Posts Tagged ‘Valletta’

  • A sea of profits

    A search through historical notarial deeds reveals how Maltese businesses exploited the cruel reality of war and slavery, maritime historian Dr Joan Abela tells Fiona Vella.

     

    joan abela“Even though there are people who might think that the human tragedy which we are experiencing today in the Mediterranean Sea may be something contemporary, in reality, the human element has always been an issue in this region,” Dr Joan Abela says as she refers me to some thick manuscripts that she had set aside at the Notarial Archives in Valletta.

    We had agreed to discuss the dreadful reality of slavery in the old days and these manuscripts are witness to this phenomenon which took place even in our islands.

    “Before the Knights of St John came to Malta in 1530, the Maltese Islands were already involved in the enslavement business and this was quite a legitimate affair at the time. People captured as slaves or captives were considered as commodities and their negotiations were regarded as valuable transactions, which when necessary, were also recorded in notarial deeds.”

    Dr Abela continued to inform me that in that era, the traffic of slaves occupied a prime place in the economic activity of maritime trade in the southern Mediterranean since it allowed the profitable exchange of monies and commodities.

    “Well aware of the strategic geographical location of Malta in the slave trade business, the Knights of St John established a strong infrastructure in order to attract more merchants and agents. Those who stopped at our islands would have been able to replenish their ships and to make use of the excellent and accomodating financial services which included the availability of notaries, agents, and money changers. Indeed, Braudel stated that Malta together with Livorno acted as a central hub for the slave trade.”

    One needed to have a special license to work as a corsair, otherwise he would be regarded as a pirate and could be hanged for capturing ships, cargo or people illegally.

    a sea of profits 1b“Since corsairing could render ample returns, people invested in it and received their respective shares from the bounty that the corsairs brought with them after they seized a ship. Investors consisted mainly of businessmen and knights. However, one would also find the Jerosolimitan Nuns of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John which were located in St Ursula Street, Valletta, forming part of these investors. Their share was due to them for their role in praying for the safe return of the corsairs.”

    As Dr Abela began to indicate various episodes from the displayed manuscripts, she admitted that she was often very touched by what she read in those pages.

    “Obviously when one looks at history in a collective manner, one would say that there was this particular circumstance taking place during that period and that is it. Yet when one looks into these documents and starts reading a deed about an individual life, one starts empathizing with that person and many questions will come to mind. For example, I came upon a deed wherein a priest was selling a slave together with her son to a Genovese merchant on condition that the latter would baptise the child on that same day. The merchant agreed and the deal was made. When you read something like this, how can you help not wonder who this woman was and from where she had come?”

    Corsairing was a high risk job but if all went well, those involved could become rich overnight.

    “Men craved for the opportunity to become corsairs and at one point, there were so many men leaving their jobs to join corsair ships that the Maltese Universitas requested the King of Spain to restrain this because the island was at a loss with the local workforce.”

    “Not all the captured ships delivered the same profits. A galley of the Sultan which would have been filled with riches and fine cloth, would be precious but not without issues and trouble. Other ships would be carrying worthy cargo such as sugar or wheat. Nonetheless, it was the human cargo which was considered the most profitable.”

    Captured people could be sold as slaves or held as captives until they were ransomed.

    “The whole process for redemption was very complicated. These contracts unravel all this system including how the involved parties went about to assure the best positive outcome from their deal. An agent would be requested to act as an intermediary between one party and the other, taking responsibility to collect a deposit from the captive and then to take him to an agreed destination in order to collect the rest of the money from his relatives and then release him.”

    “In April 1558, a slave, Busert Bin Hahmet de Casar concluded the following agreement with his master Giuseppe Baldagno. Busert was transferred to Antonio de Banda from Messina who was a patrone of a ship belonging to Marco Antonio Delixandro, also from Messina. The ship was equipped to undertake a voyage to the Tripolitan fortress of Barbaria. Antonio was to conduct the slave to Tripoli, and from there retrieve 80 gold ducats which was the stipulated price for redemption. This amount was to be remitted either in their value in dinars or in oil, wool or leather goods which the Arabs sold inside the Tripolitan fortress, which goods would be exempt from duty. Busert promised to pay Giuseppe within twenty days of his arrival at the fortress, on condition that the patrone was not to let him disembark unless he received the said payment or its value in goods. Once arrived at destination, the slave would need to make the necessary connection with an intermediary in his own country who would be in a position to acquire the redemption money or goods for him. Once the sum was settled, the slave would become a free man, but if the sum was not paid, he was to return with the same ship and consigned back to his master Giuseppe.”

    a sea of profits 2bAt times, the Grand Master had to issue a safe conduct certificate to enemy ships so that they might transfer the captives to the Tripoli port.

    “One such case was when Turgut Reis captured the ship Catharinet and took all her load to Djerba in 1548. Following this unfortunate capture for the Christian side, the Knight Augustino Spagno was sent as an envoy to negotiate redemption of the captives and once prices were fixed, a Muslim ship carrying these captives was to sail to the Order’s port in Tripoli.”

    Interestingly, although being amid a Holy War against each other, this flourishing trade saw the collaboration and interaction between Christian and Muslim merchants.

    “The capture of slaves did not only translate itself into financial rewards but acted also as a means to strengthen commercial ties between the various ethnic subjects of the cross and the crescent. Both Muslim and Christian merchants exploited this cruel reality and at times, this exploitation was so excessive that appeals were made to the local authorities to annul what plaintiffs described as usurious agreements which desperate souls had been forced to endorse in return for their freedom.”

    “The Catholic Church strongly prohibited any compensation on loans, whether being related to business or not. Interest was regarded as usury and was not allowed. Often, this situation created shortages of cash money, especially after the Jewish community was expelled from the Maltese Islands in 1492. Nevertheless, there were numerous ways of circumventing this prohibition, such as through the difference quoted in the rate of exchange which would incorporate an agreed rate of interest or by paying the value in other goods.”

    Besides ransom agents, there were also those agents who were summoned in order to make arrangements for the purchase of slaves to be delivered to Malta. Gender, age, ethnicity and price were agreed beforehand to eliminate any possible claims for additional payment.

    “Although prices of slaves varied considerably, various studies indicate that the average selling price for a slave during the sixtenth century was in the region of 46 scudi. The acquisition of infidel slaves from Tripoli as a commodity for re-sale was one of the most profitable economic activities through which Malta registered a boom in her commerce.”

    The arrival of Napoleon in 1798 abolished slavery in Malta and yet from litigation cases found in the Tribunal proceedings, during the early British Period, it is clear that the island’s association with slavery would not be terminated by a simple legislative enactment.

