Exploring Gent – Tips on where to go!

Hi guys, just got back from a two-week stint in the Lake District, UK! Was so amazing! I really want to write all about it but since I had already started writing about my previous trip in Belgium, I’d rather finish telling you all about that first. So, here goes!

During our third day in Belgium, we explored the medieval city of Ghent. Ghent is called the ‘Flower City‘ because of its fertile soil and flourishing colorful greenery, however personally I’d rather call it ‘Little Venice’ or ‘the City of the Canals’, because, of course, it is riddled with picturesque winding canals, just begging to be explored through a boat ride (which in fact, I actually did… more about that in another blog post).

The largest canal is called the ‘Sea Canal’ and it actually links Ghent to the port of Terneuzen in the Netherlands, thereby providing a great route for exporting products made in Ghent, most especially textiles. The canal is, of course, man-made, and it was constructed in 1827.

Wherever there are canals, there are of course bridges. Ghent, being a completely medieval cobbled city, is endowed with some magnificent stone bridges. The largest one, and the one I made a point of traversing, was the Saint Michielsbrug, which is an imposing stone arch in the middle of the city, and which was built in 1909. From the bridge, one can admire a magnificent view of the city center, with its gothic Cathedral and Baroque Town Hall. Not to mention all the cute medieval houses and many of the other canals! So very romantic!

Perhaps not so well known, is the so-named ‘Graffiti Street‘, which is, actually, a narrow winding street full of the most artistic and eccentric sprayed paintings imaginable. Unlike the rest of Ghent, this is a modern addition to the other-wise historical town. Yet, it does not detract from the town’s medieval charm. Rather, it adds some special quirkiness and color. It is actually quite hard to find and we had a merry time exploring the winding hidden alleys of Ghent while trying to find it!

No one can visit Gent without admiring its Stadhuis, or Town Hall. Built in the late flamboyant Gothic style, in the 16th century, the Stadhuis of Gent is quite large and contains a chapel, a throne room, and an arsenal hall. And talking about gothic architecture – make sure you also visit Saint Bavo’s Cathedral! The photos say it all!

Last, but certainly not least (before the boat ride, that is), we climbed up the many stairs to the famous Gent Belfry Tower, which is the tallest building in Gent. The view from up there was simply breathtaking and quite well worth the climb!

P.S Don’t forget to also take a look at the Gravensteen Palace which is a real fairytale castle! It also served as a location for the filming of the T.V series ‘The White Queen’, which I love by the way. 

More about this trip will be written in future blog posts.

Please note that all photos are originals taken by me on site (apart from these last 3 of the Castle which were taken by my other half).

 

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Antwerp – The Cult of the Phallus…

Hidden behind its Catholic exterior, each medieval city hides another face. The face of its pagan origins. Before the Gothic Cathedrals, the religious paintings and the traditionally approved cobbled towns we see today, there existed other beliefs, other modes of life, other realities.

This was most apparent when, after visiting the current historic center of Antwerp, with its magnificently decorated Town Hall and its awe-inspiring Cathedral of Our Lady (described in my previous blog post), we made our way to the Het Steen, or Steen Castle, which is the oldest building in Antwerp, and which used to be the previous center of the city.

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The Het Steen, also known as the Fortress of Antwerp, was built in the Early Middle Ages, after the Viking incursions. It stands on the banks of the river, and serves as the current Museum of Archaeology. 

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As one walks towards this Medieval Castle, with its witch-hat capped towers and rounded windows, the first thing one is faced with is, funnily enough, an enormous statue of a man with a GIANT phallus. Other, smaller people gasping and pointing at the phallus are also part of the statue’s tableau. Honestly, when I saw it first I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. It really jarred with the rest of the medieval atmosphere. It had nothing to do with the Catholic medieval town.

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Later, I was told that the statue represented the Scandinavian god Semini. He was a god of fertility and youth, to whom women traditionally appealed if they wanted children. To be honest, I found this quite strange as usually fertility deities tend to be female (for obvious reasons). However I was so speechless while being confronted with that statue with its… er… protruding parts, that I couldn’t really do anything except laugh. Anyways; it seems that Semini was the original god of the town of Antwerp, whose inhabitants were referred to as ‘the Children of Semini’. When the Catholic church established its hold on the town, they reviled Semini, and his cult. Of course, I imagine that the people continued to pray to their god in secret, and later on, when society permitted it, erected this statue in his ‘honor’.

