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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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.

Lazy Sundays – Castles in France and Cuddles

I love lazy Sundays – in a world where every day is a constant battle with time, they are a real jewel. After working full time for five days, Saturday is always a hectic day too since all the chores and friend/family stuff tend to take place then. However Sundays are days to laze around with one’s partner, enjoy hours in bed, then getting up for lunch, and, in my case, play PS4 or read or watch a favorite T.V series.

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THIS particular Sunday we have some homework to do. However it is an exciting type of homework.

1. Measure furniture in order to be sure it will fit in the new house, when this is selected.
2. Plan for our Valentine’s week holiday to Southern France. We’ve already selected the spots we wanna see, but now we’ve gotta decide how we are gonna visit them in sequence, depending on their location and opening times, as well as insert the details into the SatNav.
3. Peruse a number of links of house-selling sites and talk about whether we should go view them or not.

There – that’s the kind of ‘homework’ I like 🙂

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Btw, this is one of the castles we are DEFINITELY gonna visit. It is one of the castles which belonged to the Catholic sect of the Cathars. Never heard of them? Perhaps it’s because, since their creed ‘differed’ from the main accepted Catholic one, they were hunted down, eradicated and burned by the Roman Catholic Church first in a trumped up crusade, and then for heresy. Hint: all the wealth, castles, lands and money belonging to the Cathars was ‘confiscated’ by the Church when these massacred them… tolerance and love aye? lol

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In an aside, the Cathars had women priests and thought that males and females were of equal importance and should have equal opportunities and power in life… obviously, for the ‘accepted’ Church, this too was heretical… righttt…

The Languedoc, which is a region in the South West of France, is full of Cathar Castles, which are the most beautiful castles in France, since the region itself was one of the most rich and fruitful (obviously, since the Church took so much bother and killed so many innocent people to get to it).

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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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