    “And yet, back in the eighteenth century, people had already realized that the raiding system was over and that it was not feasible anymore. A new system based on lawful commerce and trade began to emerge; the Pinto stores being evidence of such change.”

    (This article was published in the Family Business Supplement issued with The Times of Malta dated 24 February 2017)

    2017.02.26 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • Guests to history

    One would probably spare only a few moments of consideration at the receipt of a wedding invitation. However, for Baron Igino de Piro d’Amico Inguanez, these endearing solicitations were cherished so much that he kept a collection of them, neatly separated according to their date and wrapped up together by a string.

    Baron Igino de Piro d’Amico Inguanez (Photo - Fiona Vella)“Were it not for my grandfather’s interest to keep these wedding invitations, we would have lost this fascinating information which can be unravelled within each one of them,” remarked Marquis Nicholas de Piro as we walked towards an elegant table in one of the rooms at Casa Rocca Piccola where he had layed out a number of these invitations.

    I glanced out at the wide selection of wedding invitations tastefully set on the polished wooden surface, noticing the different sizes, shapes, writing, designs and paper. The earliest ones dated back to 1815, 1829 and 1832. They were quite plain and small, slightly bigger than a credit card, and written in Italian.

    “Here are two of the prettiest ones” said the Marquis as he pulled them out of the rest.

    These two invitations had been issued at the end of the 19th century. They were larger than the earlier ones and were quite different from each other. The one dated June 1896 was elegantly designed with an intricate cross at its corner and consisted of an invitation to the wedding between the noble Maria de Piro and Dr. Alfredo Stilon. The other one dated October 1899 was more colourful and rather than an invitation, it was more an announcement of the wedding which was to take place between the noble Maria Teresa de Piro and the Marquis Paolo Apap Bologna. Once again, both were written in Italian.

    Wedding indefinitely postponed (Photo - Fiona Vella)“Now look at this note which accompanies this wedding invitation,” said the Marquis as he handed it to me.

    The presentation of this wedding invitation was simpler than the previous two and the writing was in English. Here, Judge and Mrs L Camilleri were  requesting the company of Baron and Baroness I de Piro d’Amico Inguanez and family to the wedding of their noble daughter Inez to Marquis Mallia Tabone on 26th January 1920. Yet this celebration was not destined to take place as a smaller card which was sent some days later informed those invited that this wedding had been indefinitely postponed.

    Wedding invitation during Lent (Photo - Fiona Vella)“From these invitations, one can also observe the traditional customs of the various eras. For example, this wedding invitation dated 1935 shows clearly that people who chose to get married during the period of Lent had to abide to some limitations.”

    Indeed, a formal note which was inserted together with the wedding invitation that was sent by Chev & Mrs E Moore and Mrs H Xuereb to announce the marriage of their daughter Alice Moore to Godfrey Xuereb, provided this information with direct instructions:

    ‘It is much regretted that in view of the restrictions imposed by Canon Law for weddings held in Lent, only a few guests may attend the religious ceremony at the Archbishop’s Palace.

    You are therefore invited to meet the bride and bridegroom immediately after the ceremony at the residence at 4:00pm.’

    Wedding invitations - close up (Photo - Fiona Vella)As we followed the different invitations that were sent along the years to Baron Igino and his family, we could also trace some of his friends and acquaintances, their residences, the chapels and churches where the marriages took place, and the selected locations for the wedding receptions. Although many of the churches still exist today, some of the street names had changed from Italian to English or were altered completely. A number of the residences mentioned have become quite renowned today whilst a few others were turned into commercial properties. Sadly, some of the lovely villas which provided exquisite entertainment in the bygone days were demolished to make place for large modern complexes.

    Marquis Nicholas de Piro (Photo - Fiona Vella)Amongst these, there was the wedding between Hilda Scicluna and Paymaster Lieutenant W Eric Brockman that took place on 4th March 1928. Their marriage was celebrated at the Archbishop’s Palace in Valletta which seems to have been quite a popular venue for such occasions. On the other hand, the reception was held at the bride’s parents residence that was located at 86 Strada Merkanti Valletta; a house which originally belonged to Sir Oliver Starkey, Bali of Aquila and Latin Secretary to Grand Master La Valette. Being an English Knight, he had assisted the Grand Master during the Great Siege of 1565 and was later given the privilege to be buried in the crypt of the Co-Cathedral of St John in Valletta, close to La Valette’s own burial place.

    The Cathedral in Mdina seems to have been another prominent place for marriages. On 24th January 1937, Adelina Maempel was married to Edwin England Sant Fournier. A reception followed at Villa Luginsland in 26 Boschetto Road, Rabat; a lovely villa which was built by Baron Max von Tucker, the German consul who was serving in Malta in the early 20th century. Unfortunately in recent years years, this remarkable place was in an abandoned state and had a haunting atmosphere.

    Invitation from Gozo (Photo - Fiona Vella)The only wedding invitation which came from Gozo looked quite distinguished and it boasted a silver wax seal. The marriage of Carmela and Paul Vella took place on 4th August 1937 and their reception was organized at the Duke of Ediburgh Hotel in Victoria, Gozo. Alas, in recent years, this splendid hotel that was beautifully constructed in Victorian architecture was demolished in order to make way for a commercial centre and a number of residential units.

    “As you have already noted, some of these wedding invitations pertained to our relatives. Incidentally, this one which announces the marriage between my aunt Mona de Piro to Major John E J Nelson on 28th December 1940 is a favourite of mine, particularly because she was quite a character and she kept her high spirits even when she was aged more than ninety. Well, she’s there, looking at us!” the Marquis exclaimed as he pointed to a delightful portrait on the opposite wall.

    My eyes met with those of a young, graceful girl, defiantly posing with an off-the-shoulder silver dress which melted in the greyish background behind her.

    The noble Mona de Piro (Photo - Fiona Vella)“That portrait created much talk when her relatives saw it since it was regarded too sensual at the time. It was commissioned by her Italian boyfriend, Marquis Onofrio Bartolini Salinbeni, and the painting was done by Arthur Acton who lived in a palace in Florence. Onofrio was madly in love with Mona but unfortunately, their relationship ended and when she returned to Malta, a relative of hers went to Italy to claim this painting since it was not deemed fit for him to keep it,” smiled the Marquis as he went to add some logs to the fire burning in the stylish hearth besides us.

    A warm gush of air embraced the room as the logs protested and cracked and poured a glowing light over the wedding invitations lying in front of us. For a short spell, I thought that I could hear the tinkling of the glasses filled with red velvety wine and golden sizzling champagne as the guests toasted to the newly married couples.