After visiting the Het Steen, we spied the beautiful Standspark, a serene green park with a celestial lake and a number of tame waterfowl, and decided to take a walk and relax while surrounded by nature.

It was quite romantic and a much needed break our sightseeing.

 

The Treasures of Antwerp Square

If you think about it, the Flemish mush have been very neat people. I say this because when I was in Belgium, each of the major Flemish medieval cities was structured in the same way. Be it Ghent, Bruges, Brussels or Antwerp – each of these cities, built during the middle ages, sprawls around one large main square which is surrounded on all four sides by important buildings built in a gothic architectural style. Each square in each city has a Town Hall, where decisions about the city were taken by the Town Major, important meetings took place, and where people even got married (and still do actually). There is also always at least one cathedral, usually sporting a very tall tower with a magnificently crafted large clock at the top.

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This is the Town Hall, or City Hall in Antwerp, also called the Stadhuis. It stands on the western side of Market Square and was built in the 16th century. Its facade is richly ornamented and quite impressive, decorated with various well-crafted statues. Unfortunately, we couldn’t actually get inside the Standhuis because there was a private wedding taking place, and access was, of course, prohibited unless you were invited. So, we turned right around… to be confronted by the majestic Cathedral of Our Lady on the other side of the square.

 

Hauntingly gothic on the outside and beautifully baroque on the inside. I can never have enough of visiting Gothic Cathedrals! And no, I am not Catholic, it’s the art and architecture itself that I love. Those people invested everything they had in their cathedrals, it was the place where they went to dream and hope for a better tomorrow. In a world of misery, pain, and poverty, peasants had nothing else beautiful to look at. Imagine, even today, when we have all our geegaws, out plasma screens and hi-tech computers, when we all know how to read and write and are able to amuse ourselves, even NOW we are awed by these amazing gothic structures… now imagine people who have absolutely nothing – how THEY must have felt when entering a place of such incredible breathtaking beauty!

Anyways, hehe yes I love art and I love architecture.

 

Moving on, the Cathedral is full of paintings done by Rubens, the artist whose house I had visited just before (see previous post). And just look at that stained glass!

 

Oh and by the way, did I mention all those other historic medieval houses around the square? Today, most of them are restaurants and pubs, but they still contain their original magic. Imagine having a drink in a 600 year old bar!

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In conclusion – 10 points to Antwerp Square!!

Important Churches in Valletta

Valletta, Malta’s capital city, is a real testament to Malta’s Catholic faith. Built by the Order of the Knights of Saint John, which was a Catholic Military Order, the city became the capital one year after its construction was completed, that is, in 1571. A jewel of historic architecture, Valletta boasts more than 25 churches and chapels, most of which were originally first built during the 16th and 17th centuries, and which contain innumerable and priceless works of art.

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First and foremost among these, one must surely mention Saint John’s Co-Cathedral. Found in Saint John Square and built in the 1570s, this co-cathedral is a distinct architectural treasure designed by the famed Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar, and decorated internally by the well-known Italian Baroque artist Mattia Preti. Although its intricately ornate interior is Baroque in style, the co-cathedral’s exterior is of the Mannerist style. It contains nine rich chapels, as well as notable works of art attributed to such painters as Caravaggio, as well as a number of medieval artifacts and tapestries. The floor is covered with inlaid marble tombstones, commemorating the more illustrious knights of the Order of Saint John, as well as a number of Grand Masters.

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The Church of Our Lady of the Victories, situated in South Street, is not just the oldest Church in Valletta, but actually the first building to be completed in the city. Built to commemorate the victory of the Maltese and the Knights of the Order over the Ottoman invaders in the Great Siege of 1565, it was chosen by the Knights as their Parish Church at the time.

