a further specialized treatment which involves the use of traditional Chinese herbs.

    “Chinese herbs are used widely in China. There is a vast selection of these herbs, and all have their own particular characteristics and qualities. Their utilization could offer various benefits to the Maltese people. However, till now, we are prohibited from importing these herbs to Malta to treat the locals with them.”

    Probably, this restriction is due to the fact that these herbs are alien to our Western doctors. Nonetheless, possibly the time has come to make a change.

    Current medical team during this year's Notte Bianca (Photo - Xiaojin Su)“Last year, I had the opportunity to meet Dr Konrad Mizzi, Minister for Energy and Health, whilst he was visiting some medicine colleges and hospitals in China. At the time, I was glad to see that he seemed very interested in these traditional Chinese herbs, particularly those relating to treat infertility.”

    “Should treatment with these herbs be allowed in Malta, a Chinese doctor specialised in this sector would be able to attend regularly in our centre in order to diagnose patients and provide treatment. I am aware that presently some people in Malta are using IVF treatment to tackle this issue. Yet in those cases where a couple does not have any problems with the organs themselves, traditional Chinese herbs might offer a less expensive and more reliable natural solution. I must say that in China we have a 70 to 80 per cent success rate for cases of infertility in such situations.”

    Dr Xu pointed out that other countries, such as America, have now introduced these methods and they are having very satisfactory results. That is why he is looking very much forward to meet Dr Mizzi in order to discuss further this opportunity.

    “If this treatment is made available in Malta, I am sure that many people will benefit from it. Maybe at first, people might be wary or doubtful whether a herb will really be effective. Nonetheless, once people will start obtaining positive results, others will surely follow, and we would be doing a great service to this country.”

     (This article was published in ‘Fitness, Nutrition and Well-Being’ Supplement issued with The Times of Malta dated 27th January 2016)

    2016.01.27 / 1 response / Category: Times of Malta

  • A Christmas Nursery

    Even as a young child, Paul Pace was very fond of baby Jesus statues. Probably because they reminded him of a number of significant familial moments. His grandma gave him a small wax statue of baby Jesus in order to ease down his sorrow after his father George had to leave for a long time to work with the Navy. On another occasion, his father surprised him when he bought him an expensive statue of baby Jesus that he had longed for, after he succeeded to win a lottery. Now, at 69, Paul owns a collection of more than 2000 of such statues which he has lovingly gathered in a museum that he called ‘Il-Mużew tal-Bambini’.

    DSCN1966His wife Mary shares his passion and she is always present to give him a hand in this museum which they have purchased together.

    “It is such a pleasure to see people getting emotional when they visit our museum. Some become very nostalgic as they remember their childhood. Others notice some statue which was similar to the one that their parents had, and they start recalling their memories. A number of visitors get inspired to buy a baby Jesus statue of their own, while some others decide to go home and search for their neglected antique statue which their grandma had left them,” Paul said.

    Since its inauguration in 2010, il-Mużew tal-Bambini has become quite renowned both with the local and the foreign public. Although it is available for viewing by appointment throughout the year, most of the visitors attend to this museum during the Christmas season.

    “There is always something new to see because we are continually adding to our collection. Even though by now, we have a problem with space, when we find a particular baby Jesus statue which we love, we just can’t help not to own it,” admitted Mary.

    Certainly, the museum is a wonder to behold. The provenance of the statues is worldwide, thereby providing a rich overview of the different cultures. Skin colour, facial characteristics, and posture of these statues vary accordingly.

    DSCN1949A delicate looking baby Jesus which was made in Malta, rests in a musical box and moves his eyes and hands.  A dark skinned baby Jesus made from wood in Tanzania looks exotic amongst the others.  A curly black-haired toddler Jesus, wearing the traditional costume of Perù, sits on a chair and weeps after stepping on a thorn, according to a local legend. A wooden statue from Betlehem shows Jesus as a boy dressed as a king and sitting on an elegant throne. A teenage Jesus from Atocia is also resting on a chair, but this time, he wears the clothes of a pilgrim and carries a rod. An intricately adorned statue of Jesus from Trapani is embellished with pomegranate for good luck.

    “Our interest in this aspect has led us to travel to countries which are related to the life of Jesus, and from which we knew that we could find such statues. Our visit to the Holy Land was an incredible experience which gave us the opportunity to walk in the same roads where Jesus lived. Moreover, it was an ideal country from where to acquire some beautiful statues for our collection,” remarked Paul.

    “When we visited Prague, we bought 42 different baby Jesus statues!” exclaimed Mary.

    DSCN1942They just had to, they explained, as they saw my startled reaction. This was because according to an old tradition, the statue of baby Jesus in Prague is dressed in different coloured clothes each day. Therefore, they were bound to purchase a number of statues which showed Jesus in several dresses. Nevertheless, not all the statues bought ended up in the museum, since some of these were presents for family members and friends.

    “Many of those who visit our museum are curious to know whether we can remember all our statues, which of course, we do. We can also recall all the places from where we have obtained these items. Each statue has an interesting story behind it and we love to share them with whoever’s interested to listen,” Paul said.

    I was all ears and I felt simply fascinated when their narrative started to pour in. One of these stories entailed how they managed to buy a statue of baby Jesus which belonged to St. Ġorġ Preca. Another was related to an excellent bargain which Mary made unknowingly, when she bought a statue for her husband for a low price, and then found out that it dated to the 18th century. I loved also the account relating to a particular container made of mica which was produced in Malta by a German prisoner of war during World War II, and was utilized to hold a statue of baby Jesus.

    DSCN19321“We have many antique statues but the oldest one that we know the date of goes back to 1730. The smallest statue is about 15mm long, whereas the largest one has a length of 80cms. The materials of these statues varies widely and include: stone, alabaster, marble, woods of different kinds, wax, ceramic, concrete, lava, straw, plastic, wool, and even bull’s horn,” Mary explained.

    Yet the strangest was yet to come…

    “One day, we had a statue which lost its synthetic hair and we decided to try to replace it with some hair of one of our daughters. The experiment succeeded and soon, we provided the hair to a number of other statues by trimming some hair from our other daughter and eventually also from that of our nephews,” smiled Paul as he pointed them out proudly.

    Each time that I observed the statues, I noticed a different one which I had not seen before. The collection looked literally endless, and yet each statue was unique. Whilst some of the statues showed simple features, mostly due to the artistic fashion of the time, others were quite elaborate and pretty. Yet there were also a number of outstanding characters which stood out from the rest.

    DSCN1937“The main aim of this museum is to share the sweetness of Christmas and the joy which is inherent in each statue of baby Jesus,” revealed the couple.

    However, this place offers much more than that since it nurtures love for one’s family, whilst it cherishes an appreciation for diversity. Undoubtedly, this collection is also an invaluable source for those who are interested to study the changes which took place along the years in the production of such precious artworks.

    Il-Mużew tal-Bambini which is located at 17, Triq Santa Tereża, Birkirkara, will be open for the public from Sunday, 13th December 2015 to Wednesday, 6th January 2016.

    Opening times: Monday to Saturday from 4:30pm – 8:00pm, Sundays and Public Holidays from 9:00am – noon and from 4:30pm – 8:00pm. For more information, one can call 21492111.