    (This article was published in the Weddings Supplement issued with The Sunday Times of Malta dated 13th March 2016)

    2016.03.13 / no responses / Category: The Sunday Times - Articles

  • 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

  • IF THESE WALLS COULD TALK

    450 years ago, the Maltese Islands were in the spotlight of several European sovereigns after they had succeeded to come out victorious from the massive siege that was laid upon them by the powerful Ottoman Empire. Fort St Elmo lay in ruins and the other fortifications and houses which had been targeted by the enemy were in no better shape. The land still seeped in the blood of the thousands who had lost their lives during the fighting, whilst many others remained maimed.

    Amid this devastation, the eminence of the surviving Knights of the Order of St John surged, and their fame reached legendary proportions. Letters of congratulations which they received from all over Europe, uplifted their spirits, whilst generous donations eventually helped them to build the new city of Valletta.

    The Knights of St John continued to rule the Maltese Islands until 1798, when they were ousted by French Military General, Napoleon Bonaparte. Although, some might believe that at this time, the Order was obliterated, in reality, these mythical Hospitallers are still present amongst us, and are as real as ever.

    The Russian Grand Priory of Malta

    Saviour Garcia (photo - Fiona Vella)Since the early years of the Hospitallers’ foundation by Blessed Gerard, the Order protected the faithful and provided aid to the sick and poor. These elements have always remained deeply rooted in the mission of the knights who followed throughout the centuries.

    “Even today, as Knights and Dames of the Russian Grand Priory of Malta who form part of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitallers, under the constitution of the late King Peter II of Yugoslavia, we strive to continue to live up to our motto “Pro Fide, Pro Utilitate Hominum,” declared Chev. Saviour Garcia as we stood in front of a large painting of Blessed Gerard at Palazzino Sapienti in Valletta.

    “Today, the Order’s mission still incorporates the duty to profess the Christian faith. However, its present members are not fighters but humanitarians who swear to act for the common good of all people without distinction of race or religion.”

    Garcia outlined a number of philantropic projects which the Russian Grand Priory of Malta have been taking care of without much pomposity. Amongst these he mentioned St Joseph’s Residential Home for children in Żabbar, Dar Nazareth’s Residential Home for people with disability in Żejtun, and the construction of a hospital and a hostel in Thailand which caters for the needs of dying children with AIDS.

    “The first investiture and the official institution of The Malta Priory took place on March 8, 1964. A few days after, His Majesty King Peter II of Yugoslavia legitimized the Order by giving it a new Constitution to meet 20th century demands. Within the first decades of its existence, The Malta Priory made several notable achievements which ultimately led it to be elevated to Grand Priory by Royal Warrant from King Peter II on Feb 22, 1970. This Royal Warrant gave our Grand Priory the name of Russian Grand Priory of Malta.”

    Palazzino Sapienti, Valletta

    Library at Palazzino Sapienti (Photo - Fiona Vella)Interestingly, it was the same king who donated the sum of 1000 dollars in order to open a fund for the purchase of a large house which was expected to serve as the World Head Quarters of this Order. The choice fell on the prestigious Palazzino Sapienti which today is located at 223, St Paul Street, Valletta, right opposite to the University of Malta Valletta Campus.

    An original letter held at the archives of Palazzino Sapienti that was sent to Czar Paul I by Grand Master Hompesch in 1797, indicates that at the time, the Russians had an interest to involve themselves in the Order. That is why, after the Knights of St John were expelled from Malta, some of them opted to find refuge in St Petersburg, where they elected the Russian Emperor, Paul I, as their Grand Master, thereby replacing Ferdinand von Hompesch who was then held in disgrace and had to abdicate in 1799.

    Prior to its present distinguished function, Palazzino Sapienti had its fair share of interesting history.

    “Whilst researching about the origins of this building, I discovered that its construction was commissioned in the late 16th century by the English Grand Prior of the Order of St. John, Sir Richard Shelley. However, he did not have the opportunity to enjoy his residence for long, since he got into disagreement with the Inquisitor after he failed to present to him his correspondence to the Protestant Queen Elizabeth for censorship, as was the regulation at the time. Soon, matters got worse when Shelley had also a dispute with Grand Master Peter del Monte, and in a diplomatic way, this building was taken away from him after he was offered another property. Instead, Palazzino Sapienti became the residence of Fra Nicolo Sollima, the Collegium Melitense Rector,” revealed Garcia.

    Palazzino Sapienti (Photo - Fiona Vella)“Stone used for the building of the house was quarried on site. Once the building was complete, the resultant small quarry was used as a water cistern and basement. This process of cutting stones directly from Monte Sciberras hurried the process of the building of the new city.”

    “The facade of the palazzino was imposing, having a main door flanked by two others. The main entrance was decorated by a barrel vaulted ceiling, typical of the 16th century. Traces of a blocked arch located under the staircase which leads up to the piano nobile points out that originally, the level of the street was lower than it is today.”

    “On 12th September 1634, a gunpowder magazine located in the whereabouts of the palazzino, blew up, killing 33 persons. The devastated site was left abandoned for thirty years until Grand Master Nicholas Cotoner established the Fondazione Cotoner in order to rebuild the houses in Strada San Paolo. The palazzino had suffered some cracks in the walls and its glass windows were shattered. Some structural changes were done to it, however, this structure was never intended to be built higher than two floors, since it would have been higher than the opposite building and would have cast a shadow on the University’s sundial.”

    “Traces of red paint on the walls show that this building was painted in this colour. Meanwhile, the limestone balcony supports, the internal courtyard and the main staircase were adorned with seashell carvings that represented St John the Baptist, the patron saint of the Order of St. John. The seashell is also representative of the water element, in this case creativity and knowledge, as befits the University Rector’s house.”

    It was a pleasure to explore this palazzino which I had never visited before. In the meantime, Garcia recounted some curiosities about the notable tenents who lived there.

    A room in Palazzino Sapienti (Photo - Fiona Vella)“In 1919, the tenant of Palazzino Sapienti was the lawyer Luigi Camilleri. On 7th June, 1919, Prince Lobanov-Rostovsky and Count Andrey Bobrinsky, both Russian Imperial refugees, were visiting Camilleri at his residence when suddenly the ‘Sette Guigno’ riots broke out. A large crowd made its way to the Royal Malta University and started to attack it, tearing down the English Imperial flag. These two Russian nobles who were witnessing this from the opposite palazzino were scared stiff since the remembrance of the Bolshevik revolution still haunted them. They stayed at the premises till the 12th June when they were escorted back to San Anton Palace in Balzan by Police Superintendent James Frendo Cumbo.”