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When one looks at Valletta’s imposing silhouette, one of the most visible features is surely the large round dome belonging to the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Originally dedicated to Our Lady of the Annunciation, this church was given to the order of the Carmelites in the 17th century, after which it received its present patronage. The original structure was seriously damaged during the Second World War, leading to the facade being re-designed.

Although almost all churches in Valletta are Roman Catholic, one cannot fail to mention Saint Paul’s Pro-Cathedral, to be found in Independence Square. This Anglican Cathedral, commissioned in the 19th century, is one of three such Cathedrals within the Anglican Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe. Its 60 meter-long steeple is a landmark in Valletta, and it is predominantly neo-classical in style.

This article of mine was published on LivinginMalta.com – to read the rest of it, go here.

Easter Celebrations in Malta

Malta is a predominantly Catholic country, this means that most Maltese follow and adhere to a yearly religious calendar which gives importance to a number of recurring feasts and traditions. Among these, Easter is one of the most prominent periods, since it not only has a specific religious meaning, symbolizing the rising of Christ, but also coincides with the beginning of Spring, which also serves to bring new life in nature, better weather, a flourishing of crops, and add energy and verve to the life of each individual in general.

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During this time, numerous processions, plays, marches and celebrations take place throughout the islands of Malta and Gozo, since here, Easter celebration can be said to be at a par with Christmas. As in most Mediterranean countries, Malta starts to officially celebrate the Easter period with Palm Sunday, which this year will be on Sunday 9th April. Many activities take place even before that, during Holy Week, which technically commences on the Friday preceding Good Friday, when the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows is carried in a procession through the streets of Valletta and many other towns and villages. This is a historic and traditional demonstration, where penitents who have made certain vows or asked for intercession from above, walk barefoot through the streets behind the procession, with chains and shackles tied to their feet as a symbol of their guilt and willingness to atone for their sins.

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Prior to Good Friday, many believers also celebrate Maundy Thursday or, as it is known in Maltese, ‘Ħamis ix-Xirka’, whereby most churches are decorated with flowers, models of the last supper, pennons and other specific decorations. During Maundy Thursday, it is traditional for the devout to perform ‘The Seven Visits’, or ‘Is-Sebgħa Visti’, which entails visiting and praying at seven different churches. Maundy Thursday is also referred to as Holy Thursday or the Mass of the Chrism, since on this day, the Archbishop of Malta blesses the Holy Oils during a ceremony at St. John’s Cathedral in Valletta.

Good Friday, which is a National Public Holiday in Malta, is considered to be a serious and solemn occasion. Churches are adorned with dark colors, and several processions occur throughout most towns and villages in Malta and Gozo, where priests or devout carry different statues symbolizing the Passion of Christ. Most villages also prepare short dramas or plays, enacted by devout dressed as characters from the Bible. Processions are almost always accompanied by marching bands, playing funeral marches or religious songs.

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The mood of the celebrations starts to change on Saturday evening. This is known as Holy Saturday and while starting in a somber manner, culminates with a celebration whereby all churches are illuminated with candles, lights, song and the tolling of the bells.

Easter Sunday, starts with a procession which commemorates the Risen Christ. The most famous of all such processions which take place around the island is surely the one which takes place in Valletta, and which is organised by the Confraternity of the Risen Christ, which traces its origins to the 17th century. The procession is a festive one, accompanied by beautiful traditional tunes and statues. Children also form an important part of the procession, carrying traditional foods and sweets, of which the most important is surely the ‘figolla’. This is a Maltese sugar and almond pastry which can only be found served in Maltese bakeries and confectioneries during the period of Easter, since it is synonymous with this feast.

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© DDM

This article was published on LivingInMalta.com – to view the complete article go here.

The History of the Maltese Carnival

Carnival in Malta has a long history. The word itself originates from the Italian phrase ‘carne vale’, which means ‘meat is allowed’, since Carnival itself is usually celebrated before the start of Lent, during which meat consumption was not permitted by the Catholic church.photo-by-photocity-3-copy-1100x616

Although the origins of Carnival themselves have pagan roots, tracing back to the follies of the Roman Saturnalia and beyond, we first find actual traces of it in the Maltese islands as of the 1400s, as records were found at the general hospital which indicate that patients were given special meals for this festivity. Food and drink in fact are an important aspect of Carnival, as is the wearing of masks and costumes, signifying the suspension of the normal order of things where social class was all-defining. During Carnival, everyone could make merry. It was a time for jokes, laughter and pranks.

