Rural Development Programme for Malta 2007 – 2013
Axis 3 – Improving the Quality of Life in Rural Areas
Project Part-financed by the European Union
The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development
Co-financing Rate: 75% European Union, 25%
Government of Malta
Europe Investing in Rural Areas
– Click here for the trail map
Mqabba can be reached by public transport (bus number 72 from the Valletta terminus and buses numbers 117 and 118 from MaltaInternationalAirport). The heritage trail proposed by the Mqabba Local Council starts from Diamond Jubilee Squareas it is recommended that the visitor stops on the Bus Stop at Tas-Sejba Road. Two stone statues erected on pillars, one dedicated to St Francis ofAssisi and the other to the Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, can be seen from this spot and the visitor is ushered towards the visible roundabout next to the mentioned square. On the opposite side of the roundabout, there are the
Mentna Catacombs, which consist of
three separate entrances that lead to the tombs found by Dr Annetto Caruana and Capt Strickland in 1860. Archeologist David Trump speaks highly of these fine works. Similar tombs were found in 1960 at Ta’ Kandja when works were being carried out on the extension of the airport runway. On these findings, David Trump wrote the following: “Across the lane towards Mqabba an early Christian catacombs was found when the main airport runway was extended in 1960. It could not be preserved – there were obvious difficulties to diverting the runway round it. Visitors will be amazed to learn that they have been within a few feet of a site even before they step out of their plane”. D.H. TrumpMalta: An Archeological Guide, 1989.
The most important archaeological elements of Tal-Mentna Catacombs are the designs engraved in rock with the round ones in the form of a compass. The entrance consists of six steps with a Greek cross engraved on the ceiling. In an analysis that was conducted on this site, these designs were found out to be unique in Paleo-Christian era. It is interesting to note the vicinity of this site, to the WilgaTowerand the roundel carvings that are scattered all over the island especially in the Zurrieq and Hal Millieri area. In this place, another tomb was found containing punic artefacts and the skeleton of a human baby.
The route throughZurrieq Roaddirects the visitor to the new extinct village of Hal Millieri where another embellishment project was successfully completed similar to that inDiamond Jubilee Square, by the Zurrieq Local Council. The funding source is Measure 313, the EARDF, through EU, and the government funds. This initiative upgraded the rural environment in adjoining two important chapels: one dedicated to Our Lady of Annunciation and the other toSt Johnthe Evangelist.
A narrow countryside road named Zurrieq Road, flanked by rows of fields, leads to the chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary – a chapel of national importance. It is under the guardianship of the National Trust of Malta, Din l-Art Helwa, a non-governmental organisation. This area used to form part of the medieval village of Hal Millieri. Though the village is first documented in 1419, its origins are lost in antiquity of the Roman and perhaps even to pre-historic times. This medieval Siculo Norman chapel, dating prior to 1500 and built on a site which was then already used as a sacred land, has an arched vault and is decorated with remarkable medieval frescoes. The frescoes, depicting a number of saints cover all the interior walls of the chapel except the apse. The inscriptions in very angular gothic letters help us to indentify the saints, from the left, as St Vincent,St John and St Lawrence, St James, St Andrew, St Nicholas,St Leonard, St Agatha, St Blaise,St Augustine andSt Paul. Surprisingly, the image of St George appears twice on each side of the entrance. In one fresco he appears riding a horse, and in the other slaying a dragon. Din l-Art Helwa commissioned restoration works on the chapel in 1968. The chapel is open for the public on the first Sunday of every month.
The Chapel of St John the Evangelist of Hal Millieri
Not far from this site, the finely lined rubble walls, take the visitor into a small square dominated by a stone cross in front of the Chapel of St John the Evangelist. This chapel is also under the guardianship of Din l-Art Helwa.
A narrow passageway leads the visitor towards Mqabba’s burial place in another square in Hal Kirkop Road en route Hajt tal-Matla Road. This is the name of a raised passage that adjoined the village of Hal Millieri with the former Mqabba Parish Church – St Basil Chapel.
Matla wall is a passageway used by our ancestors. It is located in front of Mqabba’s cemetery, dedicated to Jesus the Nazarene, for which also another chapel was erected in 1910 with elevated parvis. However this raised stretch of pathway, popularly known as Matla wall, is a thick wall still visible in places. This leading pathway used to serve our ancestors to avoid the flooding of the fields at these lowest parts of thevillageofMqabba.