    (This article was published in CHRISTMAS TIMES Suppliment issued with The Times of Malta dated 8th December 2015)

    2015.12.08 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • Bats at the museum

    As the sun began to set, the sky darkened with the legion of bats which came out of the Rabat catacombs, noted G. Gulia in 1890 in his book Elenco dei Mammiferi Maltesi. Certainly, the tendency of these nightly creatures to live in such dreaded underground areas didn’t help them much in order not to be associated with evil and darkness. Likewise, their strange semblance, their mythical association with Dracula, and images of Satan bearing their wings, hindered even more their reputation. In Aztec and Mayan cultures, bats were deities connected to death. Yet nothing could be far from the truth since bats have a beneficial role in the earth’s ecosystem.

    Senior Curator John Joseph Borg besides a specimen of a fruit bat located at the Museum in Mdina (Photo - Fiona Vella)2The importance of these unique flying mammals was highlighted during a recent activity which was organized by MEPA’s Environment Division in collaboration with Heritage Malta, at the National Museum of Natural History in Mdina. This annual event, recognized as Malta Bat Night, included a discussion about bats and listening to their sounds through an electronic device.

    Malta Bat Night forms part of a partnership which we have with the European Union for the Research and Conservation of Bats,” explained John Joseph Borg, Senior Curator at the National Museum of Natural History.

    “Such events are aimed to inform the public about bats in the hope of removing the negative impression that people have about them. Along the years, bats have decreased considerably in Malta, both because their habitat has often been disturbed, and also due to direct acts of vandalism which were carried out upon them.”

    Maghrebian Bat2Indeed, Borg explained that colonies of bats have been repeatedly put on fire whilst they were resting in their caves. Others were smothered when vandals threw mud and other things at them, even though they were clearly being protected behind a gate, such as in the case of Ħasan Cave. Bats of a small colony which lived in a site that had access to a particular school, were burnt alive by school children after they captured them and drenched them in hot candle wax.

    Well, after hearing these stories, it becomes very clear who the evil ones are.

     “Unfortunately our culture has taught us to fear and hate these creatures. In actual fact, their presence could be very advantageous to humans,” revealed Borg.

    “Many of the bats eat insects and studies have shown that they tend to feed on species that are harmful to humans and to agriculture. Other small bats which have an elongated snout and a long tongue, act as pollinators when they enter into flower tubes to lick the pollen inside and then move onto different plants. Larger bats, which may look spooky and scary, nurture themselves on decaying fruit and therefore, they keep the fruit trees healthy.”

     What about the so called vampire bats. Were they real? And do we have them in Malta?

    Grey Long-eared Bat2 “In contrast to peoples’ impression that all bats can suck blood, most of them thrive on insects, fruit, fish and frogs. The only vampire bats which feed on blood are found in South America and they are pretty small. They are nothing similar to the fictional bats that we see in films. In fact, they do not suck blood but they lick it, thanks to their anticogulant saliva which prevents the blood from clotting. They do not normally attack human beings and neither animals. However, they will feed on any animal available if it is reachable to them, including humans.”

    Borg informed me that we have seven resident species of bats which are: Lesser Horse-shoe Bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros), Maghrebian Bat (Myotis punicus), Grey Long-eared Bat (Plecotus austriacus), Savi`s Pipistrelle (Hypsugo savii), Kuhl`s Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus kuhlii), Common Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus), and Soprano Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus).

    Common Pipistrelle2“We have bats from all these resident species living in this museum,” smiled Borg who has an avid passion about bats. “In the underground tunnels there are the Lesser Horse-shoe and the Maghrebian Bats, whereas in the rooms of the underlying level, one finds the Grey Long-eared and the Lesser Horse-shoe Bats. Moreover, all the four Pipistrelle species have managed to make a home in some cracks of the facade and on the high beams.”

    From the remains of moth wings which Borg collects from the museum floor early in the morning for his studies, he is able to identify more information about his resident bats, such as what they prey on. Interestingly, each small Pipistrelle is able to eat around 20,000 moth each night, thereby being more effective than the insect sprays which we use. Nonetheless, most people have no idea about this and when they realize that they are co-habitating with bats, hell breaks lose.

    “We do receive calls from people who request us to remove bats from their properties. It is very rare that these creatures enter into homes. Usually they live in cracks in external windows or in narrow openings in facades. Some of the bats are minute in size and in fact, five of them can be placed in a matchstick box. Generally, once these people realize that these animals will be doing no harm to them or to their family, they will agree to allow them to stay. Yet there were cases when the individuals concerned were adamant that they wanted them removed.”

    Savi Pipistrelle2In such cases, Borg or other responsible officials will need to go and survey the bats before taking action. This involves counting them daily for a whole week in order to confirm the exact amount of bats that are roosting in this place. Once, this amount is identified, they will wait until all the bats are out at night and then they will block the nest in order not to let them in again. Eventually, when the bats will return home and realize what happenned, they will automatically move away to a second area which they tend to keep as a form of protection.

    “This procedure to count bats is very important because they do not always leave the nest in the same number. Usually, a scout bat will fly out first in order to check whether it is windy and whether there are enough insects available in the area. If he returns, the others will stay inside but if he does not, they will understand that the situation is favourable and they will fly out too.”

    I couldn’t help feeling impressed by these creatures. Yet more was still to come.

    Kuhl`s Pipistrelle2“The courting and copulation of bats takes place in autumn, between October and November. Then, as soon as the temperature drops and insects are more rare, they will fall in a state of torpidity which is a short period of sleep. During this time, the sperm with which the female has been fertilized will remain stored inside her, waiting for the right moment to come. Once the tempertaure gets warmer and insects become available, these bats will wake up and the real preganancy will start. In this way, both the mother and the offspring will have a better chance to survive.”

    Although there are some who associate bats with flying mice, Borg informed me that there is nothing common between the two. While mice come from the order Rodentia, bats form part of the order of Chiroptera (meaning hand-wing).

    Soprano Pipistrelle2“The oldest bat fossils date back to 55 million years ago where this mammal had already the shape which we know today. On the other hand, the oldest fossils which were found in Malta go back to the Ice Age at around 200,000 and 10,000 years ago. These were found during excavations at Għar Dalam and so we can say that these ancient bats remember the dwarf elephants and hippopotami roaming around. At this museum, we do hold a sample of these fossils. However, the majority of them were taken by the foreign researchers who were doing the excavations, and these passed on their discoveries to their relative museums.”

    In the Mdina museum, one can also find some current bat specimens. Borg insisted that it is not the policy of the museum to capture and kill creatures in order to preserve them. So, one won’t find a specimen for each species which live in Malta. Nevertheless, the museum will do his best to assist whoever will request information about bats.

    Lesser Horse-shoe Bat2Borg’s own interest in bats goes back to the 1980s. Originally fearful of them, he came face to face with these bats whilst he was doing bird studies and these nightly creatures were being captured accidentally in nets. At first nervous, he asked others to remove them for him, until one day, he decided to do the job himself.

    From then on, he was completely captivated by them and has been studying them ever since, eager to share his knowledge in the hope of fostering more interest from the public.

    It is safe to say that Malta Bat Night has certainly gone a long way towards achieving this.

    (This article was published in Escape Suppliment issued with the Sunday Times of Malta dated 29th November 2015)

    2015.11.29 / no responses / Category: The Sunday Times - Articles

  • AROUND THE WORLD IN 90 DAYS

    “They say that you always travel three times: the first time when you are planning your holiday,then when you actually travel, and finally when you watch the photos that you have taken whilst travelling,” Jennifer told me as she proudly showed me the pictures that she and her husband Alan took during their three month honeymoon trip around the globe.

    Since Alan Borg and Jennifer Cusba got to know each other, their life turned into an adventure. They met incidentally on a boat trip whilst they were visiting the enchanting lakeside town of Guatapé in Colombia.

