Malta – The National Museum of Natural History

Natural history can be defined as being ‘the study of natural objects… the study of plants, animals, and sometimes ancient human civilizations’ (Merriam Webster Dictionary). This encompasses scientific research, but is not limited to it, being an ever-evolving discipline stemming back from the studies of Aristotle and other philosophers in the ancient world, continuing during the Middle Ages, and being further defined with the onset of scientific biology and disciplines such as zoology, palaeontology, botany and geology, amongst others.

In Malta, those interested in learning more about our islands’ origins and local natural history, can visit the National Museum of Natural History located in the old fortified medieval city of Mdina, that is the old capital city of Malta, which is situated in the Northern region of Malta. This museum is to be found within Vilhena Palace, also known as the Magisterial Palace of Justice or Palazzo Pretoria. This is a French-Baroque 18th century building named after Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhen, who originally commissioned it. The Palace was further used as a temporary hospital during a cholera outbreak in the 19th century and converted into a sanatorium by the British military during the 20th century. The sanatorium was closed in 1956, after which the Palace was opened to the public hosting Malta’s National Natural Museum, in 1973.

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The collections exhibited at the National Museum of Natural History include samples of flora and fauna, fossils, rocks, minerals, and dioramas of Maltese habitats. Display areas within the museum cover topics such as Maltese geology and palaeontology, exotic mammals, marine fauna, insects, shells and birds and other topics like human evolution. One hall focuses on the skeletal anatomy of vertebrates, one is dedicated to birds of the Maltese cliff habitat, and one shows the diversity of animals that frequent valleys. Another interesting display highlights the ecological importance of the islands of Filfla, Fungus Rock, St. Paul’s and Comino.

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The national bird; the Blue Rock Thrush (il-Merill), and the national plant of Malta; the Maltese Centaury (Widnet il-Baħar) are focused upon in a special section of the museum. There is also a reference library on natural sciences with over 4,000 titles mainly dedicated to the eighteenth and nineteenth century publications.

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The museum also houses historically important collections with over 10,000 rocks, 3,500 birds, 200 mammals, eggs and nests, over 200 types of fish, thousands of shells and insects from Malta and abroad and a very impressive fossils collection. The current display not only covers insects, birds and habitats but also human evolution and the marine ecosystem.

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Whether you are a local, or a tourist, there are many reasons to visit the National Museum of Natural History. Apart from the educational value inherent in the exhibitions, with interesting features covering various aspects of Maltese wildlife, the impressive Baroque style of the Palace itself is more than enough to make such a visit worthwhile.

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The Museum can be found at: Vilhena Palace, Saint Publius Square, Mdina, and it opens for the public from Monday to Sunday, from 9.00am to 5.00pm.

For more information, please visit – https://www.facebook.com/National-Museum-of-Natural-History-Mdina-MALTA-152354261490652/

This article was written by me and originally published on LivinginMalta.com

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The Mediterranean Island of Gozo – A Real Haven!!

Gozo (‘Għawdex’), which is the second largest island in the Maltese archipelago, is a perfect holiday destination all year round. Although Gozo is found only a few miles away from its sister island of Malta, it is quite a distinctive island, having its own geographical treasures, its own monuments, its own history, and even its own identity.

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Gozo is more rural and unspoilt than Malta, in fact it is well-known for its rolling green hills, beautiful countryside and resplendent sandy beaches. The pace of life in Gozo is more tranquil and peaceful compared to the more modernized Malta. Most of the land is still virgin, which means that one can appreciate a number of picturesque views, especially during the winter season when the fields are cultivated. Here, one can even find some old traditions which are no longer found on Malta. Gozo in fact has its own spate of religious traditional festas, its own unique crafts and artisan products, as well as being famous for its yearly Carnival celebrations and local cuisine. If you want a taste of this, you must surely try out some Gozitan cheeselets (ġbejniet).

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As of early 2014, the island of Gozo hosted a population of around 37,300 people. Gozo has a rich history and one can find a huge number of historical places, ranging from Neolithic to modern times, on this small island. One can hardly fail to mention the megalithic Ġgantija Temples, which, after the Temples of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, are the oldest man-made temples in the world.

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Another important spiritual structure is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’ Pinu, otherwise known as the Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary, first built in 1545 and then restored in 1730. This Catholic Sanctuary, located in the village of Għarb, is well-known to hold the prayers, vows, and votive offerings given by those who maintain to have been miraculously helped after praying to the Virgin of Ta’ Pinu. This church is in fact linked with many miraculous healings.