Carnival festivities increased during the time of the Order of Saint John, and the traditional ‘parata’, the sword-dance marking the victory of the Maltese and the Knights against the Turks during the siege of 1565, was introduced. The ‘kukkanja’ was also introduced at this time, this was a sort of game whereby all sorts of food and sweets were tied to a tree-trunk, and the general public was allowed to run and climb the trunk to pick items of food as presents.

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Carnival started to decline during the 19th century when the British governed the islands, as it was not part of British culture, however it still managed to survive. ‘Veljuni’ or masked balls were held in major theaters around Valletta, and even the British governor used to take part in the revelry. When Malta was granted the Constitution in 1921, Carnival evolved even further. Since 1926, outdoor Carnival festivities started being organised in Valletta by special committee. Carnival started to include a défilé of floats, carts and cabs featuring imaginary colorful figures, manned by young people in costume who would blow whistles, throw colored confetti, sound horns and jeer at the crowd while wearing beautifully crafted costumes. Shops or organisations sponsored these floats and they used the event also as an advertisement for their products. In fact, carnival boosts business since street hawkers, vendors and shopkeepers, not to mention bakers, start to plan for it well in advance.

Up to 1974, a part of Valletta’s main square was fenced to create an enclosure which offered space for dancing. Later, the enclosure was relocated to Freedom Square, however when this was closed for the building of Parliament, the enclosure was taken back to Saint George Square.

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Many people could be seen masquerading through the streets as of pre-war days. Some dressed up as ghosts, demons, clowns and fairies, while others simply wore masks. The Maltese Carnival always contained an element of political satire. Grotesquely costume masquers, not to mention floats or ‘karrijiet’ which derided and caricatured particular events and prominent figures, were and are plentiful during this time.

This article was published on LivingInMalta.com – a complete version of it can be found here.

Order

In the beaming of the Moon
the stars go on arolling
under his patriarchal eye
healthily aglowing

A stream, a glade, a shallow reef
they all spread out on yonder
beneath his benign fragile gaze
in fearful harmony and wonder

Nothing could ever break that look
surrounding them, so strictly
Nothing could ever distort the order
regimenting them so thickly

For his stern paternal gaze
is what keeps them in line
willy-nilly, it’s always there
ever controlling their shine

For what would happen without the Moon
in the dark of the endless sky?
What would the twinkling stars do
all alone up above so high?

How could their light reach over it all
with no shepherd there to guide them?
How could they find the way to go
with no sergeant to deride them?

It would be chaos! It would be wild!
There would be no end to it!
How they would dance, jump and cavort
for sure the globe would be too brightly lit!

No no, such things are not to happen
no play or song, no laughter or brightness, ever
The Moon is there as it has always been
Set the clock, turn around, yes forever

©M.A

 

Allura l-‘Gays’ “itghuk f’ghajnejk” Gianluca Bezzina?

Seriously?!

Apart from the fact that I really don’t get how just because someone knows how to sing, s/he suddenly expects to become an ‘ambassador for the people’ and ‘represent’ the majority of them (they most certainly do NOT represent me!). And apart from the fact that the guy himself hardly appears to be this paragon of straight heterosexuality (Matthew Grech style). Seems to me like certain people are so afraid of their nature that they become extremists advocating the other side of the issue.

Anyways, private conjectures aside – what is obvious here is that after whirling and twirling around the issue, we still realize that this ‘boy next door’ whom the desperate Maltese housewives love so much, is another hypocritical soft-spoken homophobic wannabe who, while preaching love and tolerance, also preaches close mindedness and non-inclusion. Way to go… why don’t all these people do us a favor, get into a time-machine, and go back to the Dark Ages where they obviously feel that they belong? I’m sure the world would leap towards peace and prosperity in a jiffy if that happened!

Oh for a time-machine! My kingdom, for a time-machine!