    First photo together on boat trip at Guatapé“I was on holiday in Colombia with my friends, when we decided to go on this particular boat trip. At one point, I saw Jennifer walking by with her mother and I liked her immediately. So I followed her, waiting for an excuse to talk to her. The right moment came when I noticed that she needed someone to take their photo and I offered to help. Then, I made sure to take a photo with her too,” revealed Alan.

    For the following three months, they kept in contact through Facebook. During one of their communications, Jennifer who is Colombian, told Alan that she was planning to go to America to study English.

    “I lived in Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia, where I worked as an internal auditor of a governmental company. I had studied hard to obtain this job and in the first years, I was very satisfied that I had succeeded in this career. However, as time went by, I felt that life had become stale. I woke early each day to travel for two hours to reach work, meeting always the same people on the bus and at work, and likewise on my two hour ride back home. At 29 years, I felt as if I was stuck in a rut and I was afraid that if I continued to live this mundane life, I would lose all the essence of life. I definitely had to do something to make a change,” reminisced Jennifer.

    Once again, Alan did not fail to grab the opportunity, and as soon as he learnt that Jennifer wanted to study English, he informed her about the selection of English schools that there were in Malta. Attracted by Alan’s gentle and friendly attitude, and also by the fact that it was cheaper to study in Malta than in America, Jennifer chose the small archipelago of the Maltese Islands. Once in Malta, their friendship grew stronger, she gave up her job in Colombia, and a year later, they got married.

    Wedding photo 1“When we told our friends and relatives that we were going to get married, they all wanted to know when and where the wedding is going to take place and how many guests would be invited. However, we had no intention of spending thousands of euros for just a few hours of enjoyment. Our plans were much bigger!” claimed Alan.

    “On our wedding day we were joined by our family and closest friends. After the celebration, we shared a cake, drank some champagne, took photos, had a lot of fun, and that was that. The big moment came seven months later, when we prepared our backpacks and left for the adventure of a lifetime,” continued Jennifer.

    Alan decided to make the best of the various offers and discounts that his job with an airline company afforded him. The couple started out with an initial idea of a simple honeymoon to Santorini, fully aware that they’d need to get a connecting flight from another location. Soon, this stopover was joined by other countries until the list grew and grew. Eventually, they decided to go on a three month trip around the world, to the total tune of 15,000 euros.

    Backpacks ready to travel“We both love to travel. Yet I was the one who was more experienced in travelling to faraway countries without concerning myself too much on a fixed itinerary. In fact, at first, Jennifer was somehow incredulous whether this voyage would take place for real,” smiled Alan.

    “It’s true! I was worried whether we would have enough money to do it all and what would happen if we spent everything whilst still abroad? I was also afraid that someone could steal our cards or that unknowingly, we could end up in some dangerous country or get caught up in a terrorist attack.”

    In reality, during this amazing voyage, the couple did have their fare share of risk… In New York, they experienced a huge storm and they could not get out of their hotel room. In Colombia, whilst they were seeing a horseshow, an earthquake shook the building which they were in. In Australia, just a week after they left, the Central Coast was a complete disaster with houses being carried away  due to heavy floods and strong winds.

    “Before we left on our adventure, I left a simple message on Facebook saying that we were going on our honeymoon, never mentioning that we were going for a trip around the world, because I couldn’t believe it myself! Off we went to Amsterdam and then we started to move and move and move, until I realized that this dream was becoming true. It became very very real whilst we were on the long flight crossing from Australia to Japan, and I started to note the various countries showing on the screen in front of me. By then, we had been to many of them, changing even continents, and there it dawned on me that we were truly going around the world,” Jennifer exclaimed.

    Balloon flightAlthough they had planned an overall general itinerary of the places and sites which they wished to visit, they prebooked nothing except their first destination to Amsterdam. And yet, they managed to see and do many many things. Their travels took them to Amsterdam, New York, Las Vegas, Arizona, San Francisco, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Sydney, New South Wales, Melbourne, Queensland, Japan, and Istanbul.

    “Ultimately, this was not just a holiday but an experience. Certainly, quite a great way to start a new and exciting chapter as husband and wife,” beamed Alan as he winked at Jennifer.

    (This article was published in ‘Escape’ cultural suppliment issued with the Sunday Times of Malta dated 4 October 2015)

    2015.10.04 / no responses / Category: The Sunday Times - Articles

  • Djarju ta’ poeta, suldat fl-Assedju l-Kbir

    450 sena ilu, Malta kienet għaddejjha minn wieħed mill-agħar perjodi fl-istorja tagħha, hekk kif din ġiet attakkata minn armata kbira Torka li kienet ħalfet li se teqred lill-Ordni tal-Kavallieri ta’ San Ġwann minn wiċċ id-dinja. It-Torok ma kellhom l-ebda dubju li dil-gżira ċkejkna kienet ser tiġi f’idejhom f’qasir żmien u waqt bosta mumenti, anki l-kavallieri għaddielhom minn moħħhom l-istess ħsieb. Imma wara assedju kbir li ħalla warajh mijiet ta’ mejtin u midruba, fosthom lill-magħruf Dragut, Malta, il-Maltin u l-kavallieri, irnexxielhom joħorġu rebbieħa u t-Torok ġew f’sitwazzjoni fejn kellhom jirtiraw b’mod immedjat.

    Affreski li juru xeni mill-assedju tal-1565

    Fatt interessanti huwa illi l-aktar episodji sinifikanti li seħħu waqt dan l-assedju ġew impinġija mill-artist Taljan, Matteo Perez d’Aleccio. Huwa ġie kkummissjonat jagħmel dax-xogħol minn Fra Jean l’Evesque de La Cassiere, li kien il-Gran Mastru ta’ Malta bejn is-snin 1572 u l-1581. Is-sett ta’ affreski tal-Assedju l-Kbir tal-1565 kellu l-għan li jikkommemora dawn il-ġrajjiet tremendi imma erojċi li kienu ġraw xi ftit tas-snin qabel. M’hemmx xi ngħidu, rebħa monumentali bħal dik li kisbu l-kavallieri f’pajjiżna, kienet ġibdet ir-rispett u l-ammirazzjoni ta’ bosta pajjiżi, tant li l-Ordni mhux talli reġgħet ġiet fuq saqajha imma saret akbar milli qatt kienet qabel. Illum dawn l-affreski jinsabu ġewwa waħda mis-swali tal-Palazz tal-Gran Mastru fil-Belt Valletta u huma xhieda ta’ dak li għadda minnu pajjiżna fis-sena 1565.

    It-taqtiegħa bejn l-Ordni u t-Torok

    LimissoGħal mijiet ta’ snin, il-Kavallieri ta’ San Ġwann u l-Ottomani kienu mqabbdin f’xulxin kemm fuq kwistjoni ta’ reliġjon u anki minħabba l-għatx li kellhom għall-poter sabiex jakkwistaw l-artijiet.

    Għalkemm oriġinarjament, l-Ordni kellha l-funzjoni li tilqa’ u tieħu ħsieb il-pellegrini li kienu jaslu f’Ġerusalemm, maż-żmien din evolviet natura militari sabiex tiddefendi b’mod attiv il-pellegrini u r-reliġjon Kristjana. Naturalment, dan l-aġir tal-kavallieri, ma damx ma daħħalhom f’taqtiegħat mal-Musulmani, u aktar ma għaddew is-snin, dan il-ġlied beda jiżdied fil-feroċità tiegħu.

