Għajnsielem and Fort Chambray

Għajnsielem, found on the southern coast of the island of Gozo, is the first village one meets as he leaves Mġarr Harbour towards the capital city of Victoria. The name of the village means ‘Peaceful Spring’, in reference to a number of natural springs in the area which were probably the reason why people settled here in the first place.

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Għajnsielem became an official Parish in 1855, with its Patron Saint being Our Lady of Loreto, and the village feast being celebrated each year on the last Sunday of August. It is also interesting to note that the island of Comino falls under the responsibility of the local council of Għajnsielem.

Though Għajnsielem is not large, it contains many popular places of interest, most notably the Prehistoric Temples of ‘Tal-Imrejżeb’, ‘Tal-Qigħan’ Prehistoric Temple, Lourdes Chapel, Mġarr ix-Xini Tower, Saint Cecilia Tower and Chapel, and Fort Chambray amongst others.

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Fort Chambray is an old fortress built at the top of a hill called ‘Ras it-Tafal’, or Blue Clay Point, which is situated between Mġarr Harbour and x-Xatt l-Aħmar. It started to be constructed in the year 1722, during the reign of Grand Master Antoine Manuel de Vilhena (1722 – 1736) of the Order of Saint John. Originally, the idea for building the Fort was for it to be a starting point to build a new capital city to replace the Citadel (Ċittadella), however this plan never came to fruition, and in fact the actual completion of the fort was shelved for some time due to lack of funds. It was in 1749 that a Norman Count of the Order of Saint John named Francois Chambray offered to finance the full expense of the construction, which is why the fort was named after him. During that time, the islands were under the governance of the Grand Master Manuel Pinto de Fonseca (1741 – 1773). The Fort was built in order to safeguard the island of Gozo from pirates, and it was finally completed in 1758. It was used to house the Government’s Palace, administration buildings, and a chapel.

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In 1798, Fort Chambray saw its first military use, during the French invasion of the Maltese Islands. The knight De Megrigny, who at the time commanded the Fort, offered it as a place of shelter for many Gozitans, who took refuge inside with their livestock and possessions.

Unfortunately, the Fort was later forced to surrender, after which it was manned by a French garrison. Months later, the Gozitans rebelled and re-took possession of the Fort…

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This article was published on LivingInMalta – to read the rest of it, please go here.

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Maltese Door Knockers

One cannot visit Malta without noticing the typical Maltese architecture prevalent in most cities and villages around the islands. When it comes to the embellishment of their traditional houses and monuments, the Maltese are one of the most colourful and creative country in Europe, decorating their facades with picturesque balconies, sculptured windows and shutters, and whimsical door-knockers.

History tells us that in pre-medieval and early medieval times, people did not knock on doors, but in fact used to scratch at them in order to announce their presence. Today, this may sound very strange and unpractical, yet one must remember that few if any Maltese used to actually lock their doors at the time, and that bashing at one’s facade was considered quite rude.

With the passage of time, the practice of scratching at doors was replaced with knocking, and this is how the “ħabbata” or door knocker, entered the picture. These door-knockers, which were available in numerous motifs, shapes and sizes, were to be found on every town house and dwelling, and helped the residents to either open or close their doors more easily. Door knockers could be made of ceramic, metal, or even brass, and each door usually had two of them – one on each side, or wing, of the main door, which was thus given a more stately and elegant look.

At the time, these door knockers were very important in that they served as a symbol of the status of the family who lived within the walls of the particular house. Knockers consisting merely of a plain ring denoted a simple family, whereas more elaborate rich knockers were a sign of affluence and power. The door knockers also reflected the personality and even the work or history of the family, in that they could portray the family crest or an allusion to it.

There are different types of door knockers in Malta.The traditional type consists of a ball or boss with holes at the side, from which a heavy semi-circular ring hangs. Usually in the middle of this ring, there is a small ball which hits against a round boss fixed to the door at a lower level. These types of knockers, which were often coloured black, could be found on all types of urban or rural buildings, even farmhouses. With time, more elaborate door knockers started to be crafted or imported. Sometimes the knocker ball was transformed into the head of a slave, an animal, a gargoyle, or a family crest. These would have holes in their faces or main part, from which a semi-circular ring hung. The sea-faring nature of the island was reflected in many of the most recurrent motifs like dolphins, seahorses, and sirens.

The upper classes and the members of the aristocracy had large baroque brass door knockers fixed to their main doors, in order to impress any visitor who might come to call. Door knockers also advertised the level of cleanliness of the house, as their shine would show the visitor that the family could employ maids who took care to polish and wax such decorations regularly.

As time passed, mechanical doorbells and intercoms started to take the place of door knockers, in that these were actually cheaper and produced a louder sound. Nonetheless, many people not only maintain the traditional knockers, but also continue to commission new designs, in a bid to conserve and highlight the unique identity of Malta, and preserve its heritage.

Just take a relaxed stroll down the idyllic cobbled streets of Valletta, Mdina or Cittadella, not to mention other typical villages like Qormi or Birkirkara, and you will certainly have the opportunity to admire many of these authentic works of art.