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Gianluca Bezzina attends the Nationalist Party’s General Council and appears to have gone on a subtle Catholic-induced homophobic rant. While I am all for freedom of expression, people with a certain public image should really thread carefully in expressing their views that impact different societal situations.

(Photo credit: InsiterOnline)

Quoting Dr Bezzina from his nervous and uncomfortable speech:

“As a person, I am not very interested in politics, but I do follow current events around the world and in Malta. Something which has really been irritating me lately, and which I feel very strongly about, is that I am slowly seeing human being’s values and morals changing drastically” – Gianluca chose to speak about morals and values at a political event. Ah to be young and naive.

“We are living in times where the general mentality is becoming more liberal, where if I feel that something is good, I…

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The Hypocrisy of the word ‘Tradition’ in Malta

It is intrinsically hypocritical how society sometimes uses the word ‘tradition’ to cloak its most disgusting habits. As though ‘tradition’ were an excuse. Yes, we are the only country in the European Union which sanctions spring hunting. It’s ‘tradition’. Yes, we have ‘karrozzini‘, that is small horse-drawn carriages which clog the streets and pester tourists to slowly view the capital city while riding, jostling and sweating, on malnourished and dehydrated horses at exorbitant prices – it’s ‘tradition’. Yes, many people pen said horses in small unlighted rooms where they have to stay for days on end in the sweltering heat, beat them into submission when they make too much noise, and snap at anyone who dares to say that Malta is not a country which can support such big animals, since we do not have extra land to pasture them and let them graze in (we ARE a fairly small island after all), but hey, it’s ‘tradition’!

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What about all those minorities who do not fit into what the masses still think of as ‘tradition’? How about that monstrously glorified institution – the ‘traditional’ family? During election-times super-inflated posters portraying dear grandma with her knitting, grandpa and his bushy eyebrows, handsome daddy, petite MILFY mommy, a Pollyanna-like daughter, a buck-toothed cheeky son, a fluffy dog and a charming cat, swallow streets, roads, roundabouts and every blank wall imaginable – what about all the single-parent families? What about families where there is only one grandma and one daddy, but no mummy? What about, all the gods forbid, having two parents of the same gender? What about couples without children? Of course, these do not fall within the ‘traditional family’ type the archbishop of Malta loves to talk about in his sermons, so they are ignored like the plague.

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Some time ago, while going to the hairdresser’s after work, I was stupefied and stunned when, as I was passing in front of a private meeting place for a particular Christian group, I saw a notice quoting the Bishop and the Archbishop. I simply had to stop and read it, even though it turned my stomach. No, I am not going to go into details here, suffice it to say that the description of the ‘traditional family’; what it ought to be, and what it ‘has become’ due to the distancing of the people from the church, was simply illuminating.

Honestly, one must not only be blind and obtuse and totally out of this world to not realize WHY people are alienating themselves from this kind of mentality. About bloody time too! How anyone could swallow this type of elitist hatred-inducing bullshit is quite beyond me. Some people just like feeling that they are part of a ‘special’ club I suppose, even though it sucks. It’s like the bullies at school. They usually conglomerate in a group because this makes them feel like they are better than everybody else – the superior race of hypocritical opportunism if you will.

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I am not saying that every Christian is like this, nor that every religion is (though yes many individuals DO view religion in this manner – talk about psychosis), however this mentality of exclusion is unfortunately permeating Malta, and it has been doing this for as long as I can remember. Shall we clap our hands and swallow it all, simply because this corrupt and intolerant mentality is ‘traditional’ – in that it has been unchanging in a long time? Well, apparently as soon as one affixes the magical word ‘tradition’ to something, it becomes untouchable, so… why not?

*Sigh*

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I hope you DO get my world-weary sarcasm here?

The Pope says that Trans people ‘destroy creation’ and compares them to Nuclear Weapons…

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/danthropology/2015/02/pope-francis-says-trans-people-destroy-creation-and-compares-them-to-nuclear-weapons/?utm_content=buffer4f603&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

And this is a religion which prides itself on promoting the precepts of love and tolerance?

Seriously… the mind boggles…