    Hekk kif l-Ordni bdiet tikseb is-simpatija tan-nobbli, tar-rejiet u tal-Papiet, din bdiet tiġbed lejha wkoll bosta donazzjonijiet ta’ flus, rikkezzi, artijiet u privileġġi. B’hekk beda jikber ukoll il-poter tal-membri tagħha u dan wassal biex attira diversi tfal tan-nobbli li bdew jieħdu l-voti sabiex isiru kavallieri.

    L-Ordni ta’ San Ġwann f’Rodi

    L-Ordni tal-Kavallieri ta’ San Ġwann damet f’Ġerusalemm sal-1187, sakemm finalment, din il-belt waqgħet taħt il-kmand tas-Sultan Saladin. B’hekk il-kavallieri kellhom jibdlu l-kwartieri tagħhom u jimxu lejn Margat fis-Sirja, imbagħad f’Acre fi Tripli u eventwalment f’Limassol f’Ċipru. Madanakollu, x-xewqa tal-kavallieri kienet li jirnexxielhom jakkwistaw il-gżira ta’ Rodi, u fl-1309, huma rebħuha mingħand il-Biżantini.

    Il-kavallieri ma damux ma għarfu u sarrfu l-kwalitajiet ta’ Rodi li kienet gżira b’pożizzjoni tassew strateġika hekk kif din kienet tgħaqqad id-dinja tal-Lvant ma’ dik tal-Punent. Huma bidlu lil din il-lokalità f’belt iffortifikata u maż-żmien, bnew flotta liema bħalha li bdiet tattakka b’mod regolari x-xwieni tal-Ottomani. Iżda dan ma kienx biżżejjed għall-kilba tal-poter u l-flus għax apparti x-xwieni, l-Ordni bdiet taħbat ukoll għal xi bliet u kastelli Ottomani, sakemm finalment, it-Torok ġew urtati mhux ħażin.

    Il-kavallieri kienu saru xewka tweġġa’ ħafna qalb l-imperu Ottoman u t-Torok ma tħallew bl-ebda għażla ħlief li jaraw kif se jsibulhom tarfhom. Huma attakkaw lil Rodi għal diversi drabi imma qatt ma rnexxielhom iġibuha żewġ. Sakemm finalment, fl-1522, Sultan Suleiman ħa r-riedni f’idejh u ma qgħadx bi kwietu qabel niżżel il-kavallieri għarkubbtejhom wara sitt xhur ta’ kumbattimenti. Fuq deċiżjoni tal-istess sultan, l-Ordni tħalliet titlaq minn Rodi b’mod ċivili u dakinhar anki numru ta’ nies minn Rodi ngħataw il-libertà li jsegwuhom. Ftit kien jaf Suleiman, kemm xi snin wara, huwa kien ser jiddispjaċih bil-kbir talli wera tant irġulija mal-kavallieri.

    Il-Kavallieri jsibu ruħhom Malta

    Infatti, wara li l-kavallieri għamlu sebgħa snin iterrqu u jsalpaw minn art għall-oħra, mingħajr l-ebda post li setgħu isejjħulha darhom, huma ġew mogħtija l-gżejjer tagħna mill-Imperatur Charles V. Kien l-14 t’Ottubru 1530 meta huma middew l-ewwel passi tagħhom fuq l-art li eventwalment kellha tifforma parti tant importanti mill-istorja tal-Ordni.

    Anki Malta nzertat li kellha pożizzjoni ġeografika sinifikattiva ħafna bħal dik ta’ Rodi, hekk kif din kienet tinsab f’nofs il-Mediterran bejn l-Ewropa u l-Afrika. Naturalment, il-kavallieri ma damux ma bnew fuq dan il-potenzjal sabiex jibdlu lil Malta f’fortizza. Filwaqt li n-nobbli ta’ Malta kienu jgħixu fl-Imdina, il-kavallieri ppreferew jistabilixxu ruħhom il-Birgu, l-aktar minħabba l-viċinanza tal-baħar. Dak iż-żmien, il-Birgu kien jikkonsisti biss f’raħal ċkejken tas-sajjieda li kellu kastell antik. Imma l-paġna ta’ dan il-post ma damitx ma nqalbet ta’ taħt fuq meta l-kavallieri bdew jibnu l-palazzi tagħhom u l-parroċċa tal-Birgu nbidlet fil-Knisja Konventwali tal-Ordni.

    It-Torok jaħilfu li jeqirdu l-Ordni darba għal dejjem

    (c) National Maritime Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationFi ftit tas-snin, l-Ordni reġgħet issaħħet u l-qawwa tal-flotta tagħha bdiet tintuża biex mill-ġdid tattakka x-xwieni tal-Ottomani li kienu jsalpaw fl-ibħra tal-qrib. Il-ġarra ġejja u sejra fl-aħħar tinkiser u l-istorja rrepetiet ruħha, hekk kif mill-ġdid, it-Torok daħħluha f’rashom li jrażżnu lill-Ordni – issa, darba għal dejjem.

    Il-kavallieri kienu ilhom jisimgħu mingħand l-ispiji tagħhom li l-Ottomani kienu qed jippjanaw attakk kbir għal fuq Malta u min-naħa tagħhom, huma bdew jippruvaw jagħmlu dak kollu li jistgħu biex jippreparaw il-gżira sabiex tilqa’ għal dan l-assedju. Madanakollu, hekk kif il-kavallieri sabu l-flotta massiċċa tat-Torok ma’ wiċċhom fl-għodwa tat-18 ta’ Mejju tal-1565, huma baqgħu bla kliem.

    Poeta jikteb djarju waqt li qed jieħu sehem fl-assedju

    Minn hemm bdew il-battalji ħorox bejn il-kavallieri u l-Ottomani li damu għaddejjin sa erbgħa xhur wara. Fatt kurjuż huwa illi fost is-suldati li kienu qed jipparteċipaw f’dan l-assedju flimkien mal-Ordni, kien hemm ukoll min niżżel xi noti dwar dak li kien qed iseħħ.

    Fost dawn, kien hemm Francesco Balbi di Correggio, poeta li kien jikteb bit-Taljan u bl-Ispanjol. Waqt l-assedju, huwa kellu 60 sena, u kien għażel li jservi bħala suldat minħabba li kien qed jgħix f’povertà kbira. Ta’ kittieb li kien, waqt dawn it-taqtiegħat storiċi, huwa żamm djarju fejn kważi ġurnata b’ġurnata jirrakkonta d-dettalji ta’ dak li għaddew minnu hu, sħabu u l-bqija tal-kavallieri, l-Maltin u t-Torok. Meta l-assedju spiċċa, huwa ra kif għamel biex ippubblika d-djarju tiegħu u llum xogħolu huwa meqjus bħala wirt storiku importanti ferm.

    Bis-saħħa ta’ Balbi, illum, wara 450 sena, aħna nistgħu nsegwu pass pass kif żvolġa dan l-avveniment, kif ittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet, l-iżbalji u l-istrateġiji effettivi li seħħu u diversi esperjenzi oħra.

    Blog ta’ Heritage Malta dwar l-Assedju l-Kbir

    450 Great Siege logo MLT-05Sabiex taqsam dawn il-ġrajjiet interessanti mal-pubbliku, hekk kif dis-sena qed jiġi kkommemorat l-450 anniversarju mill-Assedju l-Kbir, Heritage Malta organizzat blog elettroniku fejn wieħed jista’ jaqra silta kuljum tal-aħbarijiet li jkunu ġraw f’dik il-ġurnata partikolari. F’dan il-blog, ma jonqsux ukoll xi fatti mhux tas-soltu u oħrajn kemmxejn kurjużi. Fl-istess blog, il-pubbliku se jkun jista’ jiskopri wkoll informazzjoni dwar numru ta’ oġġetti relatati mal-Assedju l-Kbir li bejn l-4 ta’ Settembru u s-6 ta’ Diċembru 2015, se jkunu qed jiffurmaw parti minn esebizzjoni internazzjonali li se tittella’ minn Heritage Malta fil-Kmamar Statali tal-Palazz tal-Gran Mastru l-Belt. Barra minn hekk, il-qarrejja ta’ dan il-blog se jkunu wkoll infurmati dwar id-diversi attivitajiet oħra relatati ma’ dan il-perjodu storiku li ser ikun qed jittellgħu minn żmien għall-ieħor.