    “During the Second World War, the premises were used by the British Royal Air Force for the decoding of enemy aerial operations. Palazzino Sapienti survived two enemy bombs which were dropped in the vicinity. Yet tragedy still struck this place when two children, who were attending school in this building after the Valletta school was hit, found their way down a spiral staircase which led to the city’s undergrounds and got lost there. No one ever found them and these stairs have been blocked ever since.”

    Chapel with reliquary of St John the Baptist (Photo - Fiona Vella)Today, this building is also proud to possess three saint reliquaries: a first degree bone fragment from the Order’s Patron Saint St. John the Baptist, and two third degree relics in the form of a throne chair on which St. John Paul II sat during one of his Papal visits to Italy, and a hand signed dedication by Sister Mother Theresa of Calcutta who was also a member of the Order.

    “Besides housing the Seat of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, Knight Hospitaller, Palazzino Sapienti has now opened its doors to the public who might be interested to visit it. Moreover lectures regarding various subjects are organized inside one of its rooms wherein we are also giving the opportunity to university students who would like to present talks about their studies or thesis.”

    Certainly, an invitation to such a prestigious, architectural, and historical gem, should not be missed.

    (This article was published in ‘Focus Valletta’ Suppliment issued with The Times of Malta dated 30 September 2015)

    2015.09.30 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • 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

  • IL-KARNIVAL TRAĠIKU TAL-1823

    The story in the 1823 journalDan l-aħħar, għaddiet ġrajja minn għala widnejja li qatt ma kont smajtha qabel. Tikkonċerna traġedja li seħħet fil-Karnival tal-1823, fil-ġurnata tat-11 ta’ Frar, li fiha, għadd kbir ta’ tfal mietu ġewwa l-Kunvent tal-Franġiskani, fil-Belt Valletta.

    Iddeċidejt li nistħarreġ dan ir-rakkont aktar fil-fond sakemm irnexxieli nsib id-dettalji kollha ta’ dan l-inċident miġburin fl-arkivji tal-Librerija Nazzjonali tal-Belt. Inizzjalment, l-aħbar ta’ din it-traġedja twasslet permezz ta’ nota li nkitbet mis-Segretarju Prinċipali tal-Gvern, Richard Plasket, fil-Malta Government Gazette (Num. 557) tal-14 ta’ Frar 1823, fejn dan fosthom informa illi kienet qed issir inkjesta dwar dan il-każ. Sussegwentement, id-dettalji kollha tniżżlu f’Suppliment (paġni 3391 -2) marbut mal-istess ġurnal li jġib l-istess data msemmija hawn fuq.

    F’din il-kitba dettaljata tiegħu, Plasket jinkludi informazzjoni li waslet għandu minn tagħrif tal-Arċisqof ta’ Malta, minn evidenza ta’ persuni li dehru quddiem il-Maġistrat tal-Pulizija (li kienu jinkludu kemm familjari tal-vittmi u anki individwi oħra li kienu preżenti waqt dan l-inċident), u kif ukoll minn rapport mediku relatat mal-każ.

    Huwa jibda billi jagħti sfond lil din il-ġrajja, hekk kif isemmi illi f’dawk l-aħħar snin, f’Malta, kienet nibtet id-drawwa illi fil-ġranet finali tal-Karnival, kienu jinġabru għadd ta’ subien tal-età bejn it-8 u l-15 il-sena li kienu ġejjin mill-klassi baxxa tal-inħawi tal-Belt u tat-Tliet Ibliet (Birgu, Isla u Bormla). Dawn it-tfal, li kienu jipparteċipaw għal din l-attività minn jeddhom, kienu jinġabru f’purċissjoni u jittieħdu l-Furjana jew f’xi inħawi oħra fejn wara li jisimgħu quddiesa, huma kienu jirċievu xi ħobż u frott. Dan l-ikel kien jiġi provdut permezz ta’ ftehim li kien isir bejn il-gvern u xi benefatturi oħra. L-għan prinċipali wara din l-attività kien li jżomm lit-tfal protetti mill-ġlied u mill-konfużjoni tal-Karnival li kien ikun hemm f’dak il-perjodu fl-ibliet imsemmija. L-arranġament ta’ din il-purċissjoni kien jaqa’ taħt ir-responsabbiltà tad-Diretturi Ekkleżjastiċi tal-Istituzzjoni li kienet tgħallem il-Katekiżmu.

    Infatti, jidher illi fl-10 ta’ Frar 1823, skont din it-tradizzjoni, xi tfal kienu ttieħdu jisimgħu quddiesa l-Furjana u mbagħad kienu twasslu lejn il-Knisja ta’ Ġieżu l-Belt Valletta fejn hemmhekk ġew irregalati xi ħobż u frott, mingħajr ma nqala’ l-ebda inċident.

    Iżda dan il-pjan sfratta għal kollox l-għada, meta akkost li din l-attività kienet mistennija li tirrepeti ruħha bla problemi, sensiela ta’ żbalji, wasslu għal traġedja kbira li ħadd qatt ma kien basar li għad tiġri.

    Ta' Giezu Church in VallettaGħall-ewwel, fil-11 ta’ Frar 1823, kollox kien miexi ħarir u kif suppost. It-tfal inġabru bħas-soltu u ttieħdu jisimgħu quddiesa l-Furjana. Madanakollu, did-darba, iċ-ċerimonja damet ma ntemmet siegħa aktar mis-soltu u għalhekk meta dawn it-tfal twasslu sal-Knisja ta’ Ġieżu, il-festeġġjamenti tal-Karnival kienu laħqu spiċċaw. B’hekk, il-wasla tagħhom ħabtet mal-ħin meta n-nies li kienu qed jieħdu sehem fil-briju tal-Karnival, bdew jirritornaw lejn djarhom. U l-bużillis inqala’ meta numru ta’ tfal u adulti oħra li saru jafu b’din l-attività f’Ta’ Ġieżu, tħalltu baxx baxx mat-tfal l-oħra bil-ħsieb li jieħdu xi ħaġa anki huma.

    Issa, skont il-pjanijiet tas-soltu, is-subien kienu mistennija jidħlu mill-bieb tas-sagristija tal-Kunvent ta’ Ġieżu u kellhom joħorġu mill-bieb ta’ faċċata li kien jagħti għal Triq Sant’Ursula, fejn hemmhekk, huma kienu jirċievu l-ħobż u l-frott. Sabiex jiġi evitat illi ċertu tfal jidħlu dabtejn, huma kienu jitħallew jistennew f’kuritur u l-bieb tas-sagristija kien jingħalaq warajhom.