The visitor is now invited to cross one of Mqabba’s busiest road, Triq il-Konvoj ta’ Sta Marija adjacent to Mqabba’s open reservoir to the urbanized part of the village landmarked by the Parish Church dedicated to St Mary, through Karmenu Ciantar Street. As soon asChurch Squareis visible, the visitor is encouraged to take a left turn, to the narrow Old Hospital Alley, towards theOldHospital. The old building of the Hospital is situated in St Innocent Street, a corner away form Mikelang Sapiano Street which is the street adjoining St Innocent Street with Old Hospital Alley.
The Old Hospital
One of the earliest inscriptions found in Mqabba is the one fixed to the original entrance of the OldHospitalin Dahlet l-Isptar il-Qadim, dated 1st July, 1725, when the Cottoner Foundation sublet the premises to a certain Mariuzzo Zahra for 150 years at a rental value of 62 skudi per annum. The Old Hospital probably dates back to the sixteenth century when pestilence epidemic took the lives of circa 11% of the Maltese population. The premises were recognized by the authorities for their great historical value, and were scheduled in 1997 under grade 1 listing by then the Planning Authority at the insistence of the Mqabba Local Council. Within these premises one can find some interesting architecture features such as the sculptured designs in stone known as roundel carvings. Similar decorations were found in 1960 in the midst of another catacombs located at Ta’ Kandja, underneath the runway at the Malta International Airport. In 1999, government devolved the Old Hospital property to the Mqabba Local Council. Soon after, the Council commissioned Architect Dieter Falzon for the thorough restoration program of renovation, subsequently awarded to Mr Joe Farrugia. The Mqabba Mayor Mr Emanwel Buttigieg inaugurated the premises as a centre of Culture and Arts on the 21st October, 2003 in the presence of the Prime Minister, Dr Eddie Fenech Adami to mark one of the activities on the occasion of Mqabba Day.
The visitor is now invited to resume walking throughSt Innocent Streetand turn on his right inSt Catherine StreettowardsChurch Square. Next stop is at the Chapel of St Catherine situated at the very corner ofChurch Square, on the right hand side.
The Chapel of St Catherine
This beautiful chapel is just opposite the ParishChurch. The origins of this church take us back to the year 1575, when Mons Duzina visited this village. He found out that one of the churches was dedicated to this saint. It was a small church with a stone framed door but no wooden door that could be locked and with only one picture painted on wood. The person who was in charge of this church was Marjan Agius and after his death he left a piece of land, known as ‘Il-Bur ta’ Santa Katerina’, so that the income generated from this land, would be used for the animation of the Holy Mass on the feast of St Catherine. During the year 1759, Archbishop Rull visited the church and when he saw its dilapidated state, ordered that the church be completely pulled down together with the nearby church dedicated to St Peter. Another church was erected instead. This church built in baroque style was inaugurated by Parish Priest Dun Gwann Battista Tortella on the occasion of the feast of Lapsi in the year 1774. On the inside, this church is built upon a number of pillars of Ionic style, beautifully surrounded with ornamental sculptures in limestone. The major frame dominating this small but beautiful church represents the mystic marriage of St Catherine in the presence of St Anne and Saint John the Evangelist. On the left hand side of this frame one can see the coat of arms of the Aquilina Family who were the benefactors of this frame after receiving a Divine favour. The words VFGA (Voto fatto per gratia accettata) also featured in the picture are evidence.
On the opposite side of the road one cannot miss
Our Lady of Lily Band Club
The band club dedicated to Our Lady of Lily, has an interesting façade. This two storey building is situated opposite the ParishChurch, touching the Nationalist Party political club and also houses a lotto office. In 1944, members of the Lily Club, formerly known as the Circolo Number X, who were responsible for the organisation of the feast in honour of Our Lady of the Lilies, decided to establish a band. The club then changed its name to Lily Band Club and Mro Joseph Darmanin started to give music lessons to whoever was interested. The band’s first performance was conducted on the occasion of the feast of the Immaculate Conception on the 9th December, 1945. Soon after that other band clubs invited the Lily Band Club to perform during the feast in honour of their respective patron saint in other different localities. The present conductor is Mro Andrew Calleja. A new band-stand carved in mahogany and walnut used only during the week of the feast was inaugurated on the 14th June 1994, under the patronage of the acting President of Malta, Dr Jimmy Farrugia. It is described as a masterpiece. Amongst the works of art to be found within this band-stand manufactured by Mr Julio Sacco and his brother Charles, are the bronze busts of Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Schubert and Strauss.
The visitor is now directed to Our Lady of Sorrows Street whereby a small chapel is dedicated to Our Lady in an interesting small square in front of the Municipal building.
The Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows
The origins of the small chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows, take us back in time to the 16th century. At first it was dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption, but for some reason, in 1680 it had to be rebuilt. The patronage (Gus Patronat) of this chapel passed on to Dr Giovanni Schembri who at that time was an assessor of the church authorities. He invested his interest in this building by means of a number of initiatives such as the building of a parvis, an embellishment scheme, consisting of the planting of trees, and the erection of a belfry. Subsequently, this patronage passed on to Mons Paolo Pullicino. At that time Mons Pullicino was a great personality inMalta and very much renowned for the country’s national developments in the primary education sector. However, the quiet prayers quickly evolved into a yearly feast in honour of Our Lady of Sorrows with the ringing of bells and street decorations during the feast celebration taking place in September. This feast was marked for the free distribution of bread to the poor of the village who were numerous at that time.
As soon as the visitor emerges out of this chapel, a narrow road (part ofParish Street) on the right takes him directly again to Church Square. This pedestrian road flanked by flower pots is directly opposite to the main door of theParishChurch. From behind a stone cross situated in the middle of this part of the square, emerge the building of the another band club.
King George V Band Club
The name of this society is St Mary, taking its name from the Parish itself. Back in 1896, a Social Club was formed named Victory, under the honorary presidency of a Monsignor Alfons Caruana. However in 1897, only a year later, another club under the name of St Josephwas founded in Church Square, with Mr Paul Caruana being its first president. In 1905, another social club under the name of St Mary was registered in Carmel Streeta few metres away from Church Square. It was this club that took in hand the organization of the two major feasts in Mqabba, St Mary and Our Lady of Lilies. However in 1910, it transpired that not everyone was happy with the administration of this club, probably because of some controversy over the street decorations and fireworks. During a general meeting, it was decided that the club be renamed in honour of King George V, to commemorate the start of his reign. In the then influent ‘Malta Taghna’ newspaper, of the 24 August 1912, one can find that the feast of St Mary was organized in a beautiful way by the Cirkolu Giorgio V of Mqabba. The conclusion of the procurement of the present club building was recorded on the 22nd January 1934.
As soon as the visitor emerges out of the band club, a left turn throughSt Basil streetleads him to the final destination. The chapels dedicated to St Basil and St Michael.
The Chapels of St Basil and St Michael
One of the oldest chapel on the islands of Maltaand Gozo, is that of St Basil. The parvis is fenced with iron railings. The Chapel of St Basil is older than the ParishChurchitself. In fact it was first build in the fifteenth century and was smaller than it is now. However in 1515, according to the year marked on the main (titular) painting, the chapel was enlarged. From the beginning, the chapel was of great importance to Mqabba. In fact when it was visited by Mons Duzina in 1575, he declared that it was the biggest chapel in Mqabba. It had everything, including wooden doors and an altar with an overhanging main picture. It was taken care of by a priest. When Archbishop Molina visited it in 1680, he referred to it as the main churchof Mqabbaand said that it was in the heart of the Mqabba people. The chapel is constructed on a series of pointed arches that reveal older structures. The main picture, although of no artistic value, is very old. It features God, St Joseph, Our Lady with Jesus, and the poor souls together with St Basil and St Roque, the patron saint associated with pestilence. Quite a good number of victims of this epidemic were buried in the vicinity when the Black Death struckMalta long ago. The year 1515 inscribed on this picture, marks the blessing of St Basil’s Church.
The interesting lateral altar also found in St Basil Church together with the bench found just outside the chapel, within the parvis, shed light on the historical importance of this church. The parvis served for burial purposes and in 1778 a monument was erected in memory of the poor souls. Adjacent to St Basil’s another chapel was built. This is dedicated to St Michael the Archangeland its origins date back to the sixteenth century. The details of the façade of this chapel are very intriguing as they reveal the antiquity of the building. The window just above the front door is in the shape of a flower and is in itself a major works of art. The style of this church is totally different from that of the chapel dedicated to St Basil. The year 1669 shown on the main picture represents the year in which the chapel was built. St Basil and St Michael chapels were restored by government in 2007 and now show their fascinating original beauty.
This was the end of the heritage trail however should the visitor be further interested, there are a lot of other interesting places worth visiting in Mqabba, such as the two towers of Wilga and Vincenti, lots of open quarries most of which are still in operation and obviously the Parish church dedicated to the Assumption of St Mary. As always, the Mqabba Local Council staff will be able to assist you in case of any difficulty.
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