    Waħda min dawn l-attivitajiet li ġġib l-isem 1565:First and Last Hope se tiġi organizzata fil-Forti Sant’Iermu bejn is-26 u t-28 ta’ Ġunju 2015. Hawnhekk, diversi atturi popolari Maltin ser ikunu qed jagħtu l-ħajja mill-ġdid lil uħud mill-avvenimenti li seħħu waqt l-assedju, filwaqt li jinvolvu anki lill-pubbliku preżenti.

    Il-blog tal-assedju qiegħed jinkludi wkoll xi filmati relatati ma’ dan iż-żmien. Intant, bħalissa, wieħed jista’ jsegwi filmat qasir li jirrakkonta d-destin kiefer tal-Kappella ta’ Sant’Anna li tinsab fil-Forti Sant’Iermu.

    Il-poplu Malti qed jiġi mħeġġeġ isegwi dan il-blog sabiex jagħraf dak li għaddew minnu missirijietna u b’hekk japprezza aktar il-ħila ta’ niesna, il-kapaċità militari tal-Ordni, l-istorja tal-fortifikazzjonijiet u mitt ħaġa oħra. Fl-istess ħin, huwa qed jiġi mistieden jaqsam ħsibijietu dwar dak li jkun qed iseħħ billi jħalli l-kummenti tiegħu fil-blog stess.

    Tista’ tibda tinvolvi ruħek mill-llum stess billi tidħol www.heritagemalta.org/1565

    (Dan l-artiklu ġie ppubblikat fis-sensiela MINN RITRATT (13 il-Parti) fit-Torċa tal-14 ta’ Ġunju 2015)

    2015.06.14 / no responses / Category: Torca - Features & Articles

  • Wiċċ imb’wiċċ ma’ Patri Gerard

    Ma tistax ma tieqafx tiċċassa lejh meta tara ritratt ta’ ras ta’ skeletru ta’ bniedem iddekorata! Aktar u aktar meta ssir taf li dik hija relikwa ta’ individwu magħruf ħafna madwar id-dinja. U li din tinsab f’monasteru f’Malta.

    Patri Gerard Sasso: il-Fundatur tal-Ordni ta’ San Ġwann

    Relikwa - Patri Gerard Sasso (Ritratt - Fiona Vella)Iltqajt għall-ewwel darba ma’ din l-immaġni waqt xi xogħol li kont qed nagħmel relatat mal-Assedju l-Kbir li seħħ fl-1565. Skoprejt li dik ir-ras kienet maħsuba li tappartjeni lill-Patri Gerard Sasso, il-Fundatur tal-Ordni ta’ San Ġwann, li għex bejn l-1040 u l-1120.

    Jingħad li Patri Gerard kien bniedem twajjeb ħafna u ta’ qalb kbira. Kien jifforma parti mill-Ordni Benedittina u fil-11 il-seklu, huwa rħielha lejn Ġerusalemm sabiex jagħti l-għajnuna tiegħu lill-pellegrini li kienu jżuru dik l-art fi kwantitajiet kbar, akkost il-perikli u s-sofferenza.

     Il-perikli tal-pellegrini

     Dak iż-żmien ma kinetx xi ħaġa faċli li tmur pellegrinaġġ biex iżżur siti Kristjani, speċjalment meta dawn kienu f’art oħra li spiss kienet maħkuma mill-Misilmin. Apparti l-biża’ minn xi attakk fejn wieħed seta’ jiġi misruq jew maqtul, kien hemm ukoll id-diffikultà tat-tul tal-vjaġġ bl-inqas kumdità possibbli. Il-mard, l-inċidenti u l-mewt temmew il-ħajja ta’ bosta minn dawn il-pellegrini. Kienet meqjusa bħala xi ħaġa komuni li pellegrin jista’ ma jirritorna qatt lejn daru u fil-fatt kien hemm sistemi legali li kienu jorbtu lil dak li jkun biex iħallas dejnu qabel ma jitlaq fuq xi vjaġġ bħal dan.

    Jitwaqqaf sptar għall-pellegrini f’Ġerusalemm

    Dan it-tiġrib lill-pellegrini qanqal lil grupp ta’ negozjanti minn Amalfi sabiex iwaqqfu post fejn dawn in-nies setgħu jingħataw l-għajnuna u l-kura meħtieġa. Dan is-servizz tant kien utli u meħtieġ li finalment il-post inbidel fi sptar u dan beda jitmexxa minn Patri Gerard.

    Għalkemm oriġinarjament, dan il-post kien maħsub biex jilqa’ biss lill-pellegrini Kristjani, Patri Gerard ma kienx jagħmel din id-differenza bejn bniedem u ieħor. Jekk persuna kienet fil-bżonn, hu kien jilqagħha b’idejh miftuħa bla ma qatt jistaqsi xejn aktar.

    Titwaqqaf l-Ordni ta’ San Ġwann

    Dan l-aġir tiegħu sar magħruf sewwa man-nies, tant li finalment, aħbaru waslet għand Papa Paskal II. Dan tant ħass ammirazzjoni lejn ix-xogħol li kien qed iwettaq il-patri li fil-15 ta’ Frar 1113, huwa rrikonoxxa l-isptar u l-ordni tiegħu billi ħareġ Bulla Papali li fosthom ta lill-Ordni id-dritt li tagħmel ir-regoli tagħha u li tirrispondi direttament lill-Papa. Minn hemm, dan il-grupp ta’ patrijiet inbidel fl-Ordni ta’ San Ġwann.

    Aktar ma beda jgħaddi ż-żmien din l-Ordni bdiet tiġbed ir-rispett tan-nies, l-aktar tan-nobbli li l-membri tal-familja tagħhom kienu ngħataw l-għajnuna minn dawn il-patrijiet waqt xi pellegrinaġġ fl-Art Imqaddsa. Bħala rikonoxximent, dawn l-individwi sinjuri bdew jibgħatu somom kbar ta’ flus sakemm il-ġid beda dieħel għand l-Ordni bir-radam.

    Għalkemm Patri Gerard kien l-ewwel mexxej tal-Ordni, qatt ma kibritlu rasu. Huwa baqa’ dejjem bniedem umli, jaqdi dmiru mal-fqir, il-marid u l-batut. Miet fl-1120 u postu ttieħed mill-Kavallier Franċiż Raymond du Puy. Dan ma kien jixbaħ xejn lil ta’ qablu għax apparti li kien reliġjuż, kien ukoll statista. Infatti, huwa ma damx ma bidel in-natura tal-Ordni, ikkodifika r-regoli tagħha u waqqaf grupp ta’ patrijiet li kienu lesti li jiġġieldu sabiex jipproteġu lill-pellegrini. Barra minn hekk, huwa ra kif joħloq mezzi oħra sabiex isaħħaħ il-qagħda finanzjarja tal-Ordni billi akkwista artijiet u rikkezzi oħra.