    Però ġara li f’din il-ġurnata, il-bieb tas-sagristija tħalla miftuħ aktar mis-soltu minħabba li kienu qed jistennew lit-tfal ġejjin mill-Furjana, b’konsegwenza illi nies oħra, apparti t-tfal tas-soltu, baqgħu deħlin. B’hekk, minflok madwar mitt tifel, kif kien ikun hemm fi drabi oħra, inġabar ammont ħafna akbar ta’ nies u din il-folla bdiet kull ma tmur timbotta lit-tfal li kien hemm aktar il-quddiem. Dawn bdew jingħafsu kontra bieb li kien jinżamm nofsu magħluq, biex it-tfal joħorġu minnu wieħed wieħed.

    Hekk kif sar il-ħin, min kien responsabbli milli jagħlaq il-bieb tas-sagristija, sakkar din id-daħla u peress li kien qabad jidlam, dan ma ntebaħx li kienet daħlet miġemgħa mhux mistennija. Biex tgħarraq is-sitwazzjoni, lampa li s-soltu kienet titħalla mixgħula f’dan il-kuritur, għal xi raġuni ntfiet, u b’hekk kulħadd spiċċa fi dlam taqtgħu b’sikkina.

    Hekk kif sabu ruħhom fid-dlam, in-nies bdew jimbuttaw lil xulxin biex joħorġu mill-bieb l-ieħor, u t-tfal li kienu l-eqreb tal-bieb l-ieħor, tgerrbu fit-tmien tarġiet li kienu jinsabu biswit l-entratura, u waqgħu fuq xulxin. B’hekk, l-uniku bieb minn fejn setgħu joħorġu, kompla jiġi mbarrat u minħabba li dan kien jinfetaħ il-ġewwa, aktar żdied il-paniku.

    An ancient illustration produced by Sir General George WhitmoreL-individwi li kienu fuq barra jqassmu l-ħobż u l-frott lit-tfal ma damux ma bdew jisimgħu t-twerżiq tat-tfal l-oħra li nqabdu f’dak is-saram. L-għajjat wasal anki s’għand il-ġirien tal-madwar u minnufih in-nies ħarġu sabiex jaraw x’ġara u biex jagħtu l-għajnuna. Naturalment, huma ppruvaw jiftħu n-nofs l-ieħor tal-bieb li kien jagħtu fuq Triq Sant’Ursula iżda dan ma seta’ jinfetaħ b’xejn peress li kellu t-tfal mixħutin fuqu. Għalhekk, xi wħud ġrew lejn is-sagristija biex isibu ċ-ċavetta tal-bieb l-ieħor u meta għamlu dan, huma daħlu minn fost in-nies li kien hemm fil-kuritur sabiex jilliberaw lit-tfal mill-bieb ta’ wara. Iżda, sfortunatament, għal ċerti tfal, kien diġà tard wisq!

    Infatti, numru ta’ tfal inħarrġu barra t-triq mejta, oħrajn b’ħass ħażin kbir fuqhom u oħrajn fi stat pjuttost ħażin. Eventwalment instab illi 110 tifel tal-età bejn it-8 u l-15 il-sena kienu mietu fgati billi ġew magħfusa fi spazju żgħir jew minħabba li ntrifsu waqt il-konfużjoni li nqalgħet.

    Skont il-Lutenent Gvernatur, mill-inkjesta li saret u mill-informazzjoni li nġabret, ġie konkluż li dan kien inċident sfortunat li ġie kkawżat minħabba d-dewmien fiċ-ċerimonja tal-Furjana li ta lok lil dawk li kienu qed jiċċelebraw il-Karnival sabiex jingħaqdu ma’ dawn it-tfal. Kaġun ieħor kien in-nuqqas ta’ dawl fl-imsemmi kuritur li ċertament kompla żied fil-mortalità. Iżda, finalment ħadd ma ġie akkużat bil-mewt ta’ dawn it-tfal peress li xejn ma kien sar bi ħsieb ħażin li joħloq din it-traġedja.

    Plasket kompla jsemmi kif f’dik il-ġurnata kerha, kulħadd kien ikkollabora biex jgħin kif jista’; anki l-familjari tal-vittmi li ħallew lill-pulizija u lis-suldati jaħdmu sabiex isalvaw kemm jistgħu individwi. Huwa faħħar ukoll lill-ġirien li għamlu minn kollox biex jagħtu daqqa t’id f’dak kollu li kien hemm bżonn.

    Ma naqasx li jirringrazzja wkoll lit-tobba u lill-infermieri li kienu ġrew lejn il-post biex jagħtu l-għajnuna malli semgħu bl-aħbar. Huwa wera l-gratitudni tiegħu anki lejn l-uffiċjali tal-Pulizija u lejn il-membri tar-Reġiment Royal Malta Fencibleli kienu mmexxija mill-Kaptan tagħhom, il-Kulunell Markiż Giuseppe De Piro. Bis-saħħa ta’ dawn kollha, Plasket ikkonkluda, il-konsegwenzi ta’ din it-traġedja tnaqqsu drastikament.

    Colonel Marquis Giuseppe De PiroGħall-ewwel bqajt bla kliem, inħares siekta lejn dawn iż-żewġ paġni antiki li kienu qed jitfgħu dawl fuq is-soċjetà Maltija ta’ dak iż-żmien u fuq il-faqar li kienu għaddejjin minnu wħud mill-Maltin. Ma stajtx ma nixxukkjax ruħi u nħoss għal dak l-għadd kbir ta’ familji, li f’jiem suppost ta’ ferħ u daħk bla tarf tal-Karnival, spiċċaw jgħixu ħabta w sabta din it-traġedja tal-waħx!

    Xi ħaġa ġegħlitni nkompli nfittex u nixtarr din l-informazzjoni ħalli nsir naf kemm jista’ jkun dwar dak li seħħ. Għaldaqstant, tkellimt mal-ħabib tiegħi, il-Markiż Nicholas De Piro li mill-ewwel rama jgħinni billi għaddieli l-informazzjoni li kellu ħalli nkomplu nibnu din l-istorja.

    Fil-fatt, huwa pprovdini b’immaġni tal-antenat tiegħu, il-Markiż Giuseppe De Piro li dakinhar tal-inċident, kien qed imexxi lir-reġiment tas-suldati tar-Royal Malta Fencible. Barra minn hekk, huwa għaddieli wkoll ritratt tal-Ġeneral Sir George Whitmore flimkien ma’ illustrazzjoni antika li probabbilment turi din it-traġedja, li pinġha l-ġeneral stess, peress li hu kien qed iservi f’pajjiżna f’dak il-perjodu.