This article of mine was published on http://livinginmalta.com/miscellaneuos/maltese-door-knocker/

Medieval Mdina 2015 – Fun vs Stress!

I have been taking part in Medieval re-enactment events for around five years now I think. Re-enactment is a lot of fun, but it is also a lot of work, since it entails research and dedication. Schedules may create a huge problem when one is busy, as I am now (I am trying hard not to mention the reason for now, since some things are not certain yet), however I did my best to at least take part in the largest Medieval re-enactment event in Malta – that is, Medieval Mdina.11150445_10202941013445574_9091571844769933387_nMdina is one of the oldest cities in Malta. It was our old capital city (before this became Valletta), and it is a real gem in that it is not only surrounded by almost intact original Medieval fortifications, but that even its streets, buildings and tiny churches retain their original Medieval structure. It is here that once each year, the Local Council, supported by other institutions, organizes the Medieval Mdina Festival, which consists mainly of Medieval re-enactments, that is, battles, skirmishes, mini-plays, etc, but also other things like children’s entertainment and a Maltese market.11174364_10153169035657225_4141713534861189242_oLast week I also wrote an article for the magazine EVE about it, which one can read here http://www.eve.com.mt/events/the-medieval-mdina-festival-2015/ The Festival spans two whole days – that is Saturday and Sunday. I was unable to participate on Saturday this year, however I did go for the full day on Sunday, and had a lot of fun too. WP_20150419_10_35_51_ProI am a member of a Medieval re-enactment group called Anakron, and we had various settings, which were prepared by the group itself. These consisted of a tavern, a ‘healer’s’ section with all the instruments of the time, a forge, a weapons’ display and even a section with some penned animals! I was posted mainly at the Medieval tavern. My boyfriend is one of the warriors, and these were divided into two groups and had a ‘skirmish/play’ to perform twice a day. It was great fun, even though he got killed twice, and was accidentally wacked over the head with a lance (he has a bump the size of an egg now poor mite lol).11146653_415903498590130_3416647958152944126_o11154672_415901328590347_4192225215605107363_oBeing a reenactor is pretty expensive, since all our clothes, underclothes, and props have to be bought by ourselves at specialized shops. This is also true for eating utensils (mostly made out of pottery or wood). We are a semi-professional group, and yet Anakron is pretty strict in that everything has to be done according to realism. For example, garments at the time were mostly made out of cotton or wool, so no velvet, brocade, lace, satin, or other materials may be used. Certain colours like purple and red were reserved for the nobility, so since we mostly portray peasants, we cannot use those either. A far cry from T.V serieses like ‘Reign’ and ‘The Tudors’, who for someone like me, who is kind of wary of this kind of thing at this point, are a real eyesore, since they are not historically correct at all.

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It’s a real pity that there are not many of these Medieval festivals in Malta, even though right now to be honest, it is a relief too, because I have other priorities which are taking up my life and my time at the moment. Hobbies are all very well and good, and socializing is important, since I would go crazy if I couldn’t let my hair down and enjoy myself once in a while, however priorities are another matter entirely. When a hobby becomes a ‘job’, something you know you must do, and not something that you choose to do because you simply enjoy it, then it stops being a hobby, and starts becoming a stressful leash and pain in the bum, which is why at the moment I am really easing off certain things, in order to finish others. This is why, unfortunately, at the moment I have let my blog go as well. If things go as they should however, by this time next week, life will be quite a tad easier, and I will be able to write more too 😀

Knights in Shining Armour. Do they really exist??

‘In movies, knights in shining armour are the order of the day. Be they the metaphorical knights in love stories, who save damsels in distress from semi-perilous or uncomfortable situations, or actual medieval knights jousting during festive tourneys or challenges.

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Real war however, is very different. Actual knights during medieval times were war machines. They were men trained to kill, men trained to obey orders, men following a cause. Training to murder someone in the name of honour is a paradox. At least, that’s how we perceive it in this day and age – when the death penalty is a subject which promotes controversy, as are issues such as suicide and euthanasia. At the time, it was the most common thing in the world however – something which, I think, people of our age can never fully comprehend. That is how much the concept of killing has changed.

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From the youngest age, Maltese children are all taught their historical background as Maltese citizens at school. We are told about the glorious Knights Hospitallers of Saint John, who came to Malta after battling in the crusades, and established the different auberges in Birgu and then in Valletta. Most importantly, we are taught about the Grand Siege, when the Knights and the Maltese battled against the Turks, who wanted to invade our islands. These are our roots and it is what we are made of. The blood and the sweat of those who fought in the name of freedom, will never be forgotten. And yet, do we really know what that means?

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Yesterday, I started researching and reading a bit about the Order of Saint John in Malta, and I remembered certain things which at the time, did not seem important to a child’s mind, but which now have different connotations. I read and remembered that they are the oldest Order of Knights still in existence, that they were rivals with the Order of the Templars, and that while they were in Malta, since a large percentage of their income had been reduced for a number of reasons, they turned into smugglers and corsairs, that is pirates who raided Turkish towns upon the coast of North Africa, and then sold the plunder they took.