    Ġisem Patri Gerard jitqies b’relikwa

    Wara l-mewt ta’ Patri Gerard, ġismu nżamm fil-monasteru ta’ Ġerusalemm u l-Kavallieri raw kif għamlu biex ippreservawh bl-aħjar mod. Dan il-korp kien miżmum b’qima kbira tant li kull meta l-Kavallieri bidlu l-post tal-kwartieri tagħhom, huma ħaduh magħhom bħala relikwa prezzjuża.

    Ras Patri Gerard issib ruħha Malta

    Il-Monasteru ta’ Sant’Ursula l-BeltIżda ġara li għal xi raġuni, dan il-ġisem ma baqax intatt u fl-1749, ras il-patri sabet ruħha f’Malta wara li nġarret minn Monasque fi Franza fuq ordni tal-Gran Mastru Emmanuel Pinto. Dan it-tagħrif huwa kkonfermat minn dokumenti li hemm maħżuna ġol-kaxxa ċkejkna li fuqha sserraħ din ir-relikwa.

    Għall-ewwel, din ir-ras inżammet fil-Palazz Maġisterjali u aktar tard, din tmexxiet flimkien mar-relikwi l-oħra li kienu merfugħa fil-Kon-Kattidral ta’ San Ġwann il-Belt. Eventwalment, fid-19 ta’ Ġunju 1830, din ir-ras ġiet fdata f’idejn is-sorijiet tal-Monasteru ta’ Sant’Ursula, il-Belt, fejn għadha sa llum, f’vetrina żgħira biswit l-altar tal-kor, ġewwa l-kappella tal-monasteru.

    Fil-21 ta’ Diċembru 2001, ir-relikwarju tal-injam li kienet miżmuma fih din ir-ras, inbidel ma’ wieħed tal-fidda u dan ġie rregalat mill-Prof. Dr Guglielmo de Giovanni-Centelles, Duka ta’ Precacore, flimkien ma’ martu Donna Carla.

    Wiċċ imb’wiċċ ma’ Patri Gerard

    Madre Prijoressa Sr. Agnese Zammit OSS biswit ir-relikwa ta' Patri Gerard Sasso (Ritratt - Fiona Vella)Wara li rriċerkajt din it-tema, ma stajtx ma nżurx il-post fejn tinsab din ir-relikwa. Akkost li l-monasteru jiġbor fih sorijiet tal-klawsura, it-talba tiegħi ġiet milqugħa mal-ewwel u ma domtx ma sibt ruħi wiċċ imb’wiċċ ma’ dan il-bniedem li tant nies jitkellmu b’rispett lejh.

    “Kull sena, jiġu għadd ta’ nies minn madwar l-Ewropa kollha biex iżuru din ir-relikwa,” infurmatni l-Madre Prijoressa Sr. Agnese Zammit OSS tal-Monasteru ta’ Sant’Ursula l-Belt.

    Il-Madre Prijoressa liebsa l-istolone u l-manto di punta“F’April li għadda, kellna anki żjara statali mill-Prinċep u Gran Mastru tal-Ordni ta’ San Ġwann ta’ Ġerusalemm, ta’ Rodi u ta’ Malta, Frá. Matthew Festing. Għal din l-okkażjoni, peress li aħna sorijiet tal-Ordni, nilbsu l-abitu statali li jinkludi l-istolone u l-manto di punta”.

    Kull sena, fit-13 t’Ottubru, dawn is-sorijiet jorganizzaw quddiesa solenni b’rispett lejn Patri Gerard. Għal din iċ-ċelebrazzjoni, jattendu l-Kavallieri ta’ San Ġwann kollha li joqogħdu Malta u mill-ġdid huma jilbsu l-abitu statali.

    Ħadd ma jaf kien kien jidher wiċċu

    Ħadd ma jaf fiċ-ċert kif kien wiċċ Patri Gerard. Madanakollu, sforz ir-rispett kbir li n-nies minn dejjem kellhom lejh, saru diversi pitturi tiegħu fejn wiċċu ġie mmaġinat mill-artisti. Wieħed minn dawn il-kwadri li juri lil Patri Gerard qed jilqa’ lil Godfrey de Bouillon, Duka ta’ Lower Lorraine u mexxej tal-Ewwel Kruċjata ġie maħdum mill-pittur magħruf Antoine De Favray u jinsab esebit fil-Mużew Nazzjonali tal-Arti fi Triq Nofsinhar il-Belt.

    Sadanittant, jekk qanqaltilkhom biżżejjed kurżità, tistgħu taraw ukoll kopja ta’ dan il-kwadru fuq il-blog tal-Assedju l-Kbir ta’ Heritage Malta – www.heritagemalta.org/1565

    Apparti kurżitajiet simili relatati mal-Ordni ta’ San Ġwann, f’dan il-blog tistgħu ssegwu wkoll rakkonti ġurnata b’ġurnata ta’ dak li għaddew minnu Malta, il-Maltin u l-Kavallieri waqt il-perjodu aħrax tal-Assedju l-Kbir li beda f’Mejju u ntemm f’Settembru tal-1565.

    (Dan l-artiklu ġie ppubblikat fis-sensiela MINN RITRATT (12 il-parti) fit-Torċa tas-7 ta’ Ġunju 2015)

    2015.06.07 / no responses / Category: Torca - Features & Articles

  • Law of the sea

    Amongst its various significant documents, the National Archives of Malta house the records of the Consolato del Mare di Malta within the premises of the Banca Giuratale in Mdina. This collection holds the first records of Malta’s own maritime tribunal and sheds light over more than 100 years of maritime laws that were effected between the late 17th century and the early 19th century.

    A document from The Consolato del Mare di Malta collection (1)Consisting of a total of 473 items, the documentation of the Consolato del Mare di Malta is presently found in a stable condition. However it requires attention since present storage conditions do not guarantee its future preservation. While, highlighting the huge importance which this collection has to the better understanding of both local and international sea law, maritime historian, Dr Joan Abela, recently appealed for the preservation of this collection for posterity. Following this appeal, a group of individuals who are connected to the Maltese maritime industry, have joined forces in order to come up with an initiative to collect the required funds for this project.

    “The proper preservation of our archives is always our main focus,” said national archivist and National Archives CEO, Charles Farrugia. “After consulting with our conservators, it was concluded that using the current resources, it would take us about 80 weeks in order to complete the first phase of preservation on the documents of the Consolato del Mare di Malta, and it would cost approximately €25,000.”

    This initial work will involve the removal of acidic wrappers from the bundles of documents, cleaning of the bundles, the provision of new conservation grade covers and a condition assessment. Moreover, this collection will be stored in archival quality boxes that will serve for better protection and storage.

    Bundles from the Consolato del Mare di Malta collection (1)Archivist Noel D’Anastas commended the idea of this project, “At the moment, we have 52 metres of shelving dedicated to the collection of the Consolato del Mare di Malta. Although a good part of these documents are in a good condition, some of the bundles require urgent attention and it would be great if they could be preserved as soon as possible, particularly since this material is very much in demand by researchers.”

    The commercial court of the Consolato del Mare di Malta was established in 1697 and its main aim was to coordinate local maritime affairs and to tackle disputes and litigations in a more efficient way so as to facilitate trade. This arrangement was further enhanced by the appointment of experienced merchants in maritime trade in the positions of consuls for the tribunal of the Consolato.

    “During the period of the Order of St John, corsairing became one of the major commercial activities of our islands. However, by the end of the 17th century, the politico-economic atmosphere of Malta had evolved into stronger commercial enterprises, thereby lessening the importance of the corso,” explained maritime historian Dr Joan Abela.