    Għalaqt din ir-riċerka tiegħi billi mort infittex ukoll il-Knisja ta’ Ġieżu ħalli nara b’għajnejja fejn kien sar dan il-fatt. U hemm, 192 sena wara, hekk kif ironikament fil-Belt kienu qed jippreparaw għall-Karnival tal-2015, bħal deherli li fil-bogħod, smajt it-twerżiq tal-imsejkna tfal…

    (Dan l-artiklu ġie ppubblikat fit-Torċa tal-15 ta’ Frar 2015)

    2015.02.15 / 4 responses / Category: Torca - Features & Articles

  • IL-KULURI TAĊ-ĊINA (5 Parti) Is-sena tal-mogħża

    Uħud mill-qarrejja ta’ din is-sensiela stqarru miegħi illi dawn l-artikli dwar iċ-Ċina qed iħajjruhom sabiex jiskopru aktar lil dan il-pajjiż u lil niesu. U ċertament l-apprezzament lejn il-kultura hija waħda minn dawk l-aspetti li kapaċi jqarrbu lill-poplu tagħna lejn dak Ċiniż.

    Huwa għalhekk li din il-ġimgħa se ngħaddilkhom ftit informazzjoni dwar ċelebrazzjonijiet importanti li se jseħħu dalwaqt fiċ-Ċina sabiex jimmarkaw il-bidu tas-sena 2015. Fl-istess ħin, dan l-artiklu se jservi wkoll biex jgħarrafkhom bl-attivitajiet relatati li se jittellgħu anki f’pajjiżna fejn intom qed tiġu mistiedna biex tattendu bi ħġarkhom ħalli b’hekk anki intom idduqu ftit minn dak li kapaċi toffri ċ-Ċina.

     Tmiem is-sena 2014

     Ta’ min isemmi illi skont il-kalendarju lunari li jintuża ċ-Ċina, is-sena 2014 li hija ddedikata liż-żiemel, għadha ma spiċċatx. Infatti t-tmiem tas-sena 2014 se jseħħ fid-19 ta’ Frar 2015 (skont il-kalendarju tagħna) biex dan jagħti lok għall-bidu ta’ sena ġdida li se tkun iddedikata lill-mogħża.

     Is-sena 2015 hija ddedikata lill-moghzaPeress li l-kalendarju tradizzjonali Ċiniż huwa ibbażat fuq il-fażijiet tal-qamar, l-ewwel tas-sena fiċ-Ċina ma tiġix dejjem fl-istess ġurnata minħabba li din tiddependi minn meta jidher il-qamar kwinta li ġeneralment jaħbat lejn l-aħħar ta’ Jannar u l-bidu ta’ Frar.

     Skont it-tradizzjoni, dan il-kalendarju lunari nħoloq fi żmien antikissimu minn grupp ta’ antenati bdiewa li kienu jqassmu x-xogħol agrikolu tagħhom b’konformità mal-fażijiet tal-qamar. Il-qamar kwinta tas-sena l-ġdida kien jiftaħ staġun ieħor għaż-żriegħ u sabiex jiġbdu fuqhom il-fortuna, is-soċjetajiet primittivi ħolqu ċerimonja li kienet tkopri diversi ġranet sabiex matulhom jitwettqu diversi sagrifiċċji lill-allat. Jingħad li biż-żmien din iċ-ċelebrazzjoni nbidlet f’festa li llum hija magħrufa bħala l-Festival tar-Rebbiegħa (Spring Festival).

     Is-snin marbuta mal-annimali taż-żodijaku

     Hemm 12 il-annimal marbut maż-żodijaku Ċiniż u mal-kalendarju tradizzjonali lunari: il-far, il-barri, it-tigra, il-fenek, id-dragun, is-serp, iż-żiemel, il-mogħża, ix-xadina, is-serduk, il-kelb u l-majjal. Jeżistu diversi leġġendi li jispjegaw kif intagħżlu dawn l-annimali u kif dawn tpoġġew hekk wara xulxin, fosthom waħda li tgħid li darba l-imperatur sejjaħ lil xi annimali u dawn wara bosta avventuri li għaddew minnhom, waslu għandu f’din l-ordni.

    Is-sena 2015 – is-sena tal-mogħża

    Kull sena tkun iddedikata għal wieħed minn dawn l-annimali u skont it-tradizzjoni, il-karatteristiċi ta’ kull persuna li titwieled, joħorġu jixbħu lix-xejriet ta’ dak l-annimal partikolari.

    10428567_695100497267728_1379197732944795577_n[1]Ngħidu aħna, dawk li twieldu jew li se jitwieldu taħt iż-żodijaku tal-mogħża, mistennija jkunu individwi edukati, rispettużi, qalbhom tajba u inġenjużi. Għandhom sensittività distinta għall-arti u għall-ġmiel, fiduċjużi fir-reliġjon tagħhom u jippreferu jgħixu fil-kwiet. Huma nies għaqlin, ġentili u jagħdru u b’hekk huma kapaċi jħaddmu n-negozju b’mod kawt u prudenti. Fil-ħajja ta’ kuljum, jippruvaw ikunu ekonomiċi.

    Min-naħa l-oħra, dawn it-tip ta’ individwi għandhom ħabta jinkwetaw wisq. Huma nies mistħija, pessimisti, ibatu bil-burdati, indeċiżi, sensittivi żżejjed u b’rieda dgħajfa. Min-natura tagħhom huma timidi u għalhekk jixxenqu biex xi ħadd jieħu ħsiebhom. Iħobbu ħafna l-kumplimenti imma mbagħad huma ma jazzardawx jiddikjaraw imħabbithom fil-miftuħ. Għandhom tendenza wkoll li jinteressaw ruħhom f’teoriji strambi.

    Il-Festival tar-Rebbiegħa

     Dan il-festival huwa l-aktar ċelebrazzjoni importanti u l-itwal wieħed fost iċ-ċerimonji kollha fiċ-Ċina, hekk kif idum għaddej għal 15 il-ġurnata sħaħ! Infatti, minħabba li dan il-festival jinvolvi għadd ta’ funzjonijiet u attivitajiet f’kull ġurnata, il-preparamenti għalih jibdew minn xi xahar qabel.

     Wieħed mill-għanijiet prinċipali tiegħu huwa li jgħaqqad il-familji flimkien sabiex dawn jibdew is-sena fil-kumpanija sabiħa ta’ xulxin. Fil-fatt, fil-ġranet ta’ qabel, miljuni ta’ Ċiniżi li jkunu f’inħawi oħra fiċ-Ċina jew saħansitra f’pajjiżi oħra madwar id-dinja, jitilqu kollox warajhom sabiex imorru lejn id-djar tal-ġenituri tagħhom ħalli jiċċelebraw magħhom dawn il-jiem sbieħ. Huwa neċessarju li kulħadd jilħaq jasal qabel lejliet l-ewwel tas-sena għaliex hekk kif tinżel ix-xemx, mill-ewwel jibdew iċ-ċelebrazzjonijiet.