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Apart from its deeply spiritual heritage, Gozo also holds some of the Mediterranean’s most breathtaking natural wonders. There’s a number of pristine sandy beaches like Xlendi Bay, Marsalforn Bay, as well as Ramla Bay, just off Xagħra, which according to mythology, is believed to have been the site of the nymph Calypso’s abode. Gozo in fact, is theorized to be the mystic island of Ogygia, which featured prominently in Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ as the island where Ulysses was held captive for seven years. Near the beach, one can also visit the so-called Calypso Cave, high up on the cliffs.

Gozo is also home to a large number of medieval coastal towers built by the Order of the Knights of Saint John, like Isopu Tower in Nadur and Xlendi Tower in Xlendi, as well as innumerable tiny churches and chapels which are gems of medieval and baroque architecture. Traditional architecture can also be admired by going to Victoria (ir-Rabat), Gozo’s capital city, and taking a look at the historical buildings, niches, balconies, aqueducts and churches, not to mention the Medieval Citadel, iċ-Ċittadella, which is a unique small fortified town situated on the promontory of Victoria.

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It is easy to arrive in Gozo, one simply has to take the ferry-boat from Ċirkewwa on the north-west side of Malta. The crossing takes approximately 25 minutes and is quite enjoyable. Truly a destination not to miss!

This article was written by me and published on LivinInMalta.com. To view the original article, please go here.

Important Museums in Valletta

Important Museums to Visit in Valletta

 

Valletta, Malta’s capital city, is a treasure-trove of Malta’s historical past, not to mention a virtual living exhibition embodying rich architecture, Maltese cultural heritage and educational entertainment. The sheer number of museums and exhibitions present in this city alone is enough to fill up more than a day in any visitor’s itinerary, and there are actually places which are surely unmissable to those who are interested in learning more about Malta’s and the Mediterranean region’s past.

The Grandmaster’s Palace

Built between the 16th and 18th century in the Mannerist style by the architect Gilormu Cassar, this served as the main palace for the Grandmaster of the Order of the Knights of Saint John, who at the time governed the island. There are two main entrances to the Palace, one found on Old Theater Street, and the other on Merchant’s Street. It currently houses the Office of the President of Malta, The Palace State rooms and the Palace Armory are run by Heritage Malta and open to the public. To note are also the famous Tapestry Hall, the State Dining Hall and the Ambassador’s Room.

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The National Museum of Archaeology

Housed in the Auberge de Provence in Republic Street, the Museum of Archaeology’s building itself is an architectural gem, having been built in 1571 in the Baroque style. The Museum hosts different exhibitions, the main of which are available all year long. The earliest artefacts on display date back to Malta’s Neolithic Period (5000BC). One can find artefacts originating from such sights as Għar Dalam, Skorba and Żebbuġ, as well as items pertaining to the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum and the Xagħra Stone Circle among others. Of particular note are the ‘Sleeping Lady’ from the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum and the ‘Venus of Malta’ from Ħaġar Qim.

The National War Museum

Situated in Fort St. Elmo, the National War Museum is one of the most popular museums on the island. It hosts exhibits relating to Malta’s military history ranging from the Bronze Age to present times, however is mostly features artillery pertaining to World War I and World War II. The building housing the Museum was originally a gunpowder magazine, which was converted into an armory in the 19th century. Anti-aircraft gun crews were trained there during World War II.

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The Knights Hospitalliers Museum

Located within the building of the Sacra Infermeria (Holy Infirmary) in the Malta Conference Centre, this small yet interesting exhibition focuses on the role and history of the Knights of the Order of St. John (or the Knights Hospitalliers) in the Maltese islands. Although the Conference Centre is currently in use for other functions, the exhibition itself, located in the underground halls and corridors of the former 16th century hospital used by the knights, is accessible to the public.

This article was published on LivingInMalta.com – to read the rest of it, kindly visit http://livinginmalta.com/places/important-museums-valletta/

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.

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.

Valletta – Malta’s most Precious Treasure

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I like to think of Valletta as a stately elderly Dame. Alone in the early mornings, she waits gracefully, bedecked with sumptuous jewels and laden with the memories of generations. Her straight, narrow streets are the wrinkles on her brow. The doves, cooing on the balconies, precede the droves of people which visit her every day. Lady Valletta – old and proud, and yet resplendent in her unique glory. No matter how many times I visit her, I always learn or discover something new. She is a real Maltese matriarch.

Valletta – a medieval historical city filled with grand palaces, museums, inspiring architecture and heritage sites. But it’s also a social hub sporting a shopping mall, professional offices, tasteful restaurants and chic coffee shops. It’s a nightlife spot and a place where one can purchase or sell any daily need imaginable.

Valleta is THE place to visit in Malta. Want to read the rest of my article? It was published on eve today – http://www.eve.com.mt/2016/07/04/valletta-our-most-precious-treasure/

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.

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