    “Between the years 1721 to 1723, the corso employed around 700 men whereas circa 3000 men were engaged with the merchant fleet. Therefore the need for a new regulatory system must be observed in this wider context of change from a crusading order to a trading order.”

    A document from The Consolato del Mare di Malta collection (2)Till then, Maltese shipping had been administered by the Consolato del Mare laws of Messina and Barcelona. Yet this development created the requirement of a legal framework with which merchants and seafarers could be guided in their dealings with other traders and sellers.

    In order to cater for this demand, Grand Master Ramon Perellos y Roccaful entrusted Fra Gaspare Carneiro with the task of studying the set up of the Consolato del Mare of various countries and particularly those which were used in Messina, Barcellona and Valencia. Thereafter, Carneiro was expected to compile and formulate the regulations for a Maltese Consolato law.

    “From the documents that are held today, we can see that this maritime tribunal functioned for many years. In fact, this form of regulation continued to serve this sector until 1814; when the British eventually replaced it with the Corte di Commercio,” elaborated D’Anastas.

    Asked about the relevance of this collection today, all three agreed that the study of such documents could enable researchers to understand the evolution of our local commercial trade within the broader Mediterranean context.

    “Since law and custom were highly connected, such documentation could also reveal a number of local maritime customs. Furthermore, such a collection could divulge interesting details regarding the economic and social aspect of past societies, and how law and business functioned.” suggested Dr Abela.

    “Indeed this collection of the Consolato del Mare di Malta provides a snapshot of various business practices such as the chartering of vessels, the wages of sailors, contracts of commenda or trade agreements made by captains, sailors or merchants, cases involving insurance, freight and trade networks, navigation techniques and many more valuable information. Therefore, its relevance for research applies to different areas of study,” remarked D’Anastas.

    From left - Charles Farrugia, Dr Joan Abela and Noel D'Anastas (1)Once again, they all agreed about the benefit of preserving such documents which highlight how a particular system has succeeded to continue functioning and elaborating itself over such a long period of time.

    “History is the foundation on which to build one’s present and future. A country which does not take adequate care of its archives tends to suffer from a sort of forgetfulness,” insisted Dr Abela. “I believe that such a collection should be regarded as a treasure of worldwide significance since its records can explain in detail how people from various countries managed to operate a system with which to work together like clockwork.”

    “There is no boundary to how much one can expand in the research of such documentation,” concluded Mr Farrugia. “Likewise, there is no limit to the sort of preservation and conservation that one can apply to such a collection in order to protect it and make it available to future generations. Hopefully, one day, we will be able to digitalize this information so that this masterpiece of knowledge could be more easily shared on a wider scale.”

    Sponsors who would like to donate funds for this venture are requested to contact jes@sullivanshipping.com.mt, bsultanasully@gmail.com, apmamo@gasanmamo.com, rpmiller@tugmalta.com, or call 2229 6165.

    (This article was published in the Shipping and Logistics Supplement in The Times of Malta dated 18 March 2015)

    2015.03.18 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • IL-KULURI TAĊ-ĊINA (Id-9 Parti) Il-Palazz tas-Sajf

    Meta żżur il-palazzi antiki taċ-Ċina ma tistax ma timpressjonax ruħek. Għandhom wisq stil distint u sabiħ u bla ma trid tħossok donnok qiegħed f’dinja oħra. L-istil magħżul tal-arkitettura jidher biċ-ċar li hu maħsub biex iħaddan u mhux jirkeb fuq in-natura u b’hekk joħloq ambjent ħlejju ta’ serenità u ta’ spazju. Mhux ta’ b’xejn li ta’ kuljum dawn il-palazzi u l-ġonna tagħhom ikunu miżgħuda bin-nies, kemm tal-lokal u kif ukoll turisti minn kull pajjiż madwar id-dinja.

    Aktar minn hekk, kull palazz għandu l-istorja, il-karattru u l-faxxinu tiegħu. Dan ikkonfermajtu mill-ġdid meta ġejt akkumpanjata ġewwa l-Palazz tas-Sajf f’Pekin u hemm għal darb’oħra stagħġibt u mmeraviljajt ruħi bis-snajja’ nvoluti sabiex inbena dan il-post u d-dedikazzjoni neċessarja biex reġa’ ngħata l-ħajja mill-ġdid wara li popli barranin għamlu ħerba minnu.

    Il-Palazz tas-Sajf (The Summer Palace)

    Sezzjoni mill-Palazz tas-SajfDan il-palazz jinsab fil-majjistral tas-subborgi ta’ Pekin. Jokkupa medda ta’ art ta’ madwar 2,900,000 metru kwadru. L-istrutturi tiegħu jikkonsistu f’għadd ta’ swali, torrijiet, galleriji, paviljuni u pontijiet. Dawn huma mqassma fi tliet sezzjonijiet: il-parti amministrattiva, il-parti residenzjali imperjali u l-parti tar-rilassament.

    Barra minn hekk, il-palazz huwa mdawwar bi ġnien vast li jinkludi fih għolja magħrufa bħala L-Għolja tal-Ħajja Twila (Longevity Hill), u l-għadira Kunming (Kunming Lake) li tirċievi l-ilmijiet tagħha min-nixxiegħat ta’ Yuquanshan jew l-Għolja tar-Rebbiegħa tal-Jade (Jade Spring Hill).

    Trid sebgħa għajnejn biex tapprezza dan il-ġnien li huwa magħruf bħala l-akbar u l-aqwa ġnien klassiku imperjali li għadu jfakkar id-Dinastija Qing. Huwa wkoll magħdud bħala teżor kulturali tal-arti u tal-arkitettura tal-ġonna Ċiniżi. Sadanittant, hekk kif il-gwida rama jispjegalna dwar il-karatteristiċi tiegħu, intbaħna li dan il-lwog jista’ jiġi kkunsidrat ukoll bħala mużew tal-istili arkitettoniċi varji tal-ġonna li wieħed isib f’diversi reġjuni madwar iċ-Ċina.

    L-istorja tal-post

    Matul it-12 il-seklu, l-Imperatur Zhangzong tad-Dinastija Jin beda jibni l-palazz temporanju tiegħu hawnhekk. Aktar tard, fit-13 il-seklu, l-Imperatur Kublai Khan tad-Dinastija Yuan, qabbad lil Guo Shoujing, inġinier idrawliku famuż, sabiex isib sistema li biha jwassal l-ilma mill- Għolja tar-Rebbiegħa tal-Jade għat-tarf tal-Għolja tal-Ġarra (Jar Hill). Infatti, Guo rnexxielu jagħmel dan u b’hekk huwa ħoloq ġibjun kbir tal-ilma li sar magħruf bħala l-Għadira tal-Punent (West Lake).

    Fl-1494, l-Imperatur Xiaozong tad-Dinastija Ming ordna l-kostruzzjoni tat-Tempju tal-Perfezzjoni u t-Trankwillità (Temple of Perfection and Tranquility). Imbagħad, fis-16 il-seklu, l-Imperatur Wuzong tad-Dinastija Ming sawwar il-Ġnien tal-Għolja Meraviljuża (Garden of Marvelous Hill) f’dan il-post.

    L-Għadira KunmingJidher li dawn l-inħawi għamlu xi żmien abbandunati. Iżda sa nofs is-seklu 18, l-arkitettura tal-ġonna klassiċi Ċiniżi kienet laħqet livelli għoljin ħafna u numru ta’ ġonna imperjali bdew jissawwru madwar din il-medda ta’ art. Kien f’dan il-perjodu illi l-mexxejja tad-Dinastija Qing iddeċidew li jittrasformaw dan il-post fi lwog spazzjuż fejn wieħed seta’ jieħu gost u jistrieħ. Dan eventwalment wassal għall-kreazzjoni tat-Tliet Għoljiet u l-Ħames Ġonna (The Three Hills and Five Gardens).