    L-ewwel tas-sena

    L-ikla tal-ewwel tas-sena tigbor in-nies flimkienF’dan il-jum kulħadd ikun mistenni li jmur iżur lill-qraba l-aktar anzjani, imbagħad lill-membri l-oħra tal-familja u lill-ħbieb. L-anzjani u l-antenati huma rispettati ħafna fil-kultura Ċiniża u infatti ċerti ċelebrazzjonijiet f’dawn il-ġranet ikunu maħsuba wkoll biex ifakkru anki lill-membri mejta tal-familja. Min-naħa l-oħra, it-tfal ikunu qed jistennew bi ħġarhom pakketti bil-flus tax-xorti li jingħataw lilhom f’din il-ġurnata mingħand il-qraba anzjani tagħhom. Dawn il-flus jitpoġġew ġewwa envelop aħmar peress li dan il-kulur huwa marbut max-xorti t-tajba.

     Ċelebrazzjonijiet tas-sena tal-mogħża f’Malta

     L-ewwel attività se tittella’ fit-8 ta’ Frar 2015 fl-10:00am fil-Belt Valletta u qed tiġi organizzata miċ-Ċentru Kulturali taċ-Ċina f’Malta flimkien mal-Kunsill Lokali tal-Belt. Hawnhekk il-pubbliku se jkun jista’ jgawdi spettaklu mill-isbaħ ta’ akrobazija li se jitwettaq mill-grupp rinomat ta’ artisti u akrobati Ċiniżi li jġib l-isem Guangxi Acrobatic Troupe. Il-bidu ta’ din il-wirja se jkun fi Pjazza Teatru Rjal, filwaqt li wara se jkun hemm ukoll parata matul Triq ir-Repubblika u Triq Merkanti.

     Fl-istess ġurnata, fis-6:00pm, dawn l-artisti Ċiniżi se jagħtu wirja akrobatika oħra, did-darba ta’ 90 minuta fis-Sala tal-Mediterran għall-Konferenzi, il-Belt. Din l-attività hija bil-ħlas u biex wieħed jattendi jeħtieġlu jakkwista l-biljetti billi jċempel 25595750/1.

    2015.02.01 / no responses / Category: Torca - Features & Articles

  • A Traditional Crib

    The visit.JPGSearching for a place to stay.JPG

    Detail of the huge Caltagirone crib.JPG

    “The setting up of a crib during the Christmas season has become a worldwide tradition. However probably, few are aware that by doing this, they are reproducing a custom that was originated by St Francis D’Assisi in the 13th century,” told me Francesca Cannavò, the Curator of the Nativity Museum which is located in the crypt of St Augustine’s Church in Old Mint Street, Valletta.

    “The main aim of this museum is to promote a deeper understanding and meaning regarding the nativity of Jesus and how this sacred event has been represented artistically during all these years by various artists,” explained Andrea Consalvo Rifici, the marketing manager.

    Indeed, during these last months, the ambience of this huge crypt has been completely transformed into a landscape which instills the perception of being absorbed back in time, right to the period of this holy nativity.

    “We want the visitors to walk around this place and to meditate about what was happenning in the days before baby Jesus was born and also what took place soon after.”

    Various panels with interesting information accompany the visitors throughout this journey which takes them deep within the old crypt in search of the revelation of the Christmas story. Meanwhile, heavenly music engages the visitors and immerses them into the sanctity of this experience.

    “In the old days, many of the people were uneducated and so they could not read the scriptures. Therefore, the Church set up various plays and commissioned many paintings in order to create a visual narrative with which the people could comprehend certain episodes in Jesus’ life.”

    In fact, beautiful reproductions of renowned artistic works that portray the nativity scene compliment and enhance the significance of this museum, as the visitors can enjoy and absorb the different interpretations that were effected by remarkable painters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Giotto, Tiziano, Rubens, Botticelli, Carvaggio, Fra Angelico, and Hugo van der Goes.

    “It is believed that these representations of the nativity have inspired St Francis of Assisi to compose the first crib which he set up in a cave. Eventually, this idea was so much appreciated by the people that they decided to produce their own cribs in order to possess the blessed nativity scene within their homes. As years passed, people continued to develop this concept by designing new ways of expressing this remarkable episode.”

    A circular room within this crypt has been selected to present a set of artistic scenes which manifest the main events that are relative to the birth of Jesus; such as that of the Annunciation, the dream of Joseph, Mary’s visit to a pregnant elder Elizabeth, the search to find a place for Mary to give birth and the hasty escape to Egypt.

    “These set ups have been designed in Sicily in order to decorate this museum. The figurines were made by Vincenzo Velardita in Caltagirone whereas the scenography was realized by Gigi Genovese in Catania. We tried to keep these scenes as simple as possible in order to reflect the modest nature that Jesus Himself chose for his own birthplace.”

    Certainly, the principal attraction in this nativity museum is the huge crib with its numerous mechanical figures.

    “This crib is the work of Salvatore Milazzo from Caltagirone. We are proud to say that it has been admired in several countries and that it has received various prestigious awards. This year, we decided to introduce it to Malta because we are aware that the Maltese people are deeply devoted to the nativity of Jesus. Moreover, we wanted to share our Sicilian culture with the Maltese people since there are many similarities between our culture and traditions.”

    Milazzo’s work is definitely a work of art as it embraces within it all the skill of the renowned Caltagirone masters of this trade. The forty square metre crib has been decorated with a typical Sicilian country lansdcape of the 1800s which includes also a number of workshops of trades which do not exist any longer.

    Meanwhile, this museum incorporates within it also a number of locally made cribs that were provided by members of Friends of the Crib (Malta).

    Interestingly, this nativity museum which has opened its doors for the public in November will not close after the Christmas season and it will remain available to visitors all throughout the year.

    “The concept behind the creation of this nativity museum in Malta is to heighten the experience of Valletta 2018 both to local and to foreign visitors, by blending together the culture of this island and that of Sicily.”

    (This article was published in CHRISTMAS TIMES Magazine which was issued with The Times of Malta dated 13th December 2014)

    2014.12.13 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • A medal for silver

    Joseph Aquilina (Photo - Anton Aquilina).jpgAquilina at work (1) (Photo - Anton Aquilina).jpg

    Aquilina's oil lamp - a gift to the Queen (Photo - Department of Information).JPGA silver sugar-basin produced by Aquilina (Photo - Joseph Aquilina).JPG

    Within his small workshop in Zejtun, 68 year old silversmith Joseph Aquilina, can still do wonders with precious metals. Having worked as a silversmith from age 14, he has gained so much mastery in this trade that one of his creations was donated to Queen Elizabeth II during the celebrations of Malta’s Independence in 1964. Nowadays, his expertise is particularly focused on the restoration of antique objects which adorn our churches.