Knights turned pirates, warrior monks battling Turks …’

This article is original and copyrighted. Want to read the rest of it? Please visit –

http://www.eve.com.mt/2015/02/08/knights-in-shining-armour-do-they-really-exist/

Thanks!! Would be interesting to read what you think about it too. You can comment here or on eve.com

New writing commission on HISTORICAL MALTA finally published online!

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At the beginning of January, I was contacted by a Polish guy with a project called CASTLES, who had read one of my articles and asked me to work free-lance with his Polish tourism website, providing historical writings on Malta, that is, on Maltese medieval structures and other important periodic landmarks. I already wrote a bit about it in a previous entry – https://ddmoonsong.wordpress.com/2015/01/04/new-freelancing-job-writing-about-medieval-malta/

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I sent in my first five contributions last week, and guess what? The first three of them are up today!! Check it out! – http://www.castles.today/en/castles/castles/malta/

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I am just so proud to be putting Malta on this touristic and historical landmark. It was also very interesting to research all these important places which all form part of my country’s rich past. I have already submitted another proposal for five more articles to the founder of the project and he has accepted, so more to come!! 😀

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Malta is such a beautiful country. Most Maltese don’t appreciate that, but I do. Obviously, since I’m a Medieval Reenactor as well 🙂

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Church Massacres 7,000 in the name of Catholicism

No, it did not happen today. It did not happen yesterday. It happened more than 800 years ago in 1209. Does that make it ok?

While we still bemoan awful events like the 9/11 twin tower bombings and the disappearance of Madeline McCann, society in general seems to have conveniently forgotten the atrocities done in the name of Catholicism, preferring instead to foist all the blame and religious fanaticism on Islamic belief.

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In 1209 the then-current Pope declared a ‘crusade’ against a sect of the Catholic church known as Cathars, branding them as heretics because of their differences in practiced creed. Papal knights and delegates were sent to Southern France to exterminate and eradicate all of the Cathars (of which there were thousands), while confiscating their properties, palaces and money.

When they arrived at the outskirts of Beziers, a city in the County of Languedoc, the Papal legate wrote a list of 222 names and sent it to the Mayor, demanding that these people would be sent over to him to be hanged, or else all would die. The city as one refused. After a siege, the ‘Papal knights’ entered the town slaughtering men, women and children right and left. The routiers rampaged through the streets, killing and plundering, while those citizens who could run sought refuge in the churches — the cathedral, the churches of St Mary Magdalene and of St Jude. Yet the churches did not provide safety against the raging mob of invaders. The doors of the churches were broken open, and all inside were massacred. It is estimated that 7,000 people died in the Church of St Mary Magdalene alone.

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The building of the church itself was not even respected as sanctuary… which goes to show what the ‘Papal legate’ and his ‘knights’ were really after.

After the massacre it came to the distribution of the city’s spoils. The crusader knights became enraged that the rabble of the army had already taken the plunder. They took control of the situation, chased them from the occupied houses and took their booty away. In turn, the angry and disappointed soldiers responded by burning down the town.

Nice.

Real religious and brave.

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The cherry on the cake? The papal legate himself knew that there were many innocents being killed – that is, non-Cathar worshippers. He is known to have told the knights to kill everyone anyway. His famously cited words were:

“Kill them all, God will know His own”

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I will be going to the Languedoc region and visiting Cathar castles and other related places next month. Can’t wait to learn more about them.

Searching for Knights

Pennons float, then snap in the conquering winds.
Shiny helmets flash in the meandering sun
Dappled horses sweat and paw at the ground
Strong hands grip somber cruel lances

The dust flies, the blood rises
steel meets flesh in a bath of cries and screams
Killer or killed, victim or destroyer
One and all – monsters and gods

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Yesterday I started my research for my latest writing commission (I had written about it here – https://ddmoonsong.wordpress.com/2015/01/04/new-freelancing-job-writing-about-medieval-malta/). Since part of what I was asked for was a rendition of the history of the Order of Saint John in Malta, I started reading a lot about it, and it brought it all back to life. Blessed be my unbound imagination.

Although I had learnt a bit about the Order of Saint John in my history class at school when I was quite young, most of it seems to have slithered past me since those years. Reading in detail about it, with the mind of an adult instead of a child, put everything in a different perspective. I remembered certain things which at the time, did not seem important to a child’s mind, but which now have different connotations. I read and remembered that they are the oldest Order of Knights still in existence, that they were rivals with the Order of the Knights Templars, and that while they were in Malta, since the Church had been stopping a large percentage of their income, they turned into smugglers and corsairs, that is pirates who raided Turkish towns upon the coast of North Africa, and then sold the plunder they took.

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What does that do to the concept of the ‘Knight in Shining armor’? Knights who fought for their honour, became nothing more than pirates when they lacked money. Not so heroic is it? Most girls dream of the perfect hero to come and sweep them off their feet, only to encounter the harsh reality – that no man is perfect, and that when one is in love, they have to put up with compromises if they want their relationship to work.

That, I guess, is called growing up.

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