    Fl-1750, l-Imperatur Qainlong tad-Dinastija Qing iddeċieda li jibni Qingyiyuan jew il-Ġnien taċ-Ċafċif Ċar (Garden of Clear Ripples) bħala rigal għal ommu l-Imperatriċi Armla Xiaosheng f’għeluq is-60 sena tagħha. Dan il-ġnien kien jifforma parti mit-Tliet Għoljiet u l-Ħames Ġonna. Sena wara, isem l-Għolja tal-Ġarra nbidel fl-Għolja tal-Ħajja Twila filwaqt li l-Għadira tal-Punent saret magħrufa bħala l-Għadira Kunming.

    Ġara illi dan il-ġnien grandjuż ħa ħmistax il-sena biex tlesta kollu, tant li omm l-imperatur laħqet mietet. Imma meta x-xogħol fuqu ġie komplut, dan is-sit kien wieħed mill-aktar ġonna raffinati fiċ-Ċina.

    Madanakollu, fl-1860 it-truppi Brittaniċi u Franċiżi li attakkaw lil Pekin, daru anki għal dan il-post fejn serqu kull ma sabu u taw in-nar lill-bqija. B’hekk, kull struttura tal-injam li kien hemm fil-Ġnien taċ-Ċafċif Ċar saret irmied.

    Intant, fl-1885, l-Imperatriċi Armla Cixi, li kienet ilha tmexxi ċ-Ċina bil-moħbi permezz ta’ binha l-imperatur li kien għadu tifel żgħir, daħħlet f’moħħha li terġa tagħti r-ruħ lil dan il-post. U biex għamlet dan, hija ħadet fondi li kienu maħsuba għat-taqsima navali. Meta dan il-proġett kien għoddu tlesta fl-1888, Cixi bidlet isem il-post għall-Ġnien tal-Preservazzjoni Armonjuża (Garden of Harmonious Preservation) jew il-Palazz tas-Sajf kif inhu magħruf mat-turisti li jżuruh illum.

    Xena fuq l-Ghadira KunmingSfortunatament, fl-1900, dan is-sit ġie attakkat mill-ġdid, did-darba mill-Forzi Alleati tat-Tmien Pajjiżi. Dawn reġgħu żarmaw il-palazz mit-teżori kollha li kellu fih u qerdu l-bini.

    Issa l-finanzi tat-tmexxija Qing kienu marru lura ħafna u bl-ebda mod ma setgħu jinstabu fondi sabiex dan il-post jerġa’ jiġi restawrat. Għalhekk, fl-1902, Cixi rranġat kif setgħet l-inħawi tal-Għolja tal-Ħajja Twila u bniet mill-ġdid il-parti tal-Lvant tal-palazz.

    Wara r-rivoluzzjoni tal-1911, fejn it-tmexxija Qing ġiet imwarrba, dan il-palazz serva għal xi żmien bħala r-residenza tal-membri tal-ex familja imperjali. Fl-1920, il-post inbidel f’park u mbagħad fl-1949 il-ġnien ġie restawrat wara li twaqqfet ir-Repubblika taċ-Ċina, hekk kif il-gvern beda jirranġa diversi siti ta’ importanza kulturali.

    Finalment, fl-1998, il-UNESCO poġġiet il-Palazz tas-Sajf fil-lista tagħha bħala Wirt Kulturali Dinji.

    X’hemm x’tara

    Il-Kuritur TwilWara li sirt naf minn xhiex għadda dan il-post meraviljuż, aktar u aktar bdejt napprezza u nammira l-istat sabiħ li qiegħed fih illum. Għajnejja ħalfu li jixorbu l-ilwien kollha li kienu mżejjna bihom l-istrutturi, filwaqt li mnifsejja gawdew l-arja bnina msoffija mill-pjanti u s-siġar ta’ kull tip u qies li kienu jinsabu f’dan il-ġnien.

    Il-Palazz

    Il-palazz huwa esperjenza fih innifsu. Huwa diffiċli biex tfisser sbuħitu u l-ambjent li hu mdawwar bih. Ċertament l-opportunità li tidħol f’uħud mis-swali u l-paviljuni tiegħu hija xi ħaġa indimentikabbli. Ix-xenarju tal-inħawi li joffri l-ogħla torri tiegħu huma spettakolari.

    Il-Kuritur Twil (Long Corridor)

    Dan il-passaġġ maħdum kollu kemm hu mill-injam inbena fit-18 il-seklu. Għandu tul ta’ 728 metri u ġie mqassam f’273 sezzjoni li ġew iddekorati b’madwar 14,000 pittura li juru episodji importanti mill-letteratura klassika Ċiniża, stejjer folkloristiċi, figuri storiċi u leġġendarji u bini u xenarji magħrufa fiċ-Ċina.

    Id-Dgħajsa tal-Irħam (Marble Boat)

    Id-dghajsa tal-irhamDin l-istruttura li għandha forma ta’ dgħajsa rjali ġiet mibnija f’parti mill-Għadira Kunming. Ngħatat l-isem ta’ Qingyanfany jew id-Dgħajsa tal-Purità u r-Rilassament (Boat of Purity and Ease).

    Id-dgħajsa nbniet fuq żewġ sulari minn irħam kbir u għandha tul ta’ 36 metru. Ġiet maħluqa għall-Imperatur Qianlong sabiex minnha jgawdi x-xenarju tal-inħawi tal-madwar. Kienet ukoll maħsuba li tissimbolizza l-istabbilità tad-Dinastija Qing. Iżda jidher li fl-1860 din ġiet meqruda u reġgħet inbniet mill-ġdid bi stil tal-Punent minn Cixi li tatha isem ieħor – Qingyanfang jew Paċi Universali (Universal Peace).

    L-Għadira Kunming

    Din l-għadira tkopri tliet kwarti tas-sit kollu. L-ilma tagħha mhux fond u ma jistax isir għawm fiha. Madanakollu, il-viżitaturi għandhom l-opportunità li jirkbu dgħajsa sabiex igawdu l-ambjent mill-isbaħ kemm tal-għadira, kemm tal-ġnien u kif ukoll tal-palazz li jħares fuqha.

    Mir-rebbiegħa sal-ħarifa jikbru l-fjuri tal-ġilju tal-ilma (lotus) ġewwa l-ilmijiet ta’ din l-għadira. Min-naħa l-oħra, fix-xitwa, wiċċ l-għadira jinbidel f’silġ u n-nies ikunu jistgħu jmorru bl-iskejt fuqu.

    Nies bi snajja’ u arti varji

    Pittur fil-Palazz tas-SajfApparti li dan il-lwog joffrilek iċ-ċans li tiltaqa’ man-nies tal-post, fih wieħed isib ukoll diversi artisti. Fosthom, aħna sibna pittur anzjan li kien qiegħed jiddisinja xeni dettaljati mill-Palazz tas-Sajf. Kien hemm ukoll grupp ta’ nies li bl-istrumenti diversi tagħhom kienu qed jakkumpanjaw żewġ kantanti.

    Min jixtieq jara xi filmati li ħadna f’dan il-post jista’ jidħol f’Youtube permezz ta’ din il-ħolqa:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlHIDVjYzGQ

    (Dan l-artiklu ġie ppubblikat fit-Torċa tat-8 ta’ Marzu 2015)

    2015.03.08 / no responses / Category: Torca - Features & Articles