    Aquilina learnt this trade from his father Joseph who was originally from Cospicua. Before World War II, Cospicua was renowned for some of the most skillfull silversmiths who eventually had to move to other areas in Malta when this zone became a target to heavy attacks and bombardments.

    From early childhood, Aquilina was very interested in his father’s work and he spent hours observing him working silver items in his shop at St Mary Square in Zejtun. At age 12, he used to rush at the shop immediately after school in order to join silver beads together to produce rosaries for his father’s clients.

    Aquilina knew that he was hooked to this trade but he never dreamt that at age 14, he would be obliged to choose between attending school and becoming a silversmith! It all happened when one day, a social service inspector called at their shop and found him doing some work. It was useless to insist that the boy was only helping his father because the inspector maintained that if the boy wanted to stay in the shop, he had to register for employment within 15 days. And that was the end of his schooldays.

    “School meant nothing to me at that time and I thought that it was a great opportunity to start doing what I was really passionate about. However, when in later years I had to manage my business and was faced with several difficulties due to my brief education, I realized that leaving school at such an early age was definitely a huge mistake,” admitted Aquilina.

    His father was greatly disciplined in his trade and he demanded the same diligence from his son. Above all, he wanted to pass to him all the knowledge that he had inherited from past generations. Yet this was no easy task since the silversmith’s trade expands vastly and covers areas which include work in silver, gold, filigree and the setting of diamonds.

    “Nowadays, most silversmiths choose to specialize in just one of these sectors, but when I was learning the trade, one had to learn to deal with all these areas in order to become a professional. It took long years until you were regarded to be competent enough to open your own business. That was why it was necessary to start at a very young age in this trade and to take matters very seriously.”
    Interestingly, Aquilina succeeded to attain his father’s complete trust by disobeying him.

    “My father expected utter attention during work, both because he wanted the final product to be impeccable, and also because the slightest mistake could be very costly, especially when we were using gold. He put so much pressure upon me that at first, I felt terrified of him and I did not dare to do anything which he did not ask for.”

    Yet one day, Aquilina felt confident enough to try his luck by operating the soldering equipment which his father had adamantly prohibited him to use. Indeed, whilst his father went to church to attend a Lent sermon, Aquilina asked his mother to give him her gold wedding ring in order to cut it in half and reconstruct it again. His mother accepted without a second thought and Aquilina hurried to the workshop, broke the ring in two, switched on the gas, prepared the soldering equipment and trembling with excitement, he quickly joined the two parts together. He did such an excellent job that his mother could not identify any signs that her ring had been broken, and when she told her husband about this and he inspected the ring, a bright smile lit on his face. His son had finally made it!

    From then on, Aquilina had his father’s complete respect and he started to produce his own creations for their clients. He had learnt this trade in the traditional way where everything was done by hand, and to keep in line with this method, he decided to focus on the antique style. This stratagem worked perfectly with those connoisseurs who appreciated refined local craftsmanship.

    “I am proud to say that many of my works can be found among the collections of several local and foreign distinguished individuals. Most of my creations consisted of antique Maltese style coffee sets which included only three items: a coffee pot, a sugar-basin and a milk jug, since tea was not popular back then.”

    Some of Aquilina’s works have often been selected to be given as gifts to foreign individuals.

    “I made a particular silver sugar-basin for a group of Drydocks’ workers who wanted to give it to their British Admiral when he ended his job in Malta. Yet surely, the most popular item that I produced, was the 14 inch oil lamp which the Government of Malta ordered directly from me during the period of the 1970s and 1980s in order to consign it to the foreign delegations who visited our country.”

    Meanwhile, even though throughout the years, there were many machines available which could ease the difficulty of the job and hurry the flow of work, Aquilina always refused to use them.

    “That is the only way of keeping the profession’s prestige and the value of your creations,” Aquilina insisted. “When this type of work is done by machines, the product will loose all its significance because nothing can replace the creative fabrication of the human hand. A handmade product is unique because one can rarely create an object exactly like another. Contrarily, the very precision of objects which are executed by machines will simply turn them into ordinary copies.”

    In order to design and work his particular creations, at times Aquilina had to manufacture his own tools. Yet apart from the ingeniousness required in order to assemble these devices, it was fascinating to know the stories behind the origin of some of the material.

    “Look at these heavy hammers and feel how heavy they are,” he told me with a mischievous look as he brought them near. “I bet that no one would ever guess what they are made of until I tell them myself!”

    Certainly, I did not have the slightest idea.

    “These were some of the huge bolts that formed part of the ‘Angel Gabriel’; the Greek tanker which in 1969 got shipwrecked near the area of the ex-Jerma Palace Hotel in Marsascala. I obtained them when the ship was being broken down into pieces in order to clear the coast.”

    Another curious fact about this trade is that whenever a new silversmith is authorized to start his/her business, he/she is given a personal stamp with which to mark each object that they make. This stamp will be unique and it cannot be transferred to another person. Therefore, each silversmith’s work can always be recognized, no matter how much time elapses.

    In order to explain better, Aquilina referred to an old and rare book ‘The Goldsmiths of Malta and their Marks’ (1972) which was published by Chev Victor Fredrick Denaro; a pioneer in the study of ancient silver in Malta. In this book, one finds significant information about the ancient trade of silversmiths which goes back to the period of the Knights of St John. Meanwhile, this publication includes also all the local silversmiths’ stamps together with their relevant details; starting from the Knights period up to 1972.

    “This book is very precious to me particularly because it helps me to identify the silversmiths of the antique objects which I work on. This will also determine the period of the objects’ manufacture with more precision, and thereby I can understand better which materials and which procedures were involved in its making,” explained Aquilina.

    The restoration of antique metal objects requires high expertise and attention since one small mistake could ruin them completely. Indeed, in these last years Aquilina was responsible for the restoration of various treasured items which include: the restoration of the silver crown of the icon of the Madonna of Carafa that is located within the Co-Cathedral of St John in Valletta, the restoration of the silver leaves that form part of the decoration of the relic of St John the Baptist which is situated in the Museum of the same Co-Cathedral, and in the restoration of the sword of the titular statue of St Catherine in the Parish of Zejtun.

    (This article was published in the ‘Art, Antiques and Restoration’ Supplement of The Times of Malta dated 12th November 2014)

    2014.